The Wandering Pianist

Prelude in F#m, Op.23 No.1 Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Andante H. Laverick (1690-1777)

A theme of this Lenten season is ‘wandering’, and Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) definitely fits that bill.

The Rachmaninoff family was a part of the “old aristocracy” in Russia where all of the attitude but none of the money remained. Sergei’s father’s financial incompetence finished off what little was left of the family’s money and the Rachmaninoffs moved to a small flat in Saint Petersburg, which turned out to be just the thing for 10 year old Sergei’s musical education. His career as a pianist and composer progressed steadily.

But the Russian Revolution of 1917 put an end to that. Technically a member of the ‘aristocracy’ he and his family escaped from Russia to Helsinki in an open sled, with little more than a tooth brush and some scores he was working on. But unlike most Russian refugees, Rachmaninoff had a reputation as a concert pianist and composer that easily cut through visa red tape, and made it relatively easy to provide for his family anywhere they chose to go. They ended up in the United States, and his success as a touring concert pianist made it possible for him and his wife to settle in Europe which was more to their liking. But WWII put an end to that, and Rachmaninoffs ended up in the U.S. for good. Two months after he and his wife became U.S. citizens, Sergei passed away just four days before his 70th birthday.