Rachmaninov was one of the most virtuosic pianists of his day and the last big name among the late Russian Romantics. He possessed a unique, highly personal language, rich with lyrical qualities, expression, structural ingenuity and diverse orchestral colours. The piano features prominently in his works, as a solo instrument and as part of an ensemble.
Rachmaninov studied piano at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and then at the Moscow Conservatory with Nikolai Zverev. It was through Zverev that Rachmaninov met Anton Rubinstein and Pyotr Tchaikovsky at his usual Sunday afternoon gatherings. Zverev, however, encouraged Rachmaninov to study only piano, completely unsupportive of his wish to compose. Rachmaninov and two other students were living at Zverev’s flat, where Zverev was known to be a severe disciplinarian, ensuring that his pupils were up at 6am practicing each day. As time went on, Rachmaninov found it increasingly difficult to compose in Zverev’s house, due to the sound of several people practicing piano around the clock. His request for more privacy led to him being banished from the flat by Zverev, who refused to speak to him for three years.
During the summer months of his youth, he went to Ivanovka, the country estate of his aristocratic cousins in the Tambov region, his main place of inspiration, where 85% of his output was conceived and developed. Shortly after graduating from the Moscow Conservatory, he began his Piano Concerto no. 1, op.1 and the 11th of February was Rachmaninov's first public concert, aged 19, performing for the first time his Trio élégiaque no. 1.