After study at the St. Petersburg and Moscow Conservatories, Sergey Rachmaninov embarked on a career in Russia as a composer, pianist and conductor. Exile from his own country after the Communist Revolution of 1917 forced an increased concentration on performance, as one of the most distinguished pianists of the day, activity that enabled him to support his family but left less time for his work as a composer. For practical reasons he eventually based himself in the United States, while keeping a villa in Switzerland. He died in Beverly Hills in 1943.
The second of Rachmaninov's four piano concertos holds an unchallenged position among romantic works in this form, its popularity closely rivalled by the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, for piano and orchestra. While the Symphonic Dances of 1940 enjoy some popularity, as well as the symphonic poem The Rock and the dark-hued Isle of the Dead, with its recurrent motif from the Latin Requiem Mass, the second of his three numbered symphonies is still more familiar.
Rachmaninov's Prelude in C sharp minor won early popularity that largely outweighed its merits. Other piano works include the Etudes-tableaux of 1911 and 1916-17, two sonatas, sets of Preludes and Moments musicaux, transcriptions, including the two Kreisler pieces Liebesleid and Liebesfreud, and the impressive Variations on a Theme of Corelli, his last original composition for solo piano, composed in 1931 and based on the popular Baroque dance theme of La Follia, also used by Corelli in a violin sonata.