Sergei Rachmaninoff


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Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff was a Russian pianist, composer, and conductor of the late Romantic period, some of whose works are among the most popular in the Romantic repertoire.

Born into a musical family, Rachmaninoff took up the piano at age four. He graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1892, having already composed several piano and orchestral pieces. In 1897, following the negative critical reaction to his Symphony No. 1, Rachmaninoff entered a four-year depression and composed little until successful therapy allowed him to complete his enthusiastically received Piano Concerto No. 2 in 1901. For the next sixteen years, Rachmaninoff conducted at the Bolshoi Theater, relocated to Dresden, Germany, and toured the United States for the first time.

Following the Russian Revolution, Rachmaninoff and his family left Russia; in 1918, they settled in the United States, first in New York City. With his main source of income coming from piano and conducting performances, demanding tour schedules led to a reduction in his time for composition; between 1918 and 1943, he completed just six works, including Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Symphony No. 3, and Symphonic Dances. By 1942, his ailing health led to his relocation to Beverly Hills, California. One month before his death from advanced melanoma, Rachmaninoff was granted American citizenship.

In Rachmaninoff's work, early influences of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, and other Russian composers gave way to a personal style notable for its song-like melodicism, expressiveness and rich orchestral colors. Rachmaninoff often featured the piano in his compositions, and he explored the expressive possibilities of the instrument through his own skills as a pianist.

Early Years: 1873–1885

Rachmaninoff's ancestors were likely from Kazan, as his surname is connected with the Turkic people. He was born into a family of the Russian aristocracy, descending from Vasile (nicknamed Rachmaninov), a son of the Moldavian prince Stephen the Great. Rachmaninoff's family had strong musical and military leanings. His paternal grandfather, Arkady Alexandrovich, was a musician who had taken lessons from Irish composer John Field. His father, Vasily Arkadyevich Rachmaninoff (1841–1916), was an army officer and amateur pianist who married Lyubov Petrovna Butakova (1853–1929), the daughter of a wealthy army general who gave her five estates as part of her dowry. The couple had three sons and three daughters, Rachmaninoff being their fourth child.

Rachmaninoff was born in Novgorod Oblast in north-western Russia. It is unclear which of two family estates he was born on: Oneg near Veliky Novgorod, or Semyonovo near Staraya Russa. His birth was registered in a church in the latter, but Rachmaninoff was raised in Oneg until age nine and cited it as his birthplace in his adult life. He began piano and music lessons organized by his mother at age four. She noticed his ability to reproduce passages from memory without a wrong note. Upon hearing news of the boy's gift, Arkady suggested she hire Anna Ornatskaya, a teacher and recent graduate of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, to live with the family and begin formal teaching. Rachmaninoff dedicated his piano composition Spring Waters from 12 Romances (Op. 14) to Ornatskaya.

Rachmaninoff's father had to auction off the Oneg estate in 1882 due to his financial incompetence; the family's five estates were now reduced to one. Rachmaninoff remained critical of his father in later life, describing him as "a wastrel, a compulsive gambler, a pathological liar, and a skirt chaser." The family moved to a small flat in St. Petersburg. In 1883, Ornatskaya arranged for Rachmaninoff, now ten, to study music at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Later that year, his sister Sofia died of diphtheria and his father left the family for Moscow. His maternal grandmother stepped in to help raise the children with particular focus on their spiritual life, regularly taking Rachmaninoff to Russian Orthodox Church services where he first experienced liturgical chants and church bells, two features he would incorporate in his future compositions.

In 1885, Rachmaninoff suffered further loss when his sister Yelena died at eighteen of pernicious anemia. She was an important musical influence to Rachmaninoff and had introduced him to the works of Tchaikovsky. As a respite, his grandmother took him to a farm retreat by the Volkhov River where Rachmaninoff developed a love for rowing. At the Conservatory, however, he had adopted a relaxed attitude and failed his general education classes and purposefully altered his report cards in what Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov called a period of "purely Russian self-delusion and laziness." Rachmaninoff performed at events held at the Moscow Conservatory during this time, including those attended by the Grand Duke Konstantin and other notable figures, but upon failing his spring exams Ornatskaya notified his mother that his admission to further education may be revoked. His mother then consulted with Alexander Siloti, her nephew and an accomplished pianist and student of Franz Liszt, who recommended he be transferred to the Moscow Conservatory and receive lessons from his former teacher, the more strict Nikolai Zverev, which lasted until 1888.

