Rachmaninoff disliked calling it a cello sonata because he thought the two instruments were equal. Because of this, it is often referred to as Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano. Most of the themes are introduced by the piano, while they are embellished and expanded in the cello's part.
He dedicated it to Anatoliy Brandukov, who gave the first performance in Moscow with the composer at the piano, on 2 December 1901. Rachmaninoff seems to have made some last-minute alterations after the premiere, as he wrote the date "12 December 1901" on the score. The sonata was overshadowed by the huge success of his Piano Concerto No. 2, which premiered on 27 October 1901.