Russian composer, pianist and conductor Sergei Rachmaninov was born on 1 April 1873 at Semyonovo near Great Novgorod, into an old aristocratic family. At the age of four, he received casual piano lessons from his mother, and then studied privately with Anna Ornatskaya from St Petersburg, who later arranged for Sergei to study at the St Petersburg Conservatory. He transferred to the Moscow Conservatory to complete his studies.
His final composition at Moscow Conservatory, the one-act opera Aleko, based on Pushkin, was very successful, and the Bolshoi Theatre agreed to produce it.
He was greatly influenced by Tchaikovsky, whose unexpected death in 1893 was a great blow to Rachmaninov.
Rachmaninov's first symphony, first performed in 1897, was slated by critic César Cui. The performance, conducted by Alexander Glazunov, had not been a good one - possible reasons were poor use of rehearsal time and the possibility that Glazunov had been drunk. The bad reception caused a three-year depression, during which Rachmaninov was unable to write. In 1900, Dr Nikolai Vladimirovich Dahl, a competent amateur viola player, gave Rachmaninov a course of autosuggestive therapy, and the composer's confidence gradually returned. The following year he completed his second piano concerto, which became an immediate success.
He left Russia with his family at the end of 1917, his way of life threatened by the series of revolutions that year. After a year playing concerts in Scandinavia, he decided to emigrate to the USA at the end of 1918, and supported his family by touring as a pianist. Pressure of work and homesickness slowed his composition work, and he only completed six works between arriving in the USA and his death from melanoma on 28 March 1943, aged sixty-nine, in Beverly Hills, California.
A selection of M&V articles about Sergei Rachmaninov
CD Spotlight. Astonishing Performances - Early recordings by Nelson Freire impress Gerald Fenech. 'An ideal set for ... all who admire this truly great soloist.'
CD Spotlight. A Rich Culture - Russian music from SWR Vokalensemble, appreciated by Howard Smith. '... a gift for those eager to hear voices in chorus ...'
CD Spotlight. A Marvellous Set - The complete Sergei Rachmaninov, sampled by Robert Anderson. '... a flow of fine works ...'
Ensemble. On the Mountain Top - Giuseppe Pennisi was at the opening concert of the National Academy of Santa Cecilia's season
CD Spotlight. True Command - James Brawn plays Bach, Liszt, Musorgsky and Rachmaninov, recommended by Andrew Schartmann. 'The "Promenade" ... is like butter in Brawn's hands.'
Ask Alice - On Schnabel and Rachmaninov, with classical music agony aunt Alice McVeigh
CD Spotlight. Likeable Discs - Music for cello and piano, heard by Howard Smith. '... affectionately presented throughout.'
Full Marks - Bill Newman listens to Nikolai Demidenko
Ensemble. Whipped Cream - Buxton Festival's 2014 Opera Gala, attended by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. Collective Virtuosity - Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov and Britten from Natalie Clein, the Moscow Philharmonic and Yuri Simonov, heard by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. Convincingly Integrated - Sibelius, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky from the Philharmonia Orchestra impress Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. Fourteen People and a Dog - Brits in Rome, heard by Giuseppe Pennisi
Nicely Pointed - A piano recital by Robert Thompson, heard by Mike Wheeler
CD Spotlight. Rich Sounds - Russian choral music, heard by Howard Smith. '... wholly satisfying and consistently worshipful.'
Ensemble. Overload - A long evening with the Cleveland Orchestra, described by Suzanne Torrey
Beautifully Spun - Steven Osborne's Prokofiev, Ravel and Rachmaninov impress Keith Bramich
Ensemble. Full Value - The Vienna Tonkünstler Orchestra, heard by Mike Wheeler
CD Spotlight. Marvellous Sounds - Rachmaninov's All-Night Vigil, admired by Robert Anderson. '... tender and powerful ...'
CD Spotlight. A Special Affinity - Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt from Viktor Bijelovic, heard by Andrew Schartmann. '... beautiful voicing and highly sensitive phrasing.'
CD Spotlight. Tonal Clothing - Slatkin conducts Rachmaninov, heard by Andrew Schartmann. '... Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra perform admirably.'
