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Rachmaninoff Family Denounces Russian Officials' Reburial Push

  • Claire Bigg

Composer Sergei Rachmaninoff died in the United States in 1943, shortly after becoming a U.S. citizen.

Composer Sergei Rachmaninoff died in the United States in 1943, shortly after becoming a U.S. citizen.

More than 70 years after his death, celebrated Russian pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff is once again at the center of a heated debate over his final resting place.

His descendants this week rejected a fresh Russian proposal to rebury him in his native country, which he left in 1917 during the Bolshevik revolution.

"We are not planning to go against his will, so his remains will stay where they were buried," his great-great-granddaughter, Susan Sophia-Volkonskaya-Wanamaker, told BBC.

Rachmaninoff's Russian admirers have long clamored for his remains to be returned to his homeland. He is buried in the United States, where he died of cancer in 1943 aged 69, shortly after being granted U.S. citizenship.

The current reburial campaign, however, takes places amid souring ties between Russia and the West, and bears hostile undertones.

It is spearheaded by Russia's combative culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, who has accused the United States of appropriating Rachmaninoff.

"Americans have shamelessly privatized Rachmaninoff's name," he charged on August 15, "just like the names of dozens and hundreds of Russians who, by the will of fate, found themselves abroad after the revolution."

Rachmaninoff, he said, was being increasingly portrayed in the United States as "an American of Russian origin."

Medinsky also poured scorn on the Kensico Cemetery where the composer is buried in Valhalla, New York, claiming the composer's grave was in poor condition.

He proposed transferring Rachmaninoff's ashes to a lavish memorial complex that is being built on the Rachmaninoff family's estate in the Novgorod region.

Novgorod's deputy governor, Aleksandr Smirnov, said Russian diplomats in New York were actively lobbying for Rachmaninoff's return to Russia.

But not all Russian cultural figures back Medinsky's proposal.

Pianist Denis Matsuev, a presidential adviser on culture and the head of the Public Council of the Culture Ministry, was quick to express reservations.

"I have doubts from a moral point of view," he said on August 16. "A reburial is a very delicate, sensitive issue. Everyone needs to be involved, above all the public."

Matsuev stressed that Rachmaninoff's late grandson Alexandre had wanted his grandfather's remains to be brought to Villa Senar, the Swiss estate where Rachmaninoff composed some of his most famous works.

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    Claire Bigg

    Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues. Send story tips to BiggC@rferl.org​


     

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