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Sergei Rachmaninoff, Chapter 3: A Bullseye On His Back

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Photo: Young Rachmaninoff
Sergei Rachmaninoff

Crouched low. Hiding in a fire escape backstage with his fingers plugging his ears. This is how Sergei Rachmaninoff experienced the premiere of his Symphony No. 1. What should have been a triumphant night for Rachmaninoff turned into a nightmare which only worsened once the review appeared in the newspaper.

"Diseased and perverted harmonizations." "Morbid atmosphere." Fit for the "inhabitants of Hell." These were the words used by St. Petersburg's leading music critic, César Cui, in his review of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 1. Even for someone with a thick skin, those are harsh words. But for sensitive Sergei, they were like a public assassination. And that very public flogging sent Rachmaninoff into a downward spiral.

But make no mistake -- that review was not a critique. It was propaganda. In this episode, host Karla Walker and conductor and lecturer Scott O'Neil explore the worst moment in Rachmaninoff's career, and the fight for the soul of Russian music. Subscribe so you don't miss an episode of The Great Composers.

Featured Music From 'The Great Composers: Rachmaninoff'

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