Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Sergei Rachmaninoff in California

Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff
Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

We mark the death on March 28, 1943 – 79 years ago today – of the composer, pianist, and conductor Sergei Rachmaninoff, at his home in Beverly Hills, California. He was born on April 1, 1873, and thus died just four days before his 70th birthday.

This post, as well as tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes, will focus on the last year of Rachmaninoff’s life, during which he lived in Beverly Hills, California.

Rachmaninoff – all 6’6” of him! – was one of the great pianists of his (or any) time; an outstanding composer; and a more than able conductor (he was, for example, the conductor of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow from 1904-1906). Lucrative though performing as a pianist and conductor were, what Rachmaninoff really wanted to be was a composer (the composition bug is, as I will attest, something of a disease). As is the case with so many “working” composers – meaning composers who make the bulk of their income doing something other than composing – Rachmaninoff composed primarily during the summer months. 

The Rachmaninoff house is Ivanovka, circa 1915
The Rachmaninoff house is Ivanovka, circa 1915

Between 1890 and 1917 – from the ages of 17 to 44 – Rachmaninoff spent those summer months composing at his home in Ivanovka, a sprawling family estate/compound roughly 260 miles south-southeast of Moscow.  It was, by every account, a peaceful and idyllic place, one that both inspired Rachmaninoff and provided him the peace and quiet that he required to compose.…

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