Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Rachmaninoff, Symphony No. 2

Rachmaninoff in America

Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff in 1921
Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) in 1921

Like so many Russians of his time and of his class (what was then called in Russia the “lower nobility”; what we would call today the upper middle class), Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) and his family lost everything but their lives in the Russian Revolution of 1917.  He, his wife Natalia, and his daughters Tatiana and Irena escaped Russia on December 22, 1917, with what they could carry in their small valises.  After having spent nearly a year in Sweden and Denmark, the family arrived in New York City on November 10, 1918.  

(The list of so-called “first wave” Russian émigrés who fled the Revolution represented a brain-drain of what was to then an unprecedented proportion.  In just the arts, that list of émigrés included, aside from Rachmaninoff, Léon Bakst, Yul Brynner(!), Oleg Cassini, Marc Chagall, Feodor Chaliapin, Serge Diaghilev, Peter Carl Fabergé, Michel Fokine, Wassily Kandinsky, Tamara Karsavina, Vladimir Nabokov, Vaslav Nijinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Nicolas Roerich, and Igor Stravinsky.)

On arriving in New York City in 1918, Rachmaninoff made his headquarters on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  His first long-term residence was an apartment at 33 Riverside Drive, at 75th Street and Riverside.  

505 West End Avenue
505 West End Avenue

In 1926, Rachmaninoff and his family moved into a large, stately flat at 505 West End Avenue between 84th and 85th streets. The Rachmaninoff flat became known as “Moscow on the Hudson.”  Russian was spoken by the butlers and the servants, and the door was always open to Rachmaninoff’s fellow Russian émigrés, who came to socialize, eat caviar, and drink vodka.

In early 1942, the increasingly infirm, nearly 70-year-old Rachmaninoff was advised by his doctor to relocate to a warmer, more benign climate. Rachmaninoff and his wife chose to move to Los Angeles, where they took up residence in early May of 1942.  They initially lived in a palatial rental at 9941 Tower Lane in Beverly Hills, but within a matter of weeks had purchased a house of their own at 610 Elm Drive, also in Beverly Hills.…

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