Russian call on US to hand over Rachmaninov
Russia’s cultural authorities want to reclaim the remains of composer Sergei Rachmaninov from the United States, in a move seen as aimed at stoking patriotism but has made his descendants fume.
Rachmaninov, one of the greatest composers and pianists of the 20th century, left Russia in the wake of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and lived in Europe and the United States before dying of cancer in Beverly Hills, California.
Despite spending decades abroad and acquiring U.S. citizenship shortly before his death in 1943, his music is steeped in Russian culture and nostalgia and Russia considers him firmly as its own.
People in the United States “wrongly” consider Rachmaninov American and have neglected his grave, culture minister Vladimir Medinsky said recently, calling for the remains to be repatriated.
“Russia’s greatest genius Sergei Rachmaninov is currently presented in the West absolutely wrongly,” Medinsky, an outspoken official who firmly backs Russian President Vladimir Putin’s conservative and anti-Western drive.
“If you look at American websites and read American Wikipedia, you will learn that Sergei Rachmaninov is a great American composer of Russian origin,” he added.
Medinsky said that judging by some pictures he saw, the composer’s grave at the Kensico cemetery in New York state — which includes remains of his wife and oldest daughter — is in “poor condition.”
Instead, the remains should be moved to Russia’s Novgorod region north of Moscow, where the composer grew up, he said.
Russian state television lauded the idea Monday evening in a special program that listed other notables whose remains were moved back to the motherland, including famous singer Fyodor Shalyapin, whose grave was elaborately relocated from Paris in the 1980s.
The idea, which came out of nowhere, seems to be driven more by political expediency rather than interest in the composer’s personality in particular, said culture critic Sergei Khodnev, who writes for Kommersant daily.
“Maybe the intent is to take Rachmaninov away from the United States, since in the American mentality he is also one of their own” and was influenced by American jazz, he told AFP.
“Without question, this is a political need for yet another patriotic spectacle, for a sad yet triumphant event to boost the national spirit,” he said.