Sergei Rachmaninoff

Russian composer, pianist and conductor (1873–1943)

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff (1 April (O.S. 20 March) 187328 March 1943) was a Russian pianist, composer and conductor who based himself in the United States after the October Revolution. His name is often transliterated as Sergey or Serge, Rakhmaninov or Rachmaninov.

Sergei Rachmaninoff


  • The virtuosos look to the students of the world to do their share in the education of the great musical public. Do not waste your time with music that is trite or ignoble. Life is too short to spend it wandering in the barren Saharas of musical trash.
    • Extract from an interview by James Francis Cooke, as given in the 1999 edition of Great Pianists on Piano Playing (Mineola: Dover Publications, 1999) p. 217.
  • I repeat what I said to you back in Russia: you are, in my opinion, the greatest composer of our time.
  • A good conductor ought to be a good chauffeur; the qualities that make the one also make the other. They are concentration, an incessant control of attention, and presence of mind; the conductor only has to add a little sense of music.
    • Quoted in Oskar von Riesemann (trans. Dolly Rutherford) Rachmaninoff's Recollections (New York: Macmillan, 1934) p. 155.
  • I feel like a ghost wandering in a world grown alien. I cannot cast out the old way of writing and I cannot acquire the new. I have made an intense effort to feel the musical manner of today, but it will not come to me.
    • Interviewed by Leonard Liebling in The Musical Courier, 1939; cited from Sergei Bertensson and Jay Leyda Sergei Rachmaninoff: A Lifetime in Music (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002) p. 351.
  • Although it may seem incredible, this cure helped me. At the beginning of the summer I began to compose... New musical ideas began to stir with me-far more than I needed for my concerto. By the autumn I had finished the Adagio and Finale... The Two movements I played... at a charity concert... They had a gratifying success... By the Spring I had finished the first movement of the concerto... Out of gratitude, I dedicated it to Nikolay Dahl.
  • I can respect the artistic aim of a composer if he arrives at the so-called modern idiom after an intense period of preparation…Such composers know what they are doing when they break a law; they know what to react against, because they have had experience in the classical forms and style. Having mastered the rules, they know which can be violated and which should be obeyed. But, I am sorry to say, I have found too often that young composers plunge into the writing of experimental music with their school lessons only half learned. Too much radical music is sheer sham, for this very reason: its composer sets about revolutionizing the laws of music before he learned them himself.
    • Interviewed by David Ewen in The Etude, 1941; cited from Josiah Fisk and Jeff Nichols (eds.) Composers on Music (Boston, MA: Northeastern Universities Press, 1997) pp. 235-6
  • My dear hands. Farewell, my poor hands.
    • Quoted in Sergei Bertensson and Jay Leyda Sergei Rachmaninoff: A Lifetime in Music (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002) p. 381.
    • Said on February 27, 1943, during his last illness, after having said that he would never be able to play again.


  • Technically he was highly gifted, but also severely limited. His music is well constructed and effective, but monotonous in texture, which consists in essence mainly of artificial and gushing tunes accompanied by a variety of figures derived from arpeggios. The enormous popular success some few of Rakhmaninoff's works had in his lifetime is not likely to last, and musicians never regarded it with much favour.
  • Opinion in all parts of the world would agree that Rachmaninoff is the most complete of living masters of the instrument; his technique is comprehensive, and he is, of course, musical to his bone's marrow. Most important of all, he is a composer, and for this reason he is able to approach a work as none of his pianist contemporaries can approach one – that is, from the inside, as an organic and felt creative process.
    • Neville Cardus The Delights of Music (London: Victor Gollancz, 1966) p. 90.
  • It is as a composer that his name will live longest. He was the last of the colourful Russian masters of the late 19th cent[ury], with their characteristic gift for long and broad melodies imbued with a resigned melancholy which is never long absent.
    • Michael Kennedy The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music, 3rd edn. (London: Oxford University Press, 1980) p. 516.
  • Especially dangerous on the musical front in the present class war.
Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: