Rachmaninov (or Rachmaninoff) was apparently not happy about going to America the first time, but the trip was made easier by the fact that he got to practice the whole way there…on a silent piano.
Rachmaninoff, 36 when he made the trip, was one of Europe’s top pianists, so conquering America was the next logical step.
Still, he wasn’t that enthusiastic about going. It would mean a long time away from his family, and Rachmaninoff was a bit of a homebird. But go he would, and the trip would further cement his reputation.
He was being hosted by the New York Symphony Society. “Sergei Vassilievich Rachmaninoff does not come to America as an unknown artistic personality,” their Bulletin reported. “Certain of his pianoforte compositions achieved worldwide popularity a number of years ago,” it went on. “The present is his first visit to America.”
He’d a brand new pianoforte composition for this New York debut – his third piano concerto. It was a monumental work, designed to showcase the performer’s talent, and as such, not something you could just sit down and sight read.
Honing it back in Russia had left little time for preparation before departure, and there was nothing else for it but to practice the whole way there. Obviously, until the big day, it was for his ears only, hence the requirement for a dumb piano.