rachmaninoffApril 1, 1873 – March 28, 1943

Romantic Period


Sergei Rachmaninoff was one of the most important composers in Russia in the early 20th century. He was a wonderful pianist, and some of his most important compositions were written for that instrument. He studied first at the school of a very difficult taskmaster, Nikolai Zverev, who made his students work for 16 hours each day. He then went to the Moscow Conservatory, where he won the Great Gold Medal in 1892.


Despite this fine training, and encouragement from Tchaikovsky, who was Russia’s most famous composer at the time, Rachmaninoff’s career moved slowly. When his first symphony was performed, absolutely nobody liked it. He lost confidence and found himself unable to compose. He finally went to a hypnotist, who repeated over and over to him, “You will write your Concerto – You will write your Concerto….” He did, producing his famous Piano Concerto in c minor, which is his most popular work. He went on to compose several other concertos plus symphonies, piano works and songs. Another well-known work is the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.


Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, Rachmaninoff left his home country, moving first to Switzerland and then to the United States. He toured often, conducting and performing. His astounding abilities on the piano won him high praise and great fame. He had a phenomenal memory and could hear a piece of music and play it back not only the next day but years afterward. Fortunately, Rachmaninoff recorded much of his own music, so we can still hear his performances today. He died in California at the age of 69.


Sergei_Prokofiev_02April 23, 1891 – March 5, 1953
Modern Period


Russian composer and pianist Sergei Prokofiev was born in 1891 in Sontsovka, a small village in Ukraine. Early on, it was clear that he had musical talent. His mother, who was a very good pianist, encouraged him, and taught him to play the piano. Sergei began composing at the age of five. When he got a bit older, he and his mother moved to St. Petersburg, so that he could study music there.


After Prokofiev graduated from school, he traveled around Europe to learn more about music. World War I and the Russian Revolution made living and working in Russia very difficult, so Prokofiev left the country in 1918. Paris eventually became his home, but he also spent time in the United States and the Bavarian Alps. But the whole time he was away from Russia, Prokofiev longed for his homeland. In 1936, he made the unusual decision to move back to the Soviet Union.


Prokofiev was a master at using music to tell a story. One of his most famous musical stories is Peter and the Wolf, which was written for Russia’s Central Children’s Theatre. You may have seen it performed in school, or on the concert stage.


In addition to symphonic music, Prokofiev wrote ballets, operas, and music for films — like Lieutenant Kijé.


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