Sunday, August 31, 2014

Student Post: Sergei Rachmaninoff - The Forgotten Composer

Historical Period: Late Romantic-Early Contemporary
Nationality: Russian
Born: April 1, 1873
Died: March 28, 1943
Contemporaries: Bela Bartok, Antonin Dvorak Vladimir Horowitz, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Sergei Prokofiev, Arnold Schonberg, Alexander Scriabin, Igor Stravinski, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Works: Aleko, Prelude in C-Sharp Minor, Second Piano Concerto, Spring, Vocalise, Variations on a Theme of Chopin, The Isle of the Dead

What's Happening in History?

In America, the Civil War (1860-1865) has been over for more than eight years. The Russian Revolution (1917) is going to begin in several years and World War I (1914-1918) is beginning in Europe.


Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff was born to Vasily Arkadyevich and his wife Lyubov Petrovna Butakova, on their estate in Oneg, near the Novgorod district in Russia. Sergei's mother taught him a bit of piano when he was four, but his grandfather hired a teacher for him the next year. But she left when he was nine - Sergei's family moved to St. Petersburg, because his father was irresponsible and lost his estate. Young Sergei began taking preparatory classes at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, but when he was twelve, he transferred to the conservatory in Moscow. It was a hard life in the Moscow Conservatory. The students got up at 6:00 AM every morning, and they worked sixteen hours every day. They took language lessons and wore uniforms, because the school was in part seeking to train the students to be gentlemen. Sergei studied there with a group of well-known musicians, one of which also went on to be important in the music world was Alexander Scriabin. Alexander and Sergei became good friends. (When Alexander died, Sergei gave a piano recital in his honor. Alexander's students hated the way Sergei played Alexander's pieces. Sergei was offended, naturally.)

Sergei was still a student when he composed several pieces of music for the piano. One of those pieces was his First Piano Concerto. Now, at the Moscow Conservatory at that time, the conductor, Safonov, could change the students' pieces however he wanted to for a recital. But 18-year-old Sergei would not agree to the changes made to his piece. One of his fellow students, Mikhail Bukinik, said this about Sergei:

        "...Rachmaninoff's talent as a composer was so obvious, and his      
          quiet self-assurance made such an impression on all, that even 
          the omnipotent Safonov had to yield."

Guest Writer: Rachel Holbrook

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