Excerpted from Program Essay by Clifton J.
On November 4, 1909 Sergei Rachmaninoff gave his first
performance in the United States at Smith College, and in doing so began forging
a connection with Smith that would endure beyond his death in 1943.
According to biographer
Max Harrison, the 1909 concert was the first completely solo recital Rachmaninoff
ever gave, despite his renown as a pianist by that date. The concert was presented
in the Assembly Hall (now office space) in College Hall on a Mason and Hamlin
piano as part of the Smith College Concert Course. The brief
review of Rachmaninoff’s performance was written for The Smith College
Monthly by Elsie I. Sweeney, after whom the Smith concert hall is named.
Smith College concert was the first of 26 U.S. appearances on that tour. After 1909
Rachmaninoff returned to perform at Smith College three times -- in 1921, in 1928,
and in 1941. All three concerts took place in John M. Greene Hall and were played
on Steinway pianos.
Rachmaninoff’s artistry over three decades, Smith College
would eventually welcome a member of his family. His cousin, sister-in-law,
and a key source of biographical information about the composer, Sophie Satin, arrived
at Smith in 1942 as a research associate to Professor Albert Francis Blakeslee in
his Genetics Experiment Station. She became a visiting associate professor
of botany in 1945 and remained at Smith for 10 more years.