Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943)

How to say the name:

‘Rachmaninoff’ is said like Rack-man-ni-noff.’Sergei’ is said like ‘Sir-gay’.


1st April 1873 in Semyonovo (near Novgorod), Russia.

Rachmaninoff’s grave in New York


28th March 1943 in Beverly Hills, California, USA.


Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York (he wanted to be buried at his estate, Villa Senar, in Switzerland, but World War Two was happening which made that impossible).

Type of Music:

Romantic classical music.

Some famous pieces:
  • Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2 (for piano). (See below for a video of Rachmaninoff himself playing this.)
  • 18th Variation from the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (for piano and orchestra).
  • Vocalise (Op. 34, No. 14, a song without words)
Some great pieces:
  • Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3. (See below for a video of No. 2.)
  • Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
  • Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3.
  • Symphonic Dances.
  • Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (for choir).
  • All Night Vigil (or Vespers)—for choir.
  • The Bells (a symphony for choir and orchestra).
  • Lots of pieces for the piano (especially his Preludes, Variations on a Theme of Chopin, and Variations on a Theme of Corelli).
  • Many songs (including the Vocalise).
Some interesting facts:
  • He was one of the best piano players who ever lived!
  • Much of his best music was written for the piano. This music can be very, very difficult to play.
  • His music is very romantic, even when most other composers at the time were composing modern classical music. In fact, Rachmaninoff was one of the last well-known romantic composers.
  • He became so unhappy when people didn’t like his first Symphony that he wasn’t able to compose anything for three years!
  • Much of his music has very beautiful tunes!
  • A lot of his music has the sound of Russian bells.
  • His ‘Liturgy of St John Chrysostom’ and ‘All Night Vigil’ were written for the Russian Orthodox Church. They sound very different to music written for Western churches (but they sounded too Western for the Russians!).
  • He had to leave Russia during the Russian Revolution (1917). He crossed the border into Finland on a sledge, taking with him only a very few things.
  • He didn’t compose much once he had left Russia.
  • He spent most of the rest of his life in America. He earned his living there by playing the piano and conducting.
  • Everywhere he went, people wanted him to play his famous Prelude in C-sharp minor. (See below for a video of Rachmaninoff playing this.)

Here is a video of the beginning of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. This is one of my favourite pieces of music. I just wish I could play it!!

The beginning of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2

And here is a video of Rachmaninoff himself playing his famous Prelude in C sharp minor (and two other pieces)!

Rachmaninoff himself playing his Prelude in C sharp minor

Finally, here is a short home movie of Rachmaninoff.

A home movie of Rachmaninoff!

Picture credits:
  1. Sergei Rachmaninoff. This photograpgh is in the public domain. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
  2. Rachmaninoff’s grave in New York. This photograpgh may be copied freely. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
Video credits:
  1. Rachmaninoff Concerto N. 2 – I. Moderato (1/2). Classic FM Radio Orchestra. Conductor: Georgi Dimitrov. Soloist: Georgi Cherkin – piano. High Quality of this video is here:
  2. Rachmaninoff plays Rachmaninoff. Rachmaninoff performs his solo piano works in a spectacular recording made on a Bosendorfer 290SE piano, using the music rolls made in his time. This remarkable listening experience brings Rachmaninoff’s phenomenal pianistic talent to life in today’s world. By using unprecedented new techniques of transfer and reproduction, the mechanical aspects of music roll performances have been eliminated. More astonishingly, these advances reveal the subtleties and fine details of Rachmaninoff’s playing with startling clarity, showing us why he was regarded as perhaps the greatest pianist of his time.

    – Prelude in C Sharp Minor, op.3 no.2 (recorded: 17 March 1919)
    – Lilacs, op.21 no.5 (recorded: 6 April 1922)
    – The flight of the Bumblebee (recorded: 1 February 1929).

  3. RACHMANINOV Sergei Vasilievitch. Сергей Рахманинов (which simply says the name ‘Sergei Rachmaninoff’).