Sergej W. Rachmaninow

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninov 20 March (gregorian calendar: 1 April 1873) was born on the Semënovo estate (Staraya Russa district). His exceptional talent was soon recognised and he started taking piano lessons at the age of six. Due to his father's extravagant lifestyle, the family had to move to St. Petersburg and his parents got separated. These difficult circumstances shaped Rachmaninov throughout his life. In 1883 he began to study at the Petersburg Conservatory and in 1888 he began to compose. In 1897, after his first great successes, the young composer was enormously disconcerted by the fierce criticism after the premiere of his 1st symphony. This increased Rachmaninov's tendency to self-doubt, melancholy and depression. For three years he did not compose at all, until in 1901, after psychiatric treatment and stabilization of his condition, he achieved his international breakthrough with the Second Piano Concerto. In his compositions, he consciously processed reflexes of the musical avant-garde, but failed to completely abandon the late-Romantic compositional style, which he was repeatedly reproached for. Concert tours as conductor and pianist took him all over Europe and the USA until the First World War. As a result of the Russian Revolution in 1917, Rachmaninov lost not only his beloved country estate but also his savings. Rachmaninov decided to leave Russia together with his family. In the interwar period he became one of the wealthiest musicians of his generation due to very successful concert tours and recordings. 1932 the composer protested in the New York Times against the practice of torture by the secret police. After that his music was banned for some years in the Soviet Union. After longer stays in France and Switzerland the Rachmaninovs settled in the USA when World War II broke out. Thoughts of a return to Russia occupied the composer more and more, he nevertheless naturalised himself in the USA in 1942 in order to be better able to settle inheritance matters and royalties. In 1943 he died of lung cancer caused by excessive cigarette smoking.