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Sergei Rachmaninoff

(1873 - 1943)

Rachmaninoff was born on April 1, 1873, in Semyonovo, near Novgorod in Russia, into a noble family of Tatar descent, who had been in the service of the Russian tsars since the 16th century.

Rachmaninoff began to study piano with his mother at the age of four.

He continued his studies at the St. Petersburg and Moscow conservatories under Zvereff and Arenski.

Rachmaninoff is regarded as one of the most influential pianists of the 20th century.

He had legendary technical facilities and rhythmic drive, and his large hands were able to cover the interval of a thirteenth on the keyboard (a hand span of approximately twelve inches).

He fled from Russia, after the Communist Revolution in 1917, and he eventually based himself in the United States where he later became a citizen.

His reputation as a composer generated a variety of opinions, before his music gained steady recognition across the world.

His compositions include, among numerous others:

four piano concerti; the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini; three symphonies; two piano sonatas; three operas; a choral symphony (The Bells, based on the poem by Edgar Allan Poe); the All-Night Vigil, for unaccompanied choir (often known as Rachmaninoff's Vespers); twenty-four Preludes (including the famous Prelude in C-sharp minor); the Six Moments Musicaux; seventeen Etudes-tableaux; many songs, of which the most famous are "V molchanyi nochi taynoi" ("In the silence of night"), Lilacs, and the wordless Vocalise; and the last of his works, the Symphonic Dances.

Most of his pieces follow a melancholy, late-Romantic style akin to Tchaikovsky, although strong influences of Chopin and Liszt are apparent.

Further inspiration included the music of Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Medtner (whom he considered the greatest contemporary composer and who, according to Schonberg's Lives, returned the compliment by imitating him) and Henselt.

Rachmaninoff died on March 28, 1943, in Beverly Hills, California, just four days before his 70th birthday, and was interred on June 1 in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.



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