Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. His sumptuous and lyrical music, strictly in the Russian romantic tradition, is familiar all over the world. It is clear from his records that he was a virtuoso pianist.
Coming from an affluent but somewhat improvident family, Rachmaninov had to learn self-reliance early. He studied first at the St Petersburg Conservatory and later in Moscow, where his teachers were the rigid disciplinarian Zverev, Ziloti (piano), Taneyev (counterpoint), and Arensky (composition). Graduating in 1892 with the Gold Medal, Rachmaninov soon established himself as a brilliant pianist. However, he was by then increasingly interested in composition: his first piano concerto (1890–91, revised 1917), the one-act opera Aleko (1892; his graduation exercise), and the famous Prelude in C sharp minor for piano (1892) were among his early works. However, the poor reception given to a performance of his first symphony (1897) distressed him to such an extent that he stopped composing for three years, until the success of the second piano concerto (1900–01) launched him internationally as a composer. In 1909 he had his debut in the USA as a pianist and in the same year composed the tone poem, The Isle of the Dead. The choral symphony The Bells (1913) followed. After the 1917 revolution, Rachmaninov and his wife (his cousin Natalya, whom he had married in 1902) left Russia for Switzerland. In 1936 he emigrated to the USA, where he died of cancer at his home in Beverly Hills.
Rachmaninov's works include three symphonies, four piano concertos, three operas, and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1934), as well as much chamber and piano music and many songs.