Sergei Rachmaninoff, who died on this day in 1943, was a Russian-born composer and absolutely incredible pianist. As a composer he's mostly known for his stunning concertos and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, but it was as a pianist that he was uncanny. Even Anton Rubinstein, who we have previous acknowledged as not only one of the greatest concert piano performers of all time but a sweet-ass pimp to boot - acknowledged Rachmaninoff as something special.
"He had the secret of the golden, living tone which comes from the heart," said Rubinstein. "I was under the spell of his glorious and inimitable tone which could make me forget my uneasiness about his too rapidly fleeting fingers and his exaggerated rubatos."
The sentence to pay attention to in that worthy praise is "too rapidly fleeting fingers." See, Rachmaninoff wasn't simply a gifted musician, he was a freaking mutant!
His biography reads like a damn origin story anyway. He started out as a privileged and lazy, but full of potential, youth until the death of his mentor Tchaikovsky threw him into overdrive. The establishment damned him when the Russian Orthodox Church denounced his marriage - granted, he married his cousin - and he was forced to flee during the 1917 Russian Revolution with nothing but a few scores and the clothes on his back. Eventually, he immigrated to America. Already he's basically a combination Spider-Man and Magneto.
It doesn't stop there. While still in Russia, Rachmaninoff was prone to fits of depression and began undergoing an early form of hypnotic therapy called autosuggestion. As a trained hypnotherapist, Rocks Off can tell you that with a willing subject hypnosis can be used to boost all sorts of attributes. We've helped fighters perceive their opponents as moving more slowly, enabling them to easily counter moves, and helped runners maintain perfect rhythm in stride and breathing.
These same techniques are what made some famous mystery men into superheroes such as The Question and The Shadow. We're not saying that Rachmaninoff used any of these techniques to amplify his abilities, but we're not ruling it out.
The effects of autosuggestion may have been enhanced by Rachmaninoff's extraordinary memory. If he read a score once, especially if he liked it, he could play it back perfectly the next day, the next week, or decades later.
All of this pales besides the fact that his greatest physical gifts were a form of mutation.
Though never formally diagnosed in his lifetime, Rachmaninoff's exceptional height, freakishly long limbs, big hands, and ridiculous finger-stretch indicate he probably had Marfan's Syndrome. The condition was discovered in 1896 by a French pediatrician, and its hallmarks are usually fairly easy to deduce.
Basically, it's a disorder of the connective tissues that tends to make different aspects of the body stretch, though that is a vast oversimplification from a reporter who knows everything about genetics from the Resident Evil games.
The case for Rachmaninoff having Marfan's goes beyond his physical attributes. He suffered from backaches, arthritis, and eyestrain his whole life... ailments that are typical side effects of the syndrome.
Hell, before he was turned into a blue furball in a laboratory accident, the X-Men's Beast's sole power was basically big hands and agility. Rachmaninoff may not have been able to walk on the ceiling, but then again he wasn't fighting supervillians, he was playing the piano.
Why would he need that particular ability unless he wanted to outdo Jerry Lee Lewis?
To review, Rachmaninoff was born with physical gifts beyond those of regular men through a genetic mutation, suffered personal tragedies that galvanized him into the great man he would become, suffered persecution, and may have used revolutionary mental discipline to further augment his powers.
That screams X-Men more than a lot of others we could mention.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.