Moscow Conservatory and First Compositions: 1885–1894

In the autumn of 1885, Rachmaninoff moved in with Zverev and stayed for almost four years, during which he befriended fellow pupil Alexander Scriabin. After two years of tuition, the fifteen-year-old Rachmaninoff was awarded a Rubenstein scholarship, and graduated from the lower division of the Conservatory to become a pupil of Siloti in advanced piano, Sergei Taneyev in counterpoint, and Anton Arensky in free composition. In 1889, a rift formed between Rachmaninoff and Zverev, now his adviser, after Zverev disagreed with the composer's request for assistance in renting a piano and greater privacy to compose. Zverev, who believed composition was a waste for talented pianists, refused to speak to Rachmaninoff for some time and organized for him to live with his uncle and aunt Satin and their family in Moscow. Rachmaninoff then found his first romance in Vera, the youngest daughter of the neighboring Skalon family, but her mother objected and forbade Rachmaninoff to write to her, leaving him to correspond with her older sister Natalia. It is from these letters that many of Rachmaninoff's earliest compositions can be traced.

Rachmaninoff spent his summer break in 1890 with the Satins at Ivanovka, their private country estate near Tambov, to which the composer would return many times until 1917. The peaceful and bucolic surroundings became a source of inspiration for the composer who completed many compositions while at the estate, including his Op. 1, the Piano Concerto No. 1, in July 1891, which he dedicated to Siloti. Also that year, Rachmaninoff completed the one-movement Youth Symphony and the symphonic poem Prince Rostislav. Siloti left the Moscow Conservatory after the academic year ended in 1891 and Rachmaninoff asked to take his final piano exams a year early to avoid being assigned a different teacher. Despite little faith from Siloti and Conservatory director Vasily Safonov, as he had just three weeks preparation, Rachmaninoff received assistance from a recent graduate who was familiar with the test, and passed each one with honors in July 1891. Three days later, he passed his annual theory and composition exams. Progress was unexpectedly halted in the latter half of 1891 when he contracted a severe case of malaria during his summer break at Ivankova.

During his final year at the Conservatory, Rachmaninoff performed his first independent concert where he premiered his Trio élégiaque No. 1 in February 1892, followed by a performance of the first movement of his Piano Concerto No. 1 a month later. His request to take his final theory and composition exams a year early was also granted, for which he wrote Aleko, a one-act opera based on the narrative poem The Gypsies by Alexander Pushkin, in seventeen days. It premiered in May 1892 at the Bolshoi Theatre, which Tchaikovsky attended and praised Rachmaninoff for his work. Rachmaninoff believed it was "sure to fail," but the production was so successful the theater agreed to produce it starring singer Feodor Chaliapin, who would become a lifelong friend. Aleko earned Rachmaninoff the highest mark at the Conservatory and a Great Gold Medal, a distinction only previously awarded to Taneyev and Arseny Koreshchenko. Zverev, a member of the exam committee, gave the composer his gold watch, thus ending years of estrangement. On May 29, 1892, the Conservatory issued Rachmaninoff with a diploma which allowed him to officially style himself as a "Free Artist."

Upon graduating, Rachmaninoff continued to compose, and signed a 500-rouble publishing contract with Gutheil, with AlekoTwo Pieces (Op. 2) and Six Songs (Op. 4) among the first published. The composer had previously earned 15 roubles a month, giving piano lessons. He spent the summer of 1892 on the estate of Ivan Konavalov, a rich landowner in the Kostroma Oblast, and moved back with the Satins in the Arbat District. Delays in getting paid by Gutheil saw Rachmaninoff seeking other sources of income which led to an engagement at the Moscow Electrical Exhibition in September 1892, his public debut as a pianist, where he premiered his landmark Prelude in C-sharp minor from his five-part piano composition piece Morceaux de fantaisie (Op. 3). He was paid 50 roubles for his appearance. It was well-received and became one of his most enduring pieces. In 1893, he completed his tone poem The Rock, dedicated to Rimsky-Korsakov.

