Russian minister demands the return of Rachmaninov’s remains

Russian minister demands the return of Rachmaninov’s remains


norman lebrecht

August 17, 2015

The culture minister Vladimir Medinsky wants the composer to be reburied in a new memorial complex which is being constructed on the Rachmaninov family’s estate. ‘Nobody needs Rachmaninov in America,’ he declared.

Rachmaninov, who died in exile in 1943, is buried at Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, Westchester County, New York.


rachmaninov grave

The pianist Denis Matsuev, a presidential advisor on music, is said to be less keen on the transfer. Russia is presently in the process of buying the composer’s estate at Senar, Switzerland.



  • Peter says:

    Die Villa Rachmaninow oder Senar in Hertenstein in der Schweizer Gemeinde Weggis war in den Sommermonaten der Jahre 1932 bis 1939 der Wohnsitz des russischen Komponisten, Pianisten und Dirigenten Sergei Rachmaninow. Er selber nannte sein Anwesen am Ufer des Vierwaldstättersees Senar, ein Akronym, bestehend aus den Namen SErgei und NAtalia Rachmaninow.

    So, Senar is the name of the villa – Weggis is the village!


  • Furzwängler says:

    Matsuev, like Gergiev, is a well-known Putin supporter.

  • Hank says:

    I don’t think Rachmaninoff would like Putin’s Russia any more than he liked Stalin’s.

  • Erwin Poelstra says:

    I’ve always wondered, considering the fact that Sergei himself consistently spelt his name as “Rachmaninoff” from the moment