Watch the Great Russian Composer Sergei Rachmaninoff in Home Movies

“Who did not know Rachmaninoff intimately, did not know him at all.”  So begins this recorded remembrance of the great Russian composer by Alexander “Sascha” Greiner, who knew him well.

Grenier was the manager of the concert and artist department at Steinway & Sons from 1928–about a decade after Sergei Rachmaninoff’s emigration to America in the wake of the Russian Revolution–until 1958. As the company’s main liaison with the major musicians who played its pianos, Grenier became friends with many of the great pianists of the era. “His friendship with the great Russian artists was personal as well as professional,” according to People and Pianos: A Pictorial History of Steinway & Sons. “If Rachmaninoff had a birthday party, Greiner would be there. If Hofmann needed him, there woud be a telegram sent instantly to soothe him.”

The recording was apparently made a few years before Grenier’s death in 1958. As he speaks, home movie footage reveals Rachmaninoff, who died in 1943, as an imposing yet sociable man. “Behind an austere, perhaps even severe, countenance,” says Grenier, “there was a most warm-hearted lovable man with a wonderful sense of humor. Yes, a wonderful sense of humor. Rachmaninoff thoroughly enjoyed a good story, and no one who hasn’t seen him laugh with the tears running down his cheeks would believe it possible.”  Just before the two-minute mark, Rachmaninoff’s own voice can be heard very briefly speaking in Russian. He is playing the popular Russian song “Bublichki” on the piano as a group of friends sing along. In the end Rachmaninoff breaks off playing and jokes to his companions, “Vy ne znaete slova” (вы не знаете слова), which translates as: “You don’t know the words!”

Related content:

Tchaikovsky’s Voice Captured on an Edison Cylinder (1890)

Rare 1946 Film: Sergei Prokofiev Plays Piano, Discusses His Music

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