“Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff, the outstanding Russian pianist-conductor-composer, will open the current University Concert series on Monday, Nov. 9, at 8:30 p.m. in the Alumni Memorial Auditorium. This promises to be a superb program and an auspicious opening of the new series.”
—From the Orange and White, November 6, 1942
The concert was by all accounts superb, but in hindsight it’s clear the event was anything but auspicious.
In fall 1942, the sixty-nine-year-old Sergei Rachmaninoff was widely recognized as one of the greatest pianists of his day, and his concert performances were known to be consistently dazzling. Student anticipation of the concert was high, and a number of articles in the Orange and White—the university’s student newspaper at the time—let loose with nearly every superlative they could muster, calling him a “genius” who “is universally hailed as the greatest living exponent of piano techniques as well as one of the finest composers.”
By this point in his life, Rachmaninoff was in bad health, and the November concert at the university was postponed due to illness. Shortly thereafter, on February 17, 1943, Rachmaninoff performed in UT’s Alumni Memorial Auditorium, playing several of his own compositions as well as some by Schumann, Bach, and Wagner.
However, it was Rachmaninoff’s performance of Chopin’s “Funeral March” that would later be noted as a chilling portent of his own death, which occurred on March 28, 1943. The concert at UT was Rachmaninoff’s final performance.
While his concert at UT marked the end of Rachmaninoff’s career, his influence stayed with the university for decades. The day after the concert, in fact, the student newspaper announced that the university would soon start offering Russian language courses. Though the timing was undoubtedly coincidental, looking back it seems the announcement adds a bittersweet note to the legacy of the artist and his final performance.
UT will commemorate the seventieth anniversary of Rachmaninoff’s final performance with an 8:00 p.m. concert on Sunday, February 17, featuring internationally acclaimed Russian pianist Evgheny Brakhman.
The celebration, “Rachmaninoff Remembered,” will take place in the Cox Auditorium of the Alumni Memorial Building. It is free and open to the public.