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Sergei Rachmaninov (Composer)

Rachmaninov, Sergei (Vasilyevich) (b Semyonovo, Starorussky, 1873; d Beverly Hills, Calif., 1943). Russ. composer, pianist, and conductor (Amer. cit. 1943). Entered St Petersburg Cons. 1882; studied pf. with Nikolay Zverev in Moscow, 1885, and began to compose in 1886. Entered Ziloti‘s pf. class at Moscow Cons. 1888, also studying counterpoint with Taneyev and harmony with Arensky. In 1890 he began to compose his first pf. conc., completing it a year later. In the summer of 1892 he wrote the Prelude in C# minor which became his most celebrated comp. His first opera Aleko was staged at the Bolshoy, Moscow, in 1893 and praised by Tchaikovsky. It was a success, unlike his first Sym. which received a disastrous perf. under Glazunov in St Petersburg in 1897. Rachmaninov withdrew the work, which was never again played in his lifetime. In 1897-8 he became 2nd cond. of the Moscow Private Russian Opera Co., forming a lifelong friendship with the co.‘s then unknown bass Chaliapin. His first professional visit abroad was to London in 1899, where he played ‘the’ Prelude and cond. his orch. fantasy The Rock. At this time he lost faith in his power of comp., but was helped by hypnosis treatment from Dr Nikolay Dahl, also an amateur musician, who had many talks on mus. with his patient. A few months later Rachmaninov began his 2nd pf. conc., which was a great success at its f.p. and has remained immensely and rightly popular. The conc. was f.p. in Dec. 1900 without the 1st movt.; the f. complete p. was in April 1901. Thenceforward Rachmaninov comp. fluently. He worked simultaneously on 2 operas, The Miserly Knight and Francesca da Rimini, both of which he cond. at the Bolshoy where he was cond. 1904-6. Worried by political unrest in Russia, he moved to Dresden in 1906, beginning work on a 2nd Sym., the f.p. of which he cond. on a visit to St Petersburg in 1908. His first visit to USA followed in 1909, where he was soloist in the f.p. of his 3rd pf. conc. in NY. He returned to live in Russia, conducting several Moscow Phil. concerts in the 1912-13 season and completing his choral sym. The Bells. In 1917 he left Russia for ever and began a new career as int. concert pianist, making America his base. This reduced the time he had for comp. and it was not until 1926 that he completed the 4th pf. conc. he had begun in 1914. The work was played 1927 but was not, and never has been since, a success. After he signed a letter in 1931 attacking the Soviet régime his mus. was banned in Russia until 1933. In 1934 he comp. one of his finest works, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, which was followed in 1936 by the 3rd Sym. In 1938 he was in London to play at Henry Wood‘s jubilee concert and gave his last London recital in Mar. 1939. He comp. the Symphonic Dances for orch. in 1940. Despite failing health he embarked on an arduous Amer. tour in the winter of 1942-3, giving the proceeds to war relief. After playing in Knoxville, Tennessee, on 15 Feb. he became seriously ill and died on 28 Mar.

Rachmaninov was one of the greatest of pianists, as is proved by his recordings not only of his own concs. but of other composers’ mus., incl. sonatas with the violinist Kreisler. The vigour and attention to detail of his cond. are also preserved on records. But it is as a composer that his name will live longest. He was the last of the colourful Russian masters of the late 19th cent., with their characteristic gift for long and broad melodies imbued with a resigned melancholy which is never long absent. His operas have failed to hold the stage, mainly because of defects in their libs., but recordings have enabled their splendid mus. to be appreciated. Three of the 4 pf. concs. are an ineradicable part of the romantic repertory, and the syms., though long overshadowed by the pf. works, have gained esteem and popularity. The songs are at last being recognized as among Russia‘s best. In his later years his style grew subtler, as can be heard in the Corelli Variations for pf., the Paganini Rhapsody, the last set of songs, and the Symphonic Dances. But his masterpiece is The Bells, in which all his powers are fused and unified. Prin. works:

OPERAS: Aleko (1892); The Miserly Knight (Skupoy rytsar) Op.24 (1903-5); Francesca da Rimini, Op.25 (1900, 1904-5); Monna Vanna (1907, one act in pf. score).

ORCH.: Scherzo in D minor (1887); Prince Rostislav (Knyaz Rostislav) (1891); The Rock (Utyos), Op.7 (1893); Caprice bohémien (Kaprichchio na tsiganskiye temi, Capriccio on gipsy themes), Op.12 (1892-4); syms.: No.1 in D minor, Op.13 (1895), No.2 in E minor, Op.27 (1906-8), No.3 in A minor, Op.44 (1935-6, rev. 1938); The Isle of the Dead (Ostrov myortvikh), Op.29 (1909); Symphonic Dances, Op.45 (1940).

PIANO & ORCH.: concs.: No.1 in F# minor, Op.1 (1890-1, rev. 1917), No.2 in C minor, Op.18 (1900-1), No.3 in D minor, Op.30 (1909), No.4 in G minor, Op.40 (1914-26, rev. 1941); Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op.43 (1934).

CHORAL: 6 Choruses, Op.15, women‘s or children‘s ch. (1895-6); Spring (Vesna), Op.20, cantata, bar., ch., orch. (1902); Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, Op.31 (1910); The Bells (Kolokola), Op.35, sym. for sop., ten., bar., ch., orch. (1913); All-Night Vigil (Vsenoshchnoye bdeniye), Op.37, soloists, ch. (1915); 3 Russian Songs, Op.41, ch., orch. (1926).

CHAMBER MUSIC: 2 movts., str. qt. (1889, also arr. for orch. by Rachmaninov, 1891); Trio élégiaque, No.1 in G minor, pf., vn., vc. (1892); 2 Pieces, vc., pf., Op.2 (1892); 2 Pieces, vn., pf., Op.3 (1893); Trio élégiaque, No.2 in D minor, Op.9 (1893); 2 movts., str. qt. (?1896); vc. sonata in G minor, Op.19 (1901).

PIANO: 3 Nocturnes (1887-8); 4 Pieces (?1888); Prelude in F (1891); 5 Morceaux de Fantaisie, Op.3 (No.2 is Prelude in C# minor, also arr. for 2 pf., 1938) (1892); 7 Morceaux de Salon, Op.10 (1893-4); 6 Moments Musicaux, Op.16 (1896); Variations on a theme of Chopin, Op.22 (1902-3); 10 Preludes, Op.23 (No.1 in F# minor, No.2 in Bb major, No.3 in D minor, No.4 in D major, No.5 in G minor, No.6 in Eb major, No.7 in C minor, No.8 in Ab major, No.9 in Eb minor, No.10 in Gb major) (1903, except No.5 in 1901); 13 Preludes, Op.32 (No.1 in C, No.2 in Bb minor, No.3 in E major, No.4 in E minor, No.5 in G major, No.6 in F minor, No.7 in F major, No.8 in A minor, No.9 in A major, No.10 in B minor, No.11 in B major, No.12 in G# minor, No.13 in Db major) (1910); Études tableaux, Op.33 (No.1 in F minor, No.2 in C, No.3 in Eb minor, No.4 in Eb major, No.5 in G minor, No.6 in C# minor (1911) (3 études of Op.33 were withdrawn by composer before publication: orig. No.4 in A minor (pubd. as Op.39, No.6), orig. No.3 in C minor and orig. No.5 in D minor (both pubd. 1948)); Études tableaux, Op.39 (No.1 in C minor, No.2 in A minor, No.3 in F# minor, No.4 in B minor, No.5 in Eb minor, No.6 in A minor, No.7 in C minor, No.8 in D minor, No.9 in D major (1916-17, except No.6, comp. 1911, rev. 1916); Oriental Sketch (1917); Variations on a Theme of Corelli (La folia) (1931); sonatas: No.1 in D minor (1907), No.2 in Bb minor (1913, rev. 1931).

PIANO DUET: Romance in G (?1893); 6 Duets, Op.11 (1894).

2 PIANOS: Russian Rhapsody in E minor (1891); Fantaisie-tableaux (Suite No.1), Op.5 (1893), Suite No.2, Op.17 (1900-1).

SONGS: 6 Songs, Op.4 (1890-3); 6 Songs, Op.8 (1893); 12 Songs, Op.14 (1894-6); 12 Songs, Op.21 (1902; No.1 1900); 15 Songs, Op.26 (1906) (No.7 is To the Children, K detyam); Letter to K. S. Stanislavsky (1908); 14 Songs, Op.34 (1912; No.7 1910; No.14 is Vocalise, rev. 1915); 6 Songs, Op.38 (1916).

Also several transcr., incl. Scherzo from Mendelssohn‘s Midsummer Night‘s Dream and 3 movts. of J. S. Bach‘s Partita No.3 for solo vn. (all 1933).



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