“I am the Russian composer, and my homeland left a mark on my character and my views” – these were the words of the great Russian composer and genius pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff. The most important dramatic events of the Russian social and artistic life were reflected in his creative work. The development and golden age of Rachmaninoff's creative activities fell on the 1890-1900s. Rachmaninoff's talent manifested itself early and brightly, though he had no particular zeal for systematic music lessons until the age of twelve. He began to study the piano playing at the age of four, in 1882 he was admitted to the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and in 1885 - was promoted to the Moscow Conservatory. There Rachmaninoff studied on a class of piano under Nikolai Zverev, later – under Alexander Siloti; theory and composition he studied under the outstanding composers Sergei Taneyev and Anton Arensky. From 1885 to 1889, Rachmaninoff lived in the Zverev’s boarding house, where he went through a harsh, but quite reasonable schooling of strict discipline, which turned him from a reckless lazy person and a naughty child to an exclusively organized and strong-willed person. Rachmaninoff narrated about Zverev, "I owe to him the best I have in my character”. While studying at the Conservatory, Rachmaninoff was strongly influenced by the personality of P. Tchaikovsky, who, whereas kept track of his beloved Sergey. After Rachmaninoff graduated from the Conservatory, the composer assisted him to stage the opera Aleko at the Bolshoi Theater. Rachmaninoff graduated from the Conservatory specializing in piano in 1891, and a year later, he finished the composition course with the Large Gold Medal. He was the author of several musical works by that time - the famous Prelude in C-sharp minor and Piano concerto No1 were among them, as well as the opera Aleko, which Rachmaninoff created as his graduation work in 17 days. The next compositions - Suite for two pianos, Six moments musicaux (Op. 16), many romances, and symphonic works – The Rock and other ones testified of Rachmaninoff’s distinctive, bright and profound talent. The life of the gifted musician in these years was complicated. Being resolute and autocratic as a musician, Rachmaninoff was thin-skinned by nature, often felt self-distrust. Financial difficulties, unsuitable living conditions, rambling from one rental apartment to another, discouraged him. He felt lonely despite the support of those who supported him. Strong commotion caused by the failure of his First Symphony, performed in St. Petersburg in March 1897, led to creative blocks. Rachmaninoff did not compose anything for several years, hence he performed a lot. In those years, he was acquainted with Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, the Moscow Art Theatre actors; his friendship with Feodor Chaliapin began.
In 1899, Rachmaninoff performed abroad for the first time, it was in in London. In 1900, he traveled to Italy, where he wrote the sketches to the future opera Francesca da Rimini. The staging of the opera Aleko in St. Petersburg became a cheerful event. It was realized on the 100th birth anniversary of A. Pushkin with Chaliapin as Aleko. Thus, the changes began, that gradually prepared his coming back to composing music in the early 1900s.
The new century began with the Piano Concerto No.2. Contemporaries felt the voice of Time in it, with its tension, explosiveness, and feeling of the forthcoming changes. The concert genre became predominant; the main ideas were embodied in it. The musician’s pianistic and conducting activities gained credence in Russian and abroad.
Since 1904, Rachmaninoff had been working as a conductor at the Bolshoi Theater for two years. He participated in the Russian epoch-making concerts organized by Sergei Diaghilev in Paris in 1907.
In 1909, Rachmaninoff performed in the USA for the first time with his Piano Concerto No. 3 with the New York Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gustav Mahler. Intensive concert activity in Russian cities and abroad lined up with equally impressive creativity. Moreover the music of this decade was full of ardent enthusiasm and inspiration (e.g. in the cantata Spring, in Preludes Op. 23, in Concerto No.3).
At the same time, other mood was felt in Rachmaninoff’s works in that period. Sorrowful thoughts about his motherland and its future, philosophical meditations generated the tragic images of the First Piano Sonata, inspired by the “Faust” by Iohann Wolfgang Goethe; the symphonic poem “Isle of the Dead” based on the painting by Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin (1909) and romances. Internal changes became especially noticeable after 1910. Aggressive, hostile images and gloomy subdued spirits appeared. The composer’s musical phraseology became more complicated, large-scale melody line and musical aspiration disappeared. Such are the vocal-symphonic poem The Bells, romances Op.34, Op.38, Etudes - paintings (Etudes-Tableaux) Op.39. However, in this period Rachmaninoff created works of high ethical meaning, which impersonated the enduring spiritual beauty and highlighted Rachmaninoff’s melody – the famous Vocalize and All-Night Vigil, the a-cappella choral compositions.
Rachmaninoff with his family left Russia, as it turned out forever, on December 24, 1917. He lived in the USA for more than a quarter of a century. This period was mainly full of concert activities. The major part of his emolument went to support the compatriots abroad and in Russia. Thus, the entire fee for the concert in April 1922 was send to the starving Russia. In 1941, Rachmaninoff sent more than four thousand dollars to support the Red Army.
The composer led an isolated life abroad. An exception was made only for the F. Steinway family - the head of the piano producing company, with whom Rachmaninov were on friendly terms. Rachmaninov he could not help thinking about the loss of creative inspiration when he settled abroad. Rachmaninoff returned to composing only eight years after leaving Russia. He wrote Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor and Tree Russian Songs for chorus and orchestra (1926), Variations on Corelli Theme (1931), Rhapsody on Paganini Theme (1934), and Symphony No. 3 (1936).
The mournful feeling of the irreparable loss, severe nostalgia gave rise to the art of tremendous tragic power. This art reached its meridian in Symphonic Dances (1940). Rachmaninoff embodied the central theme of his creativity - the image of the Motherland for the last time in the brilliant Symphony №3.
Ref.: Belcanto.ru; O.Averianova