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Throughout his career as composer, conductor and pianist, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873--1943) was an intensely private individual. When Bertensson and Leyda's 1956 biography first appeared, it lifted the veil from several areas of Rachmaninoff's life, especially the genesis of his compositions and how their critical reception affected him. The authors consulted a number of peo Throughout his career as composer, conductor and pianist, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873--1943) was an intensely private individual. When Bertensson and Leyda's 1956 biography first appeared, it lifted the veil from several areas of Rachmaninoff's life, especially the genesis of his compositions and how their critical reception affected him. The authors consulted a number of people who knew Rachmaninoff, worked with him, and corresponded with him. Even with the availabilty of such sources and full access to the Rachmaninoff Archive at the Library of Congress, the authors were tireless in their pursuit of privately held documents, in particular his correspondence. Their labors masterfully incorporates primary materials into the narrative. Almost half a century after it first appeared, this volume remains essential reading.


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Throughout his career as composer, conductor and pianist, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873--1943) was an intensely private individual. When Bertensson and Leyda's 1956 biography first appeared, it lifted the veil from several areas of Rachmaninoff's life, especially the genesis of his compositions and how their critical reception affected him. The authors consulted a number of peo Throughout his career as composer, conductor and pianist, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873--1943) was an intensely private individual. When Bertensson and Leyda's 1956 biography first appeared, it lifted the veil from several areas of Rachmaninoff's life, especially the genesis of his compositions and how their critical reception affected him. The authors consulted a number of people who knew Rachmaninoff, worked with him, and corresponded with him. Even with the availabilty of such sources and full access to the Rachmaninoff Archive at the Library of Congress, the authors were tireless in their pursuit of privately held documents, in particular his correspondence. Their labors masterfully incorporates primary materials into the narrative. Almost half a century after it first appeared, this volume remains essential reading.

30 review for Sergei Rachmaninoff: A Lifetime in Music

  1. 4 out of 5

    Genni

    Rachmaninov is heavily involved in my earliest memory of aesthetic experience. The experience was so strong that, for any faults I may have discovered later in the composer, I will never be able to view him negatively. I have read much about him since that time and listened to almost all of his music (many, many times), but surprisingly, I have never owned a biography of him! So this was the perfect Christmas gift to myself. Bertensson and Leyda's work is solid. It consists mainly of translations Rachmaninov is heavily involved in my earliest memory of aesthetic experience. The experience was so strong that, for any faults I may have discovered later in the composer, I will never be able to view him negatively. I have read much about him since that time and listened to almost all of his music (many, many times), but surprisingly, I have never owned a biography of him! So this was the perfect Christmas gift to myself. Bertensson and Leyda's work is solid. It consists mainly of translations of various letters from Rachmaninov to close friends, conductors, etc. interspersed with explanatory bridges. Even as these letters talk about music, they reveal very little about his sources of inspiration or theories (though he was more outspoken in his last years). They also reveal little of his philosophy of life or anything else that might give us a clue what the driving forces of his life were. He often mentions feeling “lazy” or “melancholy”, but I get the feeling that this is simply an attempt to glide over or divert away from delving himself out to others. But I may be way off here. The only thing really missing from the biography was word of his daughter,Tatiana. Rachmaninov was incredibly anxious about her during the war and in the biography I read of his distress without ever knowing if she survived (though I know from outside sources that she did). Anyway, I think this would have been something very near to his heart and should have been included as it deeply concerned and affected him. This particular edition also contains, by way of introduction, a very interesting history of the authors and why they were the perfect candidates for this work. If, as Schonberg says, understanding the music of a composer means attempting to understand the composer's mind then these letters are just about all we have to go on and as such, are required reading for any one desiring to understand the music of Rachmaninov more.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Becky Lu

