Sergei Rachmaninov - The Late Romantic
Rachmaninov was born into a musical family. His grandfather had studied with John Field and would sit most mornings playing pieces by Chopin, Mendelssohn and Field.
Initially, his family were well off, with extensive property holdings in North Western Russia, but by the 1880s, their finances were in such a dire state that the family had to sell up and move to a cramped flat in St Petersburg. It was there that Sergei Rachmaninov's musical path began in earnest when, at the age of ten, he won a scholarship to the St Petersburg Conservatory.
Following the success of his one act student opera Aleko, and his graduation from the Moscow Conservatory, in 1892 Rachmaninov embarked upon a career as a composer. Initially he was forced to take on teaching jobs to supplement his income and write some money-spinning piano works, but gradually he was offered more performances of his music. But in 1897, the critics savaged the disastrous premiere of his First Symphony. The experience devastated Rachmaninov who was then unable to compose anything for the next two years.
In common with his countrymen Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, Rachmaninov drew on the music of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as the diverse range of folk music encompassed by the vast lands of Russia.
When Rachmaninov found himself facing the events of the October Revolution in 1917, and the disintegration of the Old Russia he had grown up with, he felt unable to remake himself and chose emigration. Once abroad, out of necessity, he began to carve out an exhausting life touring as a concert pianist.
While living in self-imposed exile, Rachmaninov kept in touch with the artistic developments in Russia. Although he made homes in America and Europe, he always remained Russian in spirit and created his own version of his homeland wherever he lived.
Available since: Mon 18 Apr 2011
This clip is from
Donald Macleod on the life of the Russian composer, a late champion of the Romantic style
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