Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninov (also found as Rachmaninoff) was born in 1873. A well known Russian pianist and composer, he immigrated to the United States in 1917 and did eventually become a full US citizen, weeks before his death in March of 1943, just shy of his 70th birthday.
Since the 16th century, his family had been in the service of the Russian tsars. Music and military figured largely in the family. His father, Vasili, was an army officer and an amateur pianist. Vasili married into more wealth with a dowry of 5 estates from the family of his wife, Lyubov Petrovna Butakova. They had 6 children and, unfortunately, Vasili was not a good provider. Over the years he managed to lose all of estates, selling them off to pay for debts and eventually the family was forced to move to a small flat in St. Petersburg. Divorce was not an option and Vasili did finally leave the family and go to Moscow. This left the children in his wife’s care. Sergei spent some time living with relatives who offered to help the family once they were in St. Petersburg.
Throughout it all Sergei’s musical talent was able to be fostered and developed. His family life had a large influence in his music from an early age. As a very young child, his mother gave him some piano lessons. Eventually his grandfather (on his father’s side), insisted that a proper teacher be found as he recognized the talent in his grandson. Anna Ornatzkaya came to the family to teach Sergei when they were still living on the family estate of Oneg. She was a graduate of St. Petersburg Conservatory. When the family had to move to St. Petersburg and she left her position, she arranged for Sergei to attend there as well. His studies would later continue at the Moscow Conservatory.
Sergei had a very full life with many interesting influences and happenings so we will continue to look at his life over the next few weeks!