In 1893, Rachmaninoff spent a productive summer with friends at an estate in Kharkiv Oblast where he composed several pieces, including Fantaisie-Tableaux (aka Suite No. 1, Op. 5) and Morceaux de salon (Op. 10). In September, he published Six Songs (Op. 8), a group of songs set to translations by Aleksey Pleshcheyev of Ukrainian and German poems. Rachmaninoff returned to Moscow, where Tchaikovsky agreed to conduct The Rock for an upcoming European tour. During his subsequent trip to Kiev to conduct performances of Aleko, he learned of Tchaikovsky's death from cholera. The news left Rachmaninoff stunned; later that day, he started work on his Trio élégiaque No. 2 for piano, violin and cello as a tribute which he completed within a month. The music's aura of gloom reveals the depth and sincerity of Rachmaninoff's grief for his idol. The piece debuted at the first concert devoted to Rachmaninoff's compositions on January 31, 1894.

Symphony No. 1, Depression, and Conducting Debut: 1894–1900

Rachmaninoff entered a decline following Tchaikovsky's death. He lacked the inspiration to compose, and management of the Grand Theatre had lost interest in showcasing Aleko and dropped the opera from the program. To earn more money, Rachmaninoff returned to giving piano lessons, and in late 1895, Rachmaninoff agreed to a three-month tour across Russia with a program shared by Italian violinist Teresina Tua. The tour was not enjoyable for the composer and he quit before it ended, thus sacrificing his performance fees. In a more desperate plea for money, Rachmaninoff pawned his gold watch given to him by Zverev. In September 1895, before the tour started, Rachmaninoff completed his Symphony No. 1 (Op. 13), a work conceived in January and based on chants he had heard in Russian Orthodox church services. Rachmaninoff had worked so hard on it that he could not return to composition until he heard the piece performed. This lasted until October 1896, when "a rather large sum of money" that was not his was stolen from Rachmaninoff during a train journey and he had to work to recoup the losses. Among the pieces composed were Six Choruses (Op. 15) and Six moments musicaux (Op. 16), his final completed composition for several months.

Rachmaninoff's fortunes took a turn following the premiere of his Symphony No. 1 on March 28, 1897 in one of a long-running series of Russian Symphony Concerts devoted to Russian music. The piece was brutally panned by critic and nationalist composer César Cui, who likened it to a depiction of the ten plagues of Egypt, suggesting it would be admired by the "inmates" of a music conservatory in hell. The deficiencies of the performance, conducted by Alexander Glazunov, were not commented on by critics, but according to a memoir from Alexander Ossovsky, a close friend of Rachmaninoff, Glazunov made poor use of rehearsal time, and the concert's program itself, which contained two other premières, was also a factor. Other witnesses suggested that Glazunov, an alcoholic, may have been drunk, although this was never intimated by Rachmaninoff. Following the reaction to his first symphony, Rachmaninoff wrote in May 1897 that "I'm not at all affected" by its lack of success or critical reaction, but felt "deeply distressed and heavily depressed by the fact that my Symphony ... did not please me at all after its first rehearsal." He thought its performance was poor, particularly Glazunov's contribution. The piece was not performed for the rest of Rachmaninoff's life, but he revised it into a four-hand piano arrangement in 1898.

