I like to hear and see people play the work of Sergei Rachmaninoff. When the Madison Symphony Orchestra includes one of his works I know there is sure to be yet another reason to listen closely.
Now comes a story of Russia wanting his remains back to plant in their soil. It seems most unseemly to not allow him to rest in the place he now resides.
It was quiet beneath the mountain laurel shrubs shielding the grave of the composer Sergei Rachmaninoff from the late-summer sun. The furor is 4,500 miles away, in Russia, its indelible voice in every melodic line he wrote — a different Russia, a different sensibility, a different life, different time.
Resolutely nationalistic Russians want his body back. His great-great-granddaughter, Susan Sophia Rachmaninoff Volkonskaya Wanamaker, says “nyet.” Or she might, if she spoke Russian, but probably not. In a conversation about where his remains belong, she repeatedly used words like “dignity” and “respect.”
Rachmaninoff was buried here, in a town with a distinctly Wagnerian name, about 25 miles outside New York City, after his death 72 years ago. The plot is on a hillside in a cemetery with other notable graves, including those of the peerless Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig, the actress Anne Bancroft, the bandleader Tommy Dorsey and the author Ayn Rand. A A three-bar Russian Orthodox cross stands behind Rachmaninoff’s tomb.
To dig up and move his body would be an immense violation of the privacy he so prized,” Ms. Wanamaker said. “After fleeing from one country to the next in life, as he did, is it too much to ask that he be allowed to rest in peace with his family? I don’t think so.”
The dispute over his burial place started last month, when Russia’s culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, said that Rachmaninoff’s remains should be exhumed and sent to Russia. “The composer dreamed of being buried in Russia, that’s why returning his remains to his motherland would be a great deed,” he said, according to a report on the ministry’s website.
Ms. Wanamaker said Rachmaninoff had no such dream. She also took issue with biographical sketches that said he had wanted his final resting place to be outside his villa in Switzerland, but that he was buried in Kensico Cemetery here because his body could not be delivered to Switzerland during World War II.
The villa was called Senar. Its name was a combination of the first two letters of his first name; the first two letters of his wife’s first name, Natalie; and a final R, for Rachmaninoff.
“He held Senar in very high regard, but he never wished to be buried there,” she said.And while he died in Beverly Hills, Calif., on March 28, 1943, “the family’s roots in New York were deeper than their roots in Beverly Hills,” Ms. Wanamaker said. Rachmaninoff, who left his homeland to escape the Russian Revolution in 1917, had rented a house on Riverside Drive when he arrived in Manhattan in the 1920s. He became an American citizen eight weeks before he died.