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Theme and Variations
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was not only an accomplished composer and conductor, but a virtuoso pianist. He began playing piano at age 4 and graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1892. By that time, he had already composed several pieces inspired by fellow Russian composers including Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. Naturally, Rachmaninoff is known for his piano concerti and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, a piano concerto-like piece in one single movement based on Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 for solo violin. Composed in the summer of 1934, the piece premiered later that same year at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore, Maryland performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski; Rachmaninoff was the piano soloist. These same groups also made the first recording of Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini which is considered to be one of the greatest pieces of the Romantic period.