In 1917, life for many of Russians changed forever. Vladimir Lenin and his fellow revolutionaries triumphed over tsarist Russia and the USSR came into being. For Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninov and his family, it meant leaving their country behind and never returning. By this point, Rachmaninov had achieved international fame. Nevertheless, the Soviet state confiscated his family estate, as he was a nobleman. In December of 1917, he and his family fled into Finland and later in Sweden leaving everything behind in Russia and only taking what could be carried in a suitcase. Eventually, he made his way to America where he lived and worked, alternating with time at his estate in Switzerland. He died in Beverly Hills in 1943.
Russia Today, Russia’s English-language broadcaster, did an interview with the composer’s grandson, Alexandr Rachmaninov. For those who are curious about what Rachmaninov’s exile was like, you may enjoy this interview. Rachmaninov did come to like the United States very much, according to his grandson.
I still remain in awe of the great talent my country received thanks to the various totalitarian regimes in Europe. The composers Paul Hindemith (Germany), Bela Bartók (Hungary), Darius Milhaud (France), Igor Stravinsky (Russia), Sergei Rachmaninov (Russia), and Arnold Schoenberg (Austria) all called America home at some point in their lives. Schoenberg was a friend of George Gershwin’s. In fact, Schoenberg had a passion for tennis, as did Gershwin. The two would often play tennis together. Rachmoninov, like Schoenberg and Gershwin, also lived in the Los Angeles area, but I’m not sure that he and Schoenberg were ever friendly. In terms of science, the USA gained something of an embarassment of riches with Albert Einstein (Germany), Kurt Gödel (Austria), John von Neumann (Hungary), and other prominent scientists. The Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises also fled Europe and taught at NYU where he gained quite a following and whose works remain quite popular with libertarians today. Mises’ student and friend Friedrich von Hayek of The Road to Serfdom fame taught in the USA for a while, though he became a British subject and spent most of his career at the London School of Economics.
Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 remains the most popular piece of classical music in the UK according to Classic FM.
Unlike Bela Bartók of Hungary and Ignacy Jan Paderewski of Poland, Rachmaninov’s remains were never returned to his native Russia. Both Bartók’s and Paderewski’s remains were repatriated to their respective native countries. Rachmaninov was buried in Valhalla, New York.