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Sergei Rachmaninow played the piano with an almost unabashed freedom and sensuous tone, qualities that can be heard in historical recordings. A 1927 recording, for example, in which Rachmaninow performs a waltz by Frederic Chopin: under his fingers, the 3/4 time is moulded like modeling clay according to the pianist’s free fantasy, from the subtlest hesitations to sudden, frenetic accelerations. The piano also occupies a prominent place in Rachmaninow’s compositional output. His First Piano Concerto is his opus 1, and his Second Concerto for Piano and Orchestra became an international hit – even in pop culture. Songwriters like Billy Joel and Eric Carmen borrowed motifs from the piece. And director Billy Wilder also recognized the power of this music; in his film The Seven Year Itch, the second movement of the Second Piano Concerto played an important supporting role. The scene: Tom Ewell is inspecting his record collection, searching for music to seduce “the girl” Marilyn Monroe. “Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky,” no, none of them are right for the occasion . . . but then “good old RrRachmaninow” – that will do the trick. So with the Second Piano Concerto, the story of seduction – albeit only in his imagination – follows its course.

© Elke Tschaikner, ORF - Radio Österreich 1

Facts


  • Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninow is born on April 1, 1973 in Novgorod, Russia

  • His most important teacher is Nikolai Sergeyevich Zverev in Moscow, who permitted especially talented pupils to live with him in his house

  • Rachmaninow also studied composition at the Moscow Conservatory; for the final examination he writes the one-act opera Aleko, which was premiered at the Bolshoi Theater in 1893

  • The premiere of his First Symphony was a fiasco, which plunged the young composer into a crisis

  • In 1902 he marries his cousin Natalia Alexandrovna Satina, who had also studied at the Moscow Conservatory. The marriage produces two daughters

  • 1904 Rachmaninow is appointed conductor at the Bolshoi Theater, a position he will hold for two years

  • After the October Revolution, the composer leaves Russia with his family, never to return

  • The internationally-acclaimed pianist lives for a time in the United States and relocates to Switzerland in 1930

  • At the beginning of the Second World War, Rachmaninow loses his new home in Switzerland and moves once again to the United States, where he dies in Beverly Hills in 1943


Did you know?


  • After the failure of his First Symphony, psychiatrist Dr. Nikolai Dahl successfully treats Rachmaninow using hypnosis; thanks to this treatment, the composer regains his artistic self-confidence

  • After this treatment, Rachmaninow composes his Second Piano Concerto in C minor, op. 18, which he dedicates in gratitude to his doctor

  • The composer has a villa built in Switzerland near Lake Lucerne that is furnished with the latest technology, including oil heating, an elevator, and a flat roof for sunbathing

  • He names this Swiss villa Senar (for Sergei + Natalia Rachmaninow)

  • Rachmaninow also loved technology in the form of motorboats and modern cars; he drove a Lincoln, a luxury automobile built by a subsidiary of Ford

  • Several alcoholic drinks, including a brand of vodka, bear the name of Rachmaninow

  • The composer’s name is also transliterated in different ways; starting in 1918, he himself wrote his name with a double F at the end, as "Sergei Rachmaninoff"


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