Sergey or Sergei? Rachmaninov or Rachmaninoff? The information suggests his family, part of the Russian pre-revolution bourgeoise, spelled their surname the first way originally but changed it on leaving Russia for the West in 1917. Having lost everything in the revolution, Sergei, his wife and children, travelled to Sweden by open sled. He took with him just a few notebooks containing sketches of his compositions. Though born in Russia in 1873, he died in Beverley Hills in 1943 having become an American citizen only a few weeks earlier. Thankfully he had travelled to Europe and the States to perform and conduct whilst still living in Russia, so he found a welcome (and the gift of a Steinway grand piano) awaiting him abroad.
Rachmaninoff was a highly talented pianist and composer. His hands were so large he could play, with one hand, chords that spanned 12 white piano keys.
We believe the following story is true, and as it’s a good one, we’ll share it:
At a concert in New York, Rachmaninoff was accompanying the violinist Fritz Kreisler. During the performance Kreisler lost his place in the music, sidled over to Rachmaninoff and said, ‘Where are we?’ Rachmaninoff replied, ‘I don’t know where you are, but I’m in Carnigie Hall.’
The photo, from AP Photo, shows him playing for his granddaughter, Sophie, in 1927.
Rachmaninoff’s dates make him a late Romantic; his music remained rooted in the Russia of his early life. Ave Maria, which we’ll be looking at during Simply Romantic, comes from his Vespers (All-night Vigil), composed during the turmoils of 1915. The title Ave Maria suggests we’ll be singing it in Latin rather than the original Russian, but you never know what Angela and Alex have in store for us…! Have a listen to both versions. What do you think about the different marriages of language and music? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below. First Russian:
(Watch out for the choirboy singing while holding a bunch of flowers !?!)