Born in Nizhny Novgorod, he studied at the St Petersburg Conservatory and later in Moscow, where he won the gold medal for composition. A distinguished performer, he travelled all over Europe on concert tours, visiting London in 1899. Having fled from the Russian Revolution, he settled in the USA in 1918. An accomplished composer as well, he wrote operas, orchestral works and songs, but is best known for his piano music, which includes four concertos, the first three of which achieved great popularity.
The popular Prelude in C Sharp Minor was so much in demand that even the composer himself grew tired of it. His style, largely devoid of national characteristics, epitomizes the lush romanticism of the later 19th century, which is still apparent in Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1934) for piano and orchestra, a work of great craftsmanship which has remained a concert favourite.