Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninof was a Russian American pianist, composer, and conductor of the late-Romantic period, some of whose works are among the most popular in the classical repertoire.
Rachmaninoff was born into a musical family, taking up the piano at age four. He graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1892 and had written several compositions by this time. Following the critical reaction to his Symphony No. 1 in 1897, Rachmaninoff went into a four-year period of depression and composed little until successful therapy allowed him to complete his enthusiastically-received Piano Concerto No. 2 in 1901. The Russian Revolutions of February and October 1917 meant the end of Russia as Rachmaninoff had known it.
From 1918 until his death, Rachmaninoff lived in the United States, first living in New York City. While there, he sought the company of fellow Russian musicians and befriended pianist Vladimir Horowitz. Demanding concert tour schedules affected his output as composer to slow tremendously; between 1918 and his death in 1943, he completed just six compositions. From 1932 to 1939, Rachmaninoff spent his summers at Villa Senar, his estate in Switzerland, where he composed Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Symphony No. 3, and Symphonic Dances. In 1942, Rachmaninoff’s doctor advised him to move to a warmer climate; his family settled in Beverley Hills, California. Later that year, Rachmaninoff fell ill during a concert tour and was later diagnosed with advanced melanoma. Rachmaninoff acquired U.S. citizenship in and died in 1943.
Early influences of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and other Russian composers gave way to a personal style notable for its song-like melodicism, expressiveness and his use of rich orchestral colors. The piano is featured prominently in Rachmaninoff’s compositional output, and through his own skills as a performer he explored the expressive possibilities of the instrument.