Ensemble. Virtuoso Dazzle - Andrei Korobeinikov and the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, Moscow, conducted by Nikolay Vinokurov, heard by Mike Wheeler
Andrew Schartmann's Musical Tidbits - Pop Music and the Classical Idiom. Part II: Creative Quotations
Ensemble. A Virtuoso Storm - Alexander Romanovsky joins Cristian Mandeal and the Hallé Orchestra, heard by Mike Wheeler
CD Spotlight. A Manipulating Baton - Rachmaninov orchestral music, heard by Ron Bierman. 'Vasily Petrenko gives us an extreme interpretation ...'
CD Spotlight. Tip Top Music - Tine Thing Helseth and Kathryn Stott, heard by Howard Smith. 'Ever full of daring ...'
Ensemble. Still Radical - Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring', heard by Giuseppe Pennisi
Ensemble. The Flame of Music - Malcolm Troup reports on new arrivals from China and Lithuania at the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe's Summer Festival in London
Calmness and Frenzy - H J Lim plays at Wigmore Hall, and Bill Newman passes judgement
Ensemble. Superb Playing - Bill Newman listens to a selection of instrumental chamber music in London
CD Spotlight. Beauteous Tone - Flautist Lisa Friend's debut disc, heard by Howard Smith. '... pleasing and ideally accomplished.'
Ensemble. Haunting Performance - Rob Buckland joins Jonathan Trout and Derby Concert Orchestra for Borodin, Glazunov, Piazzolla and Rachmaninov, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
CD Spotlight. Suitable Diligence - A recital by Simone Leitão, heard by Howard Smith. '... diverse rhythms and trenchant physicality are commandingly observed ...'
Ensemble. Sensuous Depths - A selection of orchestral concerts at London's Royal Festival Hall, heard by Bill Newman
Ensemble. Natural Affinity - Klaggerud, Petrenko and the Philharmonia, heard by Bill Newman
CD Spotlight. Limitless Passion - Hélène Grimaud plays Rachmaninov, recommended by Howard Smith. '... glowing drive and triumphant resolve.'
Ensemble. A Variety of Events - Giuseppe Pennisi reports on music for the Christmas and New Year period in Italy, for children and for those who love children
CD Spotlight. Handsome Praise - Rachmaninov piano music, heard by Robert Anderson. 'The uncelebrated John Lill is totally in command throughout ...'
Power and Delicacy - Alexander Romanovsky plays Haydn and Rachmaninov, heard by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. Brilliant Throughout - Kirill Karabits conducts the RPO, reviewed by Bill Newman
CD Spotlight. Enviable Technique - Rachmaninov piano music, heard by Robert Anderson. '... no compromise for the faint-hearted.'
CD Spotlight. Lyric Expressiveness - Russian music for cello and piano, recommended by Howard Smith. '... much here to praise ...'
Ensemble. Dance Rhythms - A visit from the Moscow Philharmonic, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
CD Spotlight. Castles from the Mist - Vassily Primakov plays Rachmaninov, recommended by Barbara Sealock. '... a triumph in more ways than one.'
Profile. All-Involving - Turkish pianist Idil Biret talks to Bill Newman
CD Spotlight. Compelling and Pleasurable - Arthur Friedheim plays Liszt, Chopin, Gottschalk and Henselt, heard by Patric Standford. '... a slightly improvisatory interpretation ...'
CD Spotlight. Unaffected Restraint - Halida Dinova plays music that tells stories, heard by Howard Smith. '... a mesmerising interpreter ...'
CD Spotlight. Striking Power - Leslie Howard plays Rachmaninov, heard by Howard Smith. '... a staggering technique.'
Ensemble. Musical Outlooks - Bill Newman attends a selection of concerts at London's Wigmore Hall
Ensemble. A Deep Impression - Rory Macdonald conducts the Hallé Orchestra, heard by Mike Wheeler
Profile. Humanizing Emotions - American conductor James Conlon talks to Maria Nockin
CD Spotlight. Spiritual Outpourings - CD Spotlight. Spiritual Outpourings. Alexander Romanovsky plays Rachmaninov, heard by Gerald Fenech. '... passion and elegance.'
