Donald Macleod explores Sergei Rachmaninov’s years in America.

Reluctant even to visit at first, and once there always more than a little homesick, this proudly Russian composer in fact lived in the United States of America for 25 years, from the end of the First World War until his death in 1943. His life there was principally that of a virtuoso performer, not a composer; and Rachmaninov gave recitals for presidents, recorded discs for Thomas Edison, and felt obliged to rattle off his “hated” Prelude in C sharp minor for concert audiences wherever he went.

All this week, Donald looks at Rachmaninov’s equivocal relationship with his adopted homeland. Rachmaninov’s first toured the USA in 1909, but it was only when he fled the 1917 revolution that he had to properly adjust to life as a concert pianist there. His intense performing schedule left him exhausted – we hear about the year 1926, which dedicated solely to composition, and how he found productive solace during his in summers in Switzerland. Although Rachmaninov was slow to embrace his adopted country, never really learning proper English and always looking back longingly to mother Russia, he did come to love the United States, and eventually, in the final year of his life, became a citizen. By then he’d become immersed in American cultural life, relishing jazz music and even admiring Mickey Mouse’s take on his ubiquitous Prelude.

Music featured:
Prelude in C sharp minor
Piano concerto in D minor, 1st movement
The Isle of the Dead, Op 29
A Dream (6 Songs, Op 38 No 5)
The Star-Spangled Banner for piano
Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor, 1st movement
Polichinelle in F sharp minor, Op 3 No 4
Lento a capriccio (The Bells)
Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 in C sharp minor (Liszt, arr. Rachmaninov)
Liebeslied (arr. for piano)
Etudes Tableaux, Op 33, Nos 2 and 7
3 Russian Songs, Op 41
Marche (Etudes Tableaux, orch. Respighi)
Variations on a theme of Corelli, Op 42
Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, Op 43
Symphony No 3 in A minor, Op 44, second movement
Prelude in C sharp minor (arr. Barnet)
3 Symphonic Dances, Op 45
The Muse; What Happiness; Vocalise (14 Songs, Op 34)

Presenter: Donald Macleod
Producer: Dominic Jewel for BBC Wales

For full tracklistings, including artist and recording details, and to listen to the pieces featured in full (for 30 days after broadcast) head to the series page for Rachmaninov:
And you can delve into the A-Z of all the composers we’ve featured on Composer of the Week here: