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  • Chris Anderson

Rachmaninoff's Fear

Sergei Rachmaninoff, this month’s composer, is known to have had a fear of being buried alive, also known as taphophobia or taphephobia. This fear is rooted in the concept of being buried alive and unable to escape or communicate, leading to a slow and agonising death.



Rachmaninoff's fear of being buried alive was a prominent aspect of his personality and is reflected in his personal letters and anecdotes from those who knew him.


There are several factors that may have contributed to Rachmaninoff's fear of being buried alive. One possible factor was his own experience of witnessing a traumatic event as a child. According to some accounts, Rachmaninoff witnessed the death of his cousin, who was believed to have been buried alive due to a misdiagnosis of her illness. This event is said to have deeply affected Rachmaninoff and may have instilled in him a fear of a similar fate.


Additionally, Rachmaninoff lived during a time when the fear of being buried alive was not uncommon. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there were limited medical advancements, and it was not uncommon for people to be mistakenly declared dead and buried prematurely. This led to the widespread fear of being buried alive, and Rachmaninoff may have been influenced by the prevalent cultural anxieties of his time.



Rachmaninoff's fear of being buried alive is also reflected in his music. Some musicologists and scholars have interpreted certain passages in his compositions as representing his fear of entrapment, suffocation, or being unable to escape. For example, in his famous composition "The Isle of the Dead," Rachmaninoff uses somber and intense melodies to create a sense of foreboding and confinement, which some interpret as an expression of his fear of being buried alive. When I was learning piano my teacher introduced me to another of his works which has a similar theme and I’ll be writing about that piece soon!


It's worth noting that Rachmaninoff's fear of being buried alive did not significantly impact his daily life or career as a musician. He continued to compose and perform throughout his life, and his fear did not prevent him from leading a successful and productive career. However, his fear of being buried alive remains an interesting aspect of his personality and is often mentioned in discussions about his life and work.

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