Rachmaninoff fell into a depression that lasted for three years, during which he had writer's block and composed almost nothing. He described this time as "Like the man who had suffered a stroke and for a long time had lost the use of his head and hands." He made a living by giving piano lessons. A stroke of good fortune came from Savva Mamontov, a Russian industrialist and founder of the Moscow Private Russian Opera Company, who offered Rachmaninoff the post of assistant conductor for the 1897–98 season. The cash-strapped composer accepted, conducting Samson and Delilah by Camille Saint-Saëns as his first on October 12, 1897. By the end of February 1899, Rachmaninoff attempted composition and completed two short piano pieces, Morceau de Fantaisie and Fughetta in F major. Two months later, he traveled to London for the first time to perform and conduct, earning positive reviews.

During his time conducting in Moscow, Rachmaninoff became engaged to Natalia Satina. However, the Russian Orthodox church and Satina's parents opposed their announcement, thwarting their plans for marriage. Rachmaninoff's depression worsened in late 1899 following an unproductive summer; he composed one song, Fate, which later made up his Twelve Songs (Op. 21), and left compositions for a proposed return visit to London unfulfilled. In an attempt to revive his desire to compose, his aunt arranged for the writer Leo Tolstoy, whom Rachmaninoff greatly admired, to have the composer visit his home and receive words of encouragement. The visit was unsuccessful, doing nothing to help him compose with the fluency he had before.

Recovery, Emergence, and Conducting: 1900–1906

By 1900, Rachmaninoff had become so self-critical that, despite numerous attempts, composing had became near impossible. His aunt then suggested professional help, having received successful treatment from a family friend, physician and amateur musician Nikolai Dahl, to which Rachmaninoff agreed without resistance. Between January and April 1900, Rachmaninoff underwent hypnotherapy and psychotherapy sessions with Dahl on a daily basis, specifically structured to improve his sleep patterns, mood, and appetite and reignite his desire to compose. That summer, Rachmaninoff felt that "new musical ideas began to stir" and successfully resumed composition. His first fully completed work, the Piano Concerto No. 2, was finished in April 1901; it is dedicated to Dahl. After the first and last movement premiered in December 1900 with Rachmaninoff as the soloist, the entire piece was first performed in 1901 and was enthusiastically received. The piece earned the composer a Glinka Award, the first of five awarded to him throughout his life, and a 500-rouble prize in 1904.

Amid his professional career success, Rachmaninoff married Natalia Satina on May 12, 1902, after having been engaged for three years. Because they were first cousins, the marriage was forbidden under a Canon law imposed by the Russian Orthodox Church; in addition, Rachmaninoff was not a regular church attendee and avoided confession, two things a priest would have had to confirm that he did in signing a marriage certificate. To circumvent the church's opposition, the couple used their military background and organized a small ceremony in a chapel in a Moscow suburb army barracks with Siloti and the cellist Anatoliy Brandukov as best men. They received the smaller of two houses at the Ivanovka estate as a present and went on a three-month honeymoon across Europe. Upon their return, they settled in Moscow, where they had two daughters, Irina Sergeievna Rachmaninova (1903–1969) and Tatiana Sergeievna Rachmaninova (1907–1961). Rachmaninoff resumed work as a music teacher at St. Catherine's Women's College and the Elizabeth Institute. By February 1903, he had completed his largest piano composition of his career at the time, the Variations on a Theme of Chopin (Op. 22). Development on other pieces was disrupted after Natalia, Irina, and he were struck with illness during their summer break at Ivanovka.

In 1904, in a career change, Rachmaninoff agreed to become the conductor at the Bolshoi Theatre for two seasons. He earned a mixed reputation during his time at the post, enforcing strict discipline and demanding high standards of performance. Influenced by Richard Wagner, he pioneered the modern arrangement of the orchestra players in the pit and the modern custom of standing while conducting. He also worked with each soloist on their part, even accompanying them on the piano. The theater staged the premiere of his operas The Miserly Knight and Francesca da Rimini.