    Ok, i was looking for this book awhile back. I read it for leisure and for papers as well. I love this composer and know this book inside out. This is an absolute must if you know who Rachmaninoff is. I'm going to the Hollywood Bowl tonight to listen to his Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor performed by a Korean pianist. This book provided detailed events and accomplishments throughout the life of Sergei Rachmaninoff who I have followed closely throughout my years of studying music but not teaching Ok, i was looking for this book awhile back. I read it for leisure and for papers as well. I love this composer and know this book inside out. This is an absolute must if you know who Rachmaninoff is. I'm going to the Hollywood Bowl tonight to listen to his Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor performed by a Korean pianist. This book provided detailed events and accomplishments throughout the life of Sergei Rachmaninoff who I have followed closely throughout my years of studying music but not teaching because I can’t find a student that has reached the level of playing a Rachmaninoff piece just yet. But all of his Piano Concerti work have been extremely relaxing to listen to, especially the Rach 2 & Rach 3. Aaah, invest in this book if you’re a Rachmaninoff fan.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Matej Kucek

    I wish there was more about my favorite compositions. Anyway it's good document about life of the greatest Composer. I wish there was more about my favorite compositions. Anyway it's good document about life of the greatest Composer.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    It took me a good while to get through this book. It was so detailed! I can’t believe how many letters and correspondence was gathered about his life. I feel like I know Rachmaninov as a friend now. What an incredible devotion to music he had. Literally to his dying day, it’s what kept him alive. From a letter he wrote to an admirer who was sending him poems to set to music: “And another thing; the mood should be rather more sad than gay. I’m not so lucky with bright tones! I await your answer.. It took me a good while to get through this book. It was so detailed! I can’t believe how many letters and correspondence was gathered about his life. I feel like I know Rachmaninov as a friend now. What an incredible devotion to music he had. Literally to his dying day, it’s what kept him alive. From a letter he wrote to an admirer who was sending him poems to set to music: “And another thing; the mood should be rather more sad than gay. I’m not so lucky with bright tones! I await your answer...P.S. I write you nothing about myself: I don’t know how and I don’t like to. It was the truth (and by no means a lie) when someone told you that I am a most ordinary and uninteresting sort of person.” I love that he knew himself so well and got a good laugh about his comment concerning “bright tones”. Anyone who has played much Rach knows that bright tones don’t exist much in his music!

  5. 5 out of 5

    James Ruley

    Sergei Rachmaninoff was a transitional Russian composer. Briefly a student of Tchaikovsky, he largely followed classical Russian styles in his compositions. However, following the start of the Russian Civil War, he left the country and lived abroad during the remaining two-and-a-half decades of his life. This book provides an overview of his life, a difficult task as he was an intensely private man who valued his solitude. While this book does a good job presenting his own thoughts as found in h Sergei Rachmaninoff was a transitional Russian composer. Briefly a student of Tchaikovsky, he largely followed classical Russian styles in his compositions. However, following the start of the Russian Civil War, he left the country and lived abroad during the remaining two-and-a-half decades of his life. This book provides an overview of his life, a difficult task as he was an intensely private man who valued his solitude. While this book does a good job presenting his own thoughts as found in his letters and public interviews, it is in places disorganized and lacks structural analysis. Regardless, it was a good presentation of Rachmaninoff's life. 3/5

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    Important, classic auto/biography. Fascinating biography composed of letters by Rachmaninoff, family, friends and close associates, and it's cleverly woven together by the authors with explanatory material interwoven with the letters. Important, classic auto/biography. Fascinating biography composed of letters by Rachmaninoff, family, friends and close associates, and it's cleverly woven together by the authors with explanatory material interwoven with the letters.

  7. 4 out of 5

    John Zobolas

    A really great insight to the life and opinions of a great musician. Worth reading for every human, musician or not.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Norma

    Excellent book with deep feeling

  9. 5 out of 5

    Eliza

    Beautiful story, clearly told, well researched.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    This book is so powerful because it contains carefully translated original letters to and from the great Rachmaninov and his closest family, musicians, and critics. It gives tremendous insights into his work ethic, his struggles and doubts, his great works, and his adult adjustment to exile after the Bolshevik revolution.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Peter Kristiansen

  12. 4 out of 5

    Deanna

  13. 5 out of 5

    SANDRA J ALLEN

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michael Klein

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gee Ann

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bruno Van

  17. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Chang

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Bogart

  19. 4 out of 5

    Youssef Orc

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lurie, Alan

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tom

  22. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

  23. 5 out of 5

    Robert Wallis

  24. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Hogge

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kallan Phillips

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michael D. Hoppe

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chris Bomze

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bo Tuflåt

  29. 5 out of 5

    Isa Vargas

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alexei Kirillov

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