Ensemble. Uncurbed Impulses - Bizet's 'Carmen' at San Diego Opera, appreciated by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. Vividly Characterised - Alexei Stepanov conducts the Bolshoi Symphony Orchestra, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. Inside the Music - Mike Wheeler listens to the Czech National Symphony Orchestra
Ensemble. High Standards - Bill Newman listens to various artists at London's Wigmore Hall
New Year Blues - A roundup of recent London concerts by Bill Newman
CD Spotlight. Striking Musicianship - Elena Kuschnerova plays Prokofiev, heard by Howard Smith. '... sparkling, lyrical and appropriately balletic ...'
A Golden Treasury - Havergal Brian on European and American music, read by Patric Standford
Ensemble. A Blistering Whirlwind - More from the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, heard by Mike Wheeler
CD Spotlight. High Spirits - Music by Dohnányi, heard by Howard Smith. '... the Buffalonians ... make their virtuosity seem almost effortless ...'
Ensemble. Artistic Magic - Seraphic Fire's Rachmaninov Vespers, reviewed by Lawrence Budmen
CD Spotlight. Lightness of Touch - Brahms and Strauss, heard by Patric Standford. '... a very fine performance by Joshua Pierce ...'
Flowers of Light - Puccini's 'I crisantemi' as a pedagogical tool for piano performance majors, by Heidi Lowy
Ask Alice - On songwriters and gamba sonatas, with classical music agony aunt Alice McVeigh
Ensemble. A Cross Section - Bill Newman comments on some recent concerts at London's Wigmore Hall
Ensemble. An Ideal Balance - An evening with the Northern Sinfonia and friends delights Mike Wheeler
CD Spotlight. A Spectral Atmosphere - Murray McLachlan plays music by Shostakovich and friends, recommended by Howard Smith. '... an outright triumph for the label and for McLachlan.'
Ensemble. High Voltage - Sol Gabetta joins Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, reviewed by Lawrence Budmen
Ensemble. Splendidly Imaginative - Julian Jacobson and Meng Yang Pan celebrate Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year, enjoyed by Mary Isaac
CD Spotlight. Musical Finesse - Songs by Gregg Kallor, recommended by Howard Smith. 'Go to the top of the class.'
Ensemble. A True Dynamo - Lawrence Budmen listens to French conductor Ludovic Morlot, in concert with Jennifer Koh and the New World Symphony
CD Spotlight. Thoughtful Output - Music by Thomas Hewitt Jones, heard by Patric Standford. '... attractive but questionably appropriate ...'
Mature and Considered - Stephen Savage plays Beethoven, heard by Julian Jacobson
CD Spotlight. Such Clarity - Piano music by Prokofiev, heard by Robert Anderson. '... enviable simplicity and beauty of tone.'
CD Spotlight. Sterling Playing - Wendy Warner's interpretations of Popper and Piatigorsky, heard by Howard Smith. '... sovereign music-making deserving of the highest accolades.'
Ensemble. Crystalline Lightness - A Symphony of the Americas concert, reviewed by Lawrence Budmen
Ensemble. Brisk Ebullience - Lawrence Budmen sends a second report from this summer's Tanglewood Festival
Ensemble. Inexorable Momentum - Music by Dvorák, Rachmaninov and Sibelius from Sergio Tiempo, Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra impresses Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. Particularly Memorable - Elgar, Rachmaninov and Sibelius from the Hallé Orchestra, enjoyed by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. Perfectly Measured - Bill Newman listens to Aldo Ciccolini
Ardent Charms - Bill Newman reviews two recitals by pianist Igor Tchetuev
Outstanding and unforgettable - Lilya Zilberstein's recital at London's Wigmore Hall impresses Bill Newman
Marvelously Gifted - Bill Newman listens to pianist Alexander Romanovsky
Ensemble. Clarity of Texture - Lawrence Budmen listens to the Remenyi Ede Chamber Orchestra
CD Spotlight. An Undisturbed Evenness - Choral music 'from a Russian cathedral', heard by Paul Sarcich. '... engineered to tranquillity ...'
CD Spotlight. Fascinating Rarities - Taneyev string trios, heard by Julian Jacobson. '... a performance of real commitment and assurance ...'
CD Spotlight. Poetic Lyricism - Tim Hugh and Olga Sitkovetsky at London's Wigmore Hall, enjoyed by Howard Smith. '... breathtaking musicianship captured my attention ...'
Ensemble. Intense Leadership - Sierra, Ginastera and Rachmaninov conducted by Alasdair Neale, reviewed by Lawrence Budmen
Record Box. Orchestrated Boldly - Music by Hampson Sisler, reviewed by Patric Standford
CD Spotlight. Virtuoso Credentials - Music for viola and piano by York Bowen, reviewed by Robert Anderson. '... above praise.'
Ensemble. Poetic Touches - The Russian State Symphony Orchestra plays Musorgsky, Prokofiev and Rakhmaninov, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
CD Spotlight. An Intellectual Force - Piano music by Sergei Taneyev, reviewed by Ron Bierman. 'Performances are expert and loving throughout ...'
Unexpected Delights - Mike Wheeler listens to The Sitwell Singers
Record Box. Excellent Singing - A Christmas selection from Chorus Angelicus and Gaudeamus, enjoyed by Patric Standford
CD Spotlight. Breathtaking Poetry - Svetlanov conducts Rachmaninov, reviewed by Howard Smith. '... Svetlanov's affinity with Rachmaninov's daring idioms is always apparent.'
Ensemble. Colourful Renditions - Recitals by Denitsa Laffchieva and Evelina Puzaite, reviewed by Bill Newman
Ensemble. A Glowing Performance - The Czech Philharmonic on tour, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. Breathtaking Pianism - Malcolm Miller was at Ian Hobson's Wigmore Hall piano recital
Ensemble. Delicacy and Tenderness - The Russian State Philharmonic in Derby, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
Profile. Tête-à-Tête - Bill Newman talks to British pianist Mark Bebbington
Ensemble. Deeply satisfying - A piano recital by Jane Ford, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. Dynamic playing - Roberto Abbado strikes fire with the New World Symphony, and Lawrence Budmen was there
Ensemble. A musical treasure - Polina Osetinskaya displays fiery command in Beethoven and Liszt, appreciated by Lawrence Budmen
Ensemble. Bravura virtuosity - Lawrence Budmen was at the Miami International Piano Festival
Record box. Compelling energy - Music by Tüür, Sibelius and Rachmaninov, reviewed by Howard Smith
Ensemble. Delicate confidence - Kelly Ferjutz was at the Cleveland International Piano Competition
Ensemble. Contrasting pianists - by Bill Newman
Record box. Expanding repertoire - A Daniel Rubinoff saxophone recital, reviewed by Patric Standford
Ensemble. Ravel chestnut - A dazzling arrangement of 'Bolero' for two pianos, reviewed by Lawrence Budmen
CD Spotlight. Exquisite quality - Music played by the Kandinsky Trio, recommended by Patric Standford. '... one of the most attractive chamber music recordings ...'
A dazzling recital - Misha Dacic plays Rachmaninoff with soul, admired by Lawrence Budmen
Ensemble. A special treat - Maria Nockin enthuses over Ewa Podles' recent recital for San Diego Opera
CD Spotlight. A collector's item - Stephen Isserlis and Stephen Hough play Rachmaninov and Franck, admired by John Bell Young. '... the rapport between Mr Isserlis and Mr Hough is on the order of the clairvoyant.'
CD Spotlight. Tender longing - Daniil Shtoda sings Russian songs, reviewed by David Wilkins. '... wonderfully expressive ...'
Emotions and music - Some thoughts from composer Alistair Hinton
East and West - Malcolm Miller applauds Natasa Sarcevic's performance of music by Paul Ben-Haim
Record box. Impetuous abandon - Ron Bierman is amazed by the playing of Marc-André Hamelin
Profile. A singing instrument - Martino Tirimo discusses the piano and its music with Bill Newman
Ensemble. Hour of Magic - Malcolm Miller is enthralled by seldom-heard East European music
CD Spotlight - Passion and gloom. '... Gwyneth George ... riding the technical difficulties with enviable ease ...' Rachmaninov and Shostakovich cello sonatas, an appraisal by Robert Anderson
Editorial musings with Basil Ramsey - Prom fever
CD Spotlight - Piano masterpieces. '... these performances are as compelling as they are touching.' A recital by the young Texan pianist Roger Wright, by John Bell Young
Record Box - The Russian Psyche - Sadness in song, with Basil Ramsey