As both a concert pianist and a fully-fledged composer, Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) was one of the last of a now extinct breed: the composer-performer. In this respect he was part of a tradition dating back to at least the time of Franz Liszt (and let’s not forget that, prior to Liszt, Mozart and Beethoven were pianist-composers). Born in Tsarist Russia, Rachmaninov fled his homeland in the aftermath of the Revolution and based himself in the United States in the early 1920s. That said, he travelled overseas frequently (from the early 1930s he had a house in Switzerland) and did not become a US citizen until shortly before his death. His reputation was assured with the success of the Piano Concerto No 2 in 1901 and the work remains to this day one of the most famous (and beloved) works for piano and orchestra. Close behind is the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini from 1934. As a pianist Rachmaninov was blessed with an exceptionally large hand span and a phenomenal technique. By common consent he is held to be one of the greatest pianists of all time. His recordings remain in circulation. In addition to solo piano works and works for piano and orchestra, Rachmaninov composed symphonies, operas, choral music and songs (the Vocalise being the most famous). The choral symphony The Bells (1913) and the Symphonic Dances (1940) are among his finest orchestral works.
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