The American a pianist, teacher, and composer, Sylvia Rabinof, was born Sylvia Smith. As a child and teenager, Sylvia attended the Third Street Music Settlement school, later continuing her piano studies with Paderewski, Simon Barere, and Rudolf Serkin. Sylvia made her European debut in Paris in 1937; and in 1938, she gave a recital at Town Hall in New York.
A week after Sylvia and the violinst Benno Rabinof met, they got together for their first date, spending the day playing all 10 of L.v. Beethoven’s sonatas for violin and piano. Benno and Sylvia married in 1943 and began concertizing around the world together, performing violin and piano sonatas, as well as appearing in solo recitals and as soloists with major orchestras. They formed one of the more popular duos of her era, and toured extensively the USA, Europe, Asia and Africa throughout their career together. The duo performed a mix of classical and contemporary pieces. For their 10th wedding anniversary in 1953, Sylvia and Benno performed all 10 L.v. Beethoven piano and violin sonatas in one day at Town Hall, a feat they would repeat at Alice Tully Hall in 1969. In 1954, they premiered the Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra of the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu, which was commissioned by them. Sylvia and Benno continued to perform together until Benno died in 1975.
Throughout their career Benno and Sylvia maintained a busy performing and teaching schedule, and chose to emphasize that over preparing for recordings. However, in 1965 Decca records produced "Gypsy Violin Classics," featuring Benno on the violin and Sylvia on piano. In May 1965, a High Fidelity reviewer wrote, “Rabinof’s pulsating, glossy tone and his spectacular velocity definitely bear the Auer label, long a distinguishing trademark in the annals of violin playing. He gives an impressive and satisfying account of himself in this collection.”
Sylvia Rabinof also taught and composed, specializing in composing improvisations based on the classics. From 1971 to 1979, she taught in the pre-college division at Juilliard, and she gave summer workshops at the Brevard Music Center in North Carolina. She was also a member of the faculty at SUNY Fredonia. Her students included Ken Noda, Richard Allston, and Jose Ramos-Santana; and she mentored Richard Glazier, composing a variation on a theme by Gershwin for Glazier to perform.
Sylvia Rabinof published the books Musicianship Through Improvisation and The Improviser. For some 30 years, she wrote biographies of musicians and articles about improvisation for Junior Keynotes magazine, a publication of the National Federation of Music Clubs. Sylvia also served as chairperson of the federation’s improvisation activities and regularly performed and gave workshops at the federation’s annual convention.
In 1978, Sylvia Rabinof married Charles Rothenberg, a lawyer and music lover. In 1989, Sylvia and Charles, who by then were spending their winters in Florida, moved permanently from New York to Florida. Charles died in 1992. She continued to play the piano, compose, and teach, using the name Sylvia Rabinof, until her death at age 87. During the 1990's, she performed as a solo pianist and with other musicians, including violinist Ruggiero Ricci. In the mid 1990's, a CD featuring Ricci and Sylvia in a performance of the Sibelius Violin and Piano Sonata was produced. In 2003, Pavilion Records, Ltd, under the Pearl label, produced a CD made from tapes of performances by the Rabinofs in the 1940's and 1950's.