Sergei Rachmaninoff in the early 1900s

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Sergei Rachmaninoff is a study in contrasts: reviled by critics but adored by audiences.

He was a towering, scowling presence who rarely smiled. Yet he wore his tender heart on his sleeve with his lush, sweeping melodies that seem to speak directly to your heart. He could write some of the most lasting, effective pieces with worldwide success and then go silent for years at a time.

Why do we love Rachmaninoff's music so much? Is it the romantic themes that slowly and endlessly unfold like a long, unhurried kiss? Is it that there's always a dark, brooding undercurrent in those themes? Whatever it is, it's hooked listeners for more than a century. 

We'll explore these questions in our new installments of CPR Classical's podcast The Great Composers. Colorado Public Radio host Karla Walker and conductor and lecturer Scott O'Neil explore the life and music of the notoriously reclusive Rachmaninoff. You'll see his struggles and joys through his eyes. Subscribe so you don't miss an episode.

We start with the piece that catapulted him to international fame: the Prelude in C-sharp minor. It's dark. It's moody. It's over-the-top dramatic. It's quintessential Rachmaninoff.  And you need really big, flexible hands if you want to play it. 

Featured Music From 'The Great Composers: Rachmaninoff'

Check out this Spotify playlist and explore more than five hours of music featured in this series.