“Piano Prodigy” Ruth Slenczynska, the Last Pupil of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Retires at 99 In Fascinating New Documentary

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – In 1934, a 9-year-old piano prodigy named Ruth Slenczynska received an unexpected opportunity that would change the course of her life. After an injury prevented the famed pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff from performing in Los Angeles, young Ruth was asked to fill in for him.

Rachmaninoff, initially reluctant to have a child take his place, was so impressed by Ruth’s talent that he offered to teach her at his apartment in Paris. Thus began a lifelong connection between the two, making Ruth the only living student of the legendary maestro.

Nearing her 99th birthday, Ruth made the decision to retire from her nearly 95-year career as a pianist. But not before making a lasting contribution to her legacy – recording her first album in nearly 60 years with Decca Classics.

Born in Sacramento but raised in Australia and later moving to Paris to pursue her musical studies, Ruth’s early years were marked by rigorous practice routines imposed by her father, Joseph Slenczynska, who was also a musician. Despite the demanding environment, Ruth found solace and refuge in music, describing it as her escape during difficult times.

Her connection with Rachmaninoff opened doors to a world of learning and mentorship, shaping her approach to music and her understanding of its emotional and historical significance. This unique bond, and the experiences that followed, would define Ruth’s illustrious career as a pianist and teacher.

In her remarkable journey, Ruth performed for five U.S. presidents and enjoyed a successful concert career while also serving as an artist-in-residence at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Her resilience and dedication to her craft, despite the challenges she faced in her early years, have left an indelible mark on the world of classical music.

Now, at the age of 99, Ruth resides with a former piano student in Pennsylvania, where she continues to share her wisdom and expertise with promising musicians. She reflects on her life with gratitude, attributing the youthful condition of her hands to the power of music, which will forever remain an integral part of her identity.