He became known as one of the greatest pianists of his generation, and he was also successful as a conductor and composer. From 1885 to 1892 he studied at the Moscow Conservatory, after which he began his career as a concert pianist. In Moscow he was conductor of the Imperial Opera (1905–6) and of the Philharmonic concerts (1911–13); he twice refused permanent conductorship of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1917 he left Russia and never returned. After living in Switzerland until 1935, he immigrated to the United States and became a U.S. citizen shortly before his death. As a composer he was strongly influenced by his friend Tchaikovsky. Rachmaninoff's music, particularly his piano compositions, are characterized by their dark and massive chords, whose dramatic effects have made them enormously popular. His best-known works are the second (1901) of his four piano concertos, and the Prelude in C Sharp Minor (1892), for piano. Other compositions include Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1934), for piano and orchestra; an orchestral tone poem, The Isle of the Dead (1909); The Bells (1913), for chorus and orchestra; three symphonies; and many piano pieces and songs.
See his Recollections (tr. 1934); biographies by John Culshaw (1950), Victor I. Seroff (1950), Sergei Bertensson and Jay Leyda (1956), and Geoffrey Norris (1976).
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