Sergei Rachmaninoff

Artist Playlists

About Sergei Rachmaninoff

Rachmaninoff excelled as a conductor, virtuoso pianist, and composer famous for his ripely melodious, wistful strain of late Romanticism. Born in 1873, his earliest formative experience was hearing the bells of St. Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod. Their sound informs several of his works, not least the tolling opening of his Piano Concerto No. 2. After a shaky start, his musical studies improved once his talent was recognized at the Moscow Conservatory by Tchaikovsky protégé Arensky. Rachmaninoff took his exams a year early and graduated aged 19 with the highest possible marks. Shortly afterwards, he wrote the Prelude in C-Sharp Minor (1892), which became his regular encore as a touring pianist. As a composer, Rachmaninoff suffered blows that reduced his creativity: the poorly performed 1897 premiere of his First Symphony, which resulted in a three-year creative block; the October Revolution of 1917, which forced him to leave his homeland and lead a more-or-less itinerant existence between the U.S. and Western Europe. His pre-Revolutionary masterpieces include his Second and Third Piano Concertos (1901, 1909), and the soulful and consoling Second Symphony (1907). The relative failure of his Fourth Concerto (1926) led to another creative hiatus, eventually broken with the Variations on a Theme of Corelli for solo piano (1931), followed by 1934’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for piano and orchestra with its seductive Andante cantabile variation. His final work, Symphonic Dances (1940), looks back at Russia with both nostalgia and bitterness, including a vengeful quotation from his choral All-Night Vigil (1915). He died of cancer in Beverly Hills in 1943.

Semyonovo, Russia
April 1, 1873
Select a country or region

Africa, Middle East, and India

Asia Pacific


Latin America and the Caribbean

The United States and Canada