In the course of his second season as conductor, Rachmaninoff lost interest in his post. The social and political unrest surrounding the 1905 Revolution was beginning to affect the performers and theater staff, who staged protests and demands for improved wages and conditions. Rachmaninoff remained largely uninterested in the politics surrounding him and the revolutionary spirit had made working conditions increasingly difficult. In February 1906, after conducting 50 performances in the first season and 39 in the second, Rachmaninoff handed in his resignation. He then took his family on an extended tour around Italy with the hope of completing new works, but illness struck his wife and daughter, and they returned to Ivanovka. Money soon became an issue following Rachmaninoff's resignation from his posts at St. Catherine's and Elizabeth schools, leaving him only the option of composing.

Move to Dresden and First U.S. Tour: 1906–1917

Increasingly unhappy with the political turmoil in Russia and in need of seclusion from his lively social life to be able to compose, Rachmaninoff with his family left Moscow for Dresden, Germany, in November 1906. The city had become a favorite of both Rachmaninoff and Natalia, presenting them with a more vibrant musical atmosphere and favorable opportunities. The family stayed in Dresden until 1909, only returning to Russia for their summer breaks at Ivanovka. During a visit to Leipzig, he entered an art gallery which housed The Isle of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin. The painting served as the inspiration for Rachmaninoff's orchestral work of the same name, Op. 29. Despite occasional periods of depression, apathy, and little faith in any of his work, Rachmaninoff started on his Symphony No. 2 (Op. 27) in 1906, twelve years after the disastrous premiere of his first. While writing it, Rachmaninoff and the family returned to Russia, but the composer detoured to Paris to take part in Sergei Diaghilev's season of Russian concerts in May 1907. His performance as the soloist in his Piano Concerto No. 2 with an encore of his Prelude in C-sharp minor was a triumphant success. Rachmaninoff's sense of self-worth was regained following the enthusiastic reaction to the premiere of his Symphony No. 2 in early 1908, which earned him his second Glinka Award and 1,000 roubles.

While in Dresden, Rachmaninoff agreed to perform and conduct in the United States as part of the 1909–10 concert season with conductor Max Fiedler and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He spent time during breaks at Ivanovka finishing a new piece specially for the visit, his Piano Concerto No. 3 (Op. 30), which he dedicated to Josef Hofmann. The tour saw the composer make 26 performances, 19 as pianist and 7 as conductor, which marked his first recitals without another performer in the program. His first appearance was at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts for a recital on November 4, 1909. The second performance of the Piano Concerto No. 3 by the New York Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Gustav Mahler in New York City with the composer as soloist, an experience he personally treasured. The tour increased the composer's popularity in America yet he declined subsequent offers, including that of conductor of the Boston Symphony, due to the length of time away from Russia and his family.

Upon his return home in February 1910, Rachmaninoff became vice president of the Imperial Russian Musical Society, whose president was a member of the royal family. Later in 1910, Rachmaninoff completed his choral work Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (Op. 31), but it was banned from performance as it did not follow the format of a typical liturgical church service. For two seasons between 1911 and 1913, Rachmaninoff was appointed permanent conductor of the Philharmonic Society of Moscow; he helped raise its profile and increase audience numbers and receipts. In 1912, Rachmaninoff left the IRMS when learned that a musician in an administrative post was dismissed for being Jewish.

Soon after his resignation, an exhausted Rachmaninoff sought time for composition and took his family on holiday to Switzerland. They left after one month for Rome for a visit that became a particularly tranquil and influential period for the composer, who lived alone in small apartment on Piazza di Spagna while his family stayed at a boardinghouse. While there he received an anonymous letter that contained a Russian translation of Edgar Allan Poe's poem The Bells by Konstantin Balmont which affected him greatly, and he began work on his same-titled choral symphony, Op. 35, based on it. This period of composition ended abruptly when Rachmaninoff's daughters contracted serious cases of typhoid and were treated in Berlin due to their father's greater trust in German doctors. After six weeks, the Rachmaninoffs returned to their Moscow flat. The composer conducted The Bells at its premiere in St. Petersburg in late 1913.

In January 1914, Rachmaninoff began a concert tour of England which was enthusiastically received. He was too afraid to travel alone following the death of Raoul Pugno of an unexpected heart attack in his hotel room which left the composer wary of a similar fate. Following the outbreak of war later that year, his position of Inspector of Music at Nobility High School for Girls put him in the group of government servants which prevented him from joining the army, yet the composer made regular charitable donations for the war effort. In 1915, Rachmaninoff completed his second major choral work, All-Night Vigil (Op. 37), after he attended a performance of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and felt disappointed with it. After spending two weeks writing the All-Night Vigil, he passed the score to Sergei Taneyev for proofreading and correcting errors in its polyphony, but it was returned unaltered. It was received so warmly at its Moscow premiere in aid of war relief, that four subsequent performances were quickly scheduled.

Scriabin's death in April 1915 was a tragedy for Rachmaninoff, who went on a piano recital tour devoted to his friend's compositions to raise funds for Scriabin's financially-stricken widow. It marked his first public performances of works other than his own. During a vacation in Finland that summer, Rachmaninoff learned of Taneyev's death, a loss which, along with his father's passing that year, affected him greatly. By its end he finished his 12 Romances (Op. 34), whose final section, Vocalise, became one of his most popular songs.

Leaving Russia, Emigration to the U.S., and Concert Pianist: 1917–1925

On the day the February 1917 Revolution began in St. Petersburg, Rachmaninoff performed a piano recital in Moscow in aid of wounded Russian soldiers who had fought in the war. He supported the political changes and donated his fee to charity. Following a break spent with his family in the more peaceful Simeiz, Crimea, in August, Rachmaninoff performed at a concert the following month at Yalta. It turned out to be his final performance in Russia. Following the October 1917 Revolution his Ivanovka estate was seized by the Bolshevik regime. Among such political turmoil Rachmaninoff was offered the opportunity to perform ten piano recitals across the more peaceful Scandinavia, which he used as an excuse to quickly obtain permits for his family to leave the country. On December 22, 1917, they left on an open sled, travelling north through Finland to Helsinki with some money, a few notebooks with sketches of compositions, and scores to the first act of his unfinished opera Monna Vanna and Rimsky-Korsakov's opera The Golden Cockerel. They reached safety in Stockholm, Sweden, and in early 1918 settled in Copenhagen, Denmark, where Rachmaninoff worked as a concert pianist from February to July 1918, practicing exhaustively to improve his technique and learning new pieces to play.

With war continuing across Europe, Rachmaninoff considered whether to continue performing and composing or move elsewhere. He then received further offers to become the conductor of the Boston and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestras. He declined them, yet the composer saw a move to the United States as financially advantageous, as he would not earn enough to support his family through composition alone. On November 1, 1918, the family boarded a boat in Oslo, Norway, bound for New York City, receiving assistance in the fare by friends and admirers; pianist Ignaz Friedman gave them $2,000. They arrived eleven days later, settling in 505 West End Avenue and Rachmaninoff accepted a piano from Steinway as a gift. Upon Hofmann's suggestion the composer secured Charles Ellis as his agent, who booked him 36 performances in various towns across the 1918–1919 concert season, the first taking place on December 8, 1918 in Providence, Rhode Island with the composer, in recovery from the Spanish flu, giving a piano recital that included his own arrangement of The Star-Spangled Banner.

Rachmaninoff opted for a career as a concert pianist because dedicating time solely on composition was too restrictive. Performing allowed him to become financially secure without much difficulty, allowing the composer and his family to live an upper middle class life with servants, a chef, chauffeur, and a secretary. The family recreated the atmosphere of their Ivanovka estate in their new home, entertaining Russian guests, employing Russians and observing Russian customs. Though he could speak some English, Rachmaninoff had all his correspondence translated into Russian. He allowed himself some luxury, including quality tailored suits and the latest model of cars.

In 1920, Rachmaninoff signed a recording contract with the Victor Talking Machine Company which earned him some much needed income. He became a member of the board of directors for the Tolstoy Foundation Center in Valley Cottage, New York. Early 1921 saw Rachmaninoff apply for documentation to visit Russia, but progress ceased following his decision to undergo surgery for pain in his right temple. The operation failed to relieve the symptoms; the composer only recovered after having dental work late in the decade. Rachmaninoff would not attempt to revisit Russia for the rest of his life, but began sending regular money and food parcels to his family, friends, and those in need back home. In 1921, after leaving the hospital, he purchased a home on 33 Riverside Drive in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson River. There he maintained a Russian atmosphere by observing Russian customs, serving Russian food, and employing Russian servants.

Rachmaninoff made his first European trip since the end of World War I with concerts in London in 1922. In 1924, Rachmaninoff declined an invitation to become conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In the following year he founded TAIR, a publishing company in Paris named after his daughters, that specialized in works by himself and other Russian composers, following the tragic death of the husband of his daughter, Tatiana.

Touring, Final Compositions, and Villa Senar: 1926–1942

Demanding tour schedules caused Rachmaninoff's composition output to slow significantly; between his arrival to the U.S. in 1918 and his death, he completed just six compositions, barring some revisions to previous works and piano transcriptions for his concert repertoire. The composer later admitted that by leaving Russia, "I left behind my desire to compose: losing my country, I lost myself also." In 1926, after concentrating on touring for the past eight years, he took a year's break from performing and completed the first two of the last of his six pieces, the Piano Concerto No. 4, which he had started in 1917, and Three Russian Songs which he dedicated to Leopold Stokowski. Rachmaninoff sought the company of fellow Russian musicians and befriended pianist Vladimir Horowitz in 1928. The men remained supportive of each other's work, each making a point of attending concerts given by the other. Horowitz remained a champion of Rachmaninoff's solo works and his Piano Concerto No. 3, about which Rachmaninoff remarked publicly after a performance in 1942: "This is the way I always dreamed my concerto should be played, but I never expected to hear it that way on Earth." In 1930, in a rare occurrence, Rachmaninoff allowed Italian composer Ottorino Respighi to orchestrate pieces from his Études-Tableaux, Op. 33 (1911) and the Études-Tableaux, Op. 39 (1917), giving Respighi the inspirations behind the compositions.

From 1929 to 1931, Rachmaninoff spent his summers in France at Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines near Rambouillet, meeting with fellow Russian emigres and his daughters. By 1930, his desire to compose had returned and he sought a new location to write new pieces. He bought a plot of land in Switzerland near Hertenstein, Lucerne and oversaw the construction of his new home, naming it Villa Senar after the first two letters of his and his wife's name, adding the "r" from the family name. Rachmaninoff would spend the summer at Villa Senar until 1939, often with his daughters and grandchildren, with whom he would partake in one of his favorite activities, motor-boating in the Lake Lucerne. In the comfort of his own villa, Rachmaninoff completed his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in 1934 and Symphony No. 3 in 1936.

In 1931, Rachmaninoff and several others signed an article in The New York Times that criticized the cultural policies of the Soviet Union. The composer's music suffered a boycott in Russia as a result from the backlash in the Soviet press, lasting until 1933.

The 1939–40 concert season saw Rachmaninoff perform fewer concerts than usual, totaling 43 appearances that were mostly in the U.S. His tour included his final shows in England and an appearance at the Lucerne International Music Festival in August 1939, after which he departed a now war-torn Europe for the last time. He supported the Russian war effort against Nazi Germany by donating the receipts from many of his concerts that season to the Red Army. On November 26 and December 3, 1939, he performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra in New York City with conductor Eugene Ormandy. This was followed by the composer conducting the orchestra for Symphony No. 3 and The Bells on December 10, his first conducting post since 1917. The concert season left Rachmaninoff tired, despite calling it "rather successful." In December 1939, Rachmaninoff began an extensive recording period which lasted until February 1942 and included his Piano Concerto Nos. 1 and 3 and Symphony No. 3 at the Philadelphia Academy of Music.

