Born into the lesser Russian nobility at a time

when the family fortunes were waning,

Rachmaninov had an insecure home life,

though his musical ability was recognized and

encouraged from an early age. A continua-

tion of these reduced circumstances caused

the family to split up and move to a much

humbler home in St Petersburg. This emo-

tional turmoil, together with the loss of his

younger sister, did much to fashion the

composer’s lifelong feelings of emotional

insecurity and fear of death shielded by a

rather subdued temperament. In 1882 he

attended the local conservatoire where he

received piano lessons together with a general

education. Lack of self-motivation promoted

a move to the Moscow Conservatoire, where

tuition under the pedagogue and dis-

ciplinarian Nikolai Zverev caused him to

show immediate improvement by way of a

concentrated work programme involving a

study of the classics and the virtuoso piano

tradition of Liszt and contemporaries. Living

in at the Zverev household, he was to meet

the foremost musicians of his day including

the pianist Anton Rubinstein, the composers

Arensky and Taniev who were soon to become

his teachers and above all Tchaikovsky,

whom he idolized.