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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