Sergei Rachmaninoff

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Sergei Rachmaninoff Notes

(born April 1, 1873, Oneg, Russia)
(died March 28, 1943, Beverley Hills, CA)

Edited by Peter Y. Chou

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Quotes from Books

Rachmaninoff sees a hypnotist

It was Siloti who introduced the music of Rachmaninoff to London audiences by the playing the Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 3, at one of his recitals towards the end of the '90s. The piece had an instantaneous success, and began what seems to have been its function in pioneering the composer's music all over the world, by rapidly travelling all over Britain from that London debut by Siloti... The society invited Rachmaninoff to appear at one of its concerts then specifying the Prelude, as it has now come to be known, should be in his group of solos. He accepted the invitation, including the piece among the pianoforte works of his own he then played, and personally conducting the performance of his fantasy for orchestra, "The Rock." The triumph of the evening was unquestionable, and he was at once asked to appear during the next season, in 1899, and to include in his programme his first pianoforte concerto. Naturally elated by the warmth of his welcome by the (hitherto believed) "unmusical English," and the furore of the moment, he declared he would write a new concerto for production by the society at his next engagement.

Fate decided otherwise. Actually, the second Pianoforte Concerto in C minor (so far, the best known here of his four works in that form for pianoforte and orchestra) was not completed until the spring of 1901, and it was Basil Sapellnikoff, not the composer, who was soloist in it at its initial performance in this country by the Philharmonic Society in London that winter.

But this is anticipatory. The delay in writing the new (second) piano concerto was due to a recurrence of his creative dullness and physical inertia, when he returned to Moscow, to live again with his aunt, Madame Satina, and her family. A spaniel dog Levko, he then owned, was more agreeable company than the society of human beings, a condition that worried his aunt and cousins very much, for they were fond of him, and he seemed to be drifting into a kind of melancholia. Among the plans they tried to arouse him from his indifference to his surroundings was a visit to Count Leo Tolstoy, who had promised to talk with him and try to induce him to shake off this lethargy that was hampering his career. But Rachmaninoff remained unimpressed.

Thus existence dragged through for him (and his cousins and aunt!) all through 1899 until the year waned, when a psycho-analyst named Dr. N. Dahl, created a considerable stir in Moscow by the success of his cures of various nervous troubles by means of hypnotic suggestion. The Satins induced Rachmaninoff to consult him. From the beginning of January 1900 until April, he went daily to Dr. Dahl to receive treatment while lying in an hypnotic doze in an easy chair in the doctor's apartment. This treatment consisted of the almost ceaseless repetition to him of the words: "You will begin to write you concerto... You will work with great facility... The concerto will be of an excellent quality..."

So remarkable was the success of this principle of auto-suggestion over the inertia of his inner self that his creative powers began to function by the beginning of the summer. He wrote anew with increasing fluency. Ideas and thematic material welled up with all the facility of those now so seemingly far-off days when he wrote "Aleko" in little over a fortnight. The andante and finale of the C minor Concerto, Op. 18, came to him in this way, before the opening movement, and were completed by the autumn of 1900, and given their first performance at one of the Prison Charity Concerts organised by Princess Lieven in Moscow in connection with a prisoners' aid society. Siloti conducted when Rachmaninoff played; and at these concerts as well as the composer other notable artists who appeared were the cellists, Pablo Casals and Brandoukov, the violinist, Eugene Ysäye, and Fedor Chaliapin.

The C minor Piano Concerto was completed by the spring of 1901, and also the Suite, Op. 17, for two pianofortes, briefly sketched out the previous autumn. As already mentioned the concerto received its first performance in England at a London Philharmonic concert of 1902, the soloist being Basil Sapellnikoff. Rachmaninoff dedicated the concerto to Dr. Dahl as an expression of his gratitude for the success of his care. As no one saving the doctor, the patient, and his cousins knew of the "cure" there was considerable speculation as to the reason for the dedication. The completion of this large work shattered whatever remained of an inferiority complex in the psychology of Rachmaninoff. (pp. 109-113)

Watson Lyle, Rachmaninoff: A Biography, William Reeves, London, 1939 (ML410.R11.L98.1976)

Rachmaninoff's dilemma as a creative artist

In the early 1930's, Rachmaninoff summed up the dilemma
that characterized his life as a creative artist:

I don't know whether I have succeeded in making clear the continuous conflict that has gone on in my mind between my musical activities and my artistic conscience— my persistent craving to be engaged on something other than the matter in hand. I have never been quite able to make up my mind as to which was my true calling— that of a composer, pianist, or conductor. These doubts assail me to this day. There are times when I consider myself nothing but a composer; others when I believe myself capable only of playing the piano. Today, when the greater part of my life is over, I am constantly troubled by the misgiving that, in venturing into too many fields, I may have failed to make the best use of my life. In the old Russian phrase, I have "hunted three hares." Can I be sure that I have killed one of them.?"

David Butler Cannata, Rachmaninoff and the Symphony,
Studien Verlag, Innsbruck-Wien,1999 (ML 410.R12.C29.1999)


Web Links to Sergei Rachmaninoff

Rachmaninoff Biography
  (Juilliard School of Music)
Classic Music Pages: Sergei Rachmaninoff
  (Biography, Picture Gallery, List of Works, Bibliography)
Sergei Rachmaninoff Web Pages (By Robert L. Jones)
  (Reviews, Links, Legacy, Recordings, News, Photos)
Rachmaninoff's Legacy
  (His depression and use of hypnotist Dr. Nikolai Dahl)
Rachmaninoff Society
  (96 Kenilworth Road, COVENTRY, CV4 7AH, England)
Rachmaninoff's Page from Japan
  (Web site by Emi, college student from Tokyo)
Segei Rachmaninoff: Russian Composer
  (Resources, Index, Library, Gallery)
Rachmaninov Lover's Home Page (by Frank Wiens)
  (Professor of Piano, University of Pacific Conservatory of Music, Stockton, CA)
Rachmaninoff Archives at Library of Congress
  (Music manuscripts, paper, and record collection of Rachmaninoff)
Sergei Vassilyevich Rachmaninoff
  (Biography from Angelsmist site)
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat major
  (History, Revisions, Horowitz Version, Recordings, Sources, Links)
Sergei Rachmaninoff
  (Rachmaninoff's taste for the devilish from fundamentalist Christian site)
Gravesite of Sergei Vasilievitch Rachmaninoff
  (Buried: Kensico Cemetery, Valhall, Westchester County, NY)
Rachmaninoff MP3 Files
  (compiled by Alta Vista)
Rachmaninoff Web Links
  (45 web links by Robert L. Jones)

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (6-16-2003)