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Sergei Rachmaninoff in 1908

Rachmaninoff and Smith College

Excerpted from Program Essay by Clifton J. Noble, Jr.

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.

Rachmaninoff’s 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.

Besides welcoming 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.

Sophie Satin and Sergei Rachmaninoff in 1902

Sophie Satin in the 1970s

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