In the early 1940s, Rachmaninoff was approached by the makers of the British film Dangerous Moonlight to write a short concerto-like piece for use in the film, but he declined. The job went to Richard Addinsell and the orchestrator Roy Douglas, who came up with the Warsaw Concerto. In May 1940, Rachmaninoff underwent minor surgery which was followed by a summer's break at Orchard's Point, an estate near Huntington, New York on Long Island, which was met with a period of anxiety and stress over the concern of his daughter Tatiana following the German takeover in the Battle of France. In October 1940, Rachmaninoff completed his final composition, Symphonic Dances, Op. 45. It is his only piece he composed in its entirety while living in the United States. Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra premiered the piece at the Academy of Music on January 7, 1941.

Illness, Move to California, and Death: 1942–1943

In early 1942, Rachmaninoff was advised by his doctor to relocate to a warmer climate to improve his health after suffering from sclerosis, lumbago, neuralgia, high blood pressure, and headaches. A move to Long Island fell through after the composer and his wife expressed greater interest in California, and initially settled in a leased home on Tower Road in Beverly Hills. Rachmaninoff completed his final studio recording sessions during this time, in February 1942. Four months later, he purchased a home at 610 Elm Drive in Beverly Hills. Later in 1942 he invited Igor Stravinsky to dinner, the two sharing their worries of a war-torn Russia and their children in France.

The 1942–43 concert season was Rachmaninoff's last, and he intended to retire from public performance due to his increasing fatigue, and dedicate his time to composition. Rachmaninoff and his wife Natalia were among the 220 people who became naturalized American citizens at a ceremony held in New York City on February 1, 1943. Later that month, he complained of persistent cough and back pain to his Russian doctor, who advised that he would recover in the warmer weather. The composer continued his tour, but decided upon his visit in New Orleans to cancel the remaining dates and seek treatment in California. It was then that Rachmaninoff was diagnosed with melanoma, and his wife took him home where he reunited with his daughter Irina. His last recital, which had occurred on February 17 at the Alumni Gymnasium at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee, included Piano Sonata No. 2 by Chopin which contains a funeral march.

Rachmaninoff's health rapidly declined in the last week of March 1943. He was turned off by food, had constant pain in his arms and sides, and found it increasingly difficult to breathe. On March 26, the composer lost consciousness and he died two days later, four days before his 70th birthday. A message from several Moscow composers with greetings had arrived too late for Rachmaninoff to read. His funeral took place at the Holy Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church on Micheltorena Street in Silver Lake. In his will, Rachmaninoff wished to be buried at Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow, the same as Scriabin, Taneyev, and Chekhov, but his American citizenship could not see the request through. Instead, he was interred at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York on June 1. A statue marked "Rachmaninoff: The Last Concert," designed and sculpted by Victor Bokarev, stands at the World's Fair Park in Knoxville as a tribute. In August 2015, Russia announced its intentions to seek reburial of Rachmaninoff's remains in Russia, claiming that Americans have neglected the composer's grave while attempting to "shamelessly privatize" his name. The composer's descendants have resisted this idea, pointing out that he died in the U.S. after spending decades outside of Russia in self-imposed political exile.

After Rachmaninoff's death, poet Marietta Shaginyan published fifteen letters they exchanged from their first contact in February 1912 and their final meeting in July 1917. The nature of their relationship bordered on romantic, but was primarily intellectual and emotional. Shaginyan and the poetry she shared with Rachmaninoff has been cited as the inspiration for the six songs that make up his Six Songs, (Op. 38).

Recent Additions

Leonid Kuzmin plays Rachmaninov - Elegy/Elegie

Leonid Kuzmin plays Rachmaninov - Elegy/Elegie

Rachmaninoff, Sonata No. 2 — played by Arkadi Chubrik  [2 of 2]

Rachmaninoff, Sonata No. 2 — played by Arkadi Chubrik  [2 of 2]

Serge Rachmaninoff Vocalise op.34 no.14.Die erste Aufführung-Cello&Orgel.

Serge Rachmaninoff Vocalise op.34 no.14.Die erste Aufführung-Cello&Orgel.

Rachmaninoff plays Rachmaninoff - Paganini Rhapsody (2)

Rachmaninoff plays Rachmaninoff - Paganini Rhapsody (2)

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