" In my own compositions, no conscious effort has been made to be original, or Romantic or Nationalistic, or anything else. I write down on paper the music I hear within me, as naturally as possible...What I try to do, when writing down my music, is to make it say simply and directly that which is in my heart when I am composing."
- Sergey Rachmaninov
In his lifetime Rachmaninov's prelude in C sharp minor was so popular as a concert encore that he grew to hate it. And works such as the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and the Symphonic Dances cemented his popularity. His technical perfection was legendary.
He also had an appetite for speed and a disregard for the safety of others. This scary combination means that a fair amount of his solo piano music requires superhuman skill to perform.
His reputation as a composer, on the other hand, has generated controversy since his death. The 1954 edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians notoriously dismissed his music as "monotonous in texture ... consist[ing] mainly of artificial and gushing tunes ..." and predicted that his popular success was "not likely to last".
His piano pieces are legendary. Rachmaninov had bizarrely large hands, which meant he could cover about 1.5 times the keyboard space a normal person could.
In 1931, Rachmaninov signed a letter condemning the Soviet regime, that was published in the New York Times. There was retaliation immediately, and his music was condemned by the Soviets as "representative of decadent art." However, the official censorship in the Soviet Union could not stop the popularity of Rachmaninov's music in the rest of the world.
He was highly praised by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky , who promoted Rachmaninov's opera to the Bolshoi Theater in 1893. But the disastrous premiere of his 1st Symphony, poorly conducted by A. Glazunov, coupled with his distress over the Russian Orthodox Church's pressure against his marriage, caused him to suffer from depression, which interrupted his career for three years until he sought medical help in 1900.
He started out being influenced by Tchaikovsky's music, but soon created his own unique style full of lavish harmonies and emotional melodies. He was a master of complexity, and gave his music an almost modern feel.
He was born into a noble family of Tatar descent, who had been in the service of the Russian tsars since the 16th century. His parents were both amateur pianists. When he was four, his mother gave him casual piano lessons, but it was his paternal grandfather, Arkady Alexandrovich Rachmaninoff, who brought Anna Ornatskaya, a teacher from Saint Petersburg, to teach Sergei in 1882.
Sergei Rachmaninoff was born in Semyonovo just outside of Novgorod in the north-west region of Russia, he was the forth out of six children.
Coming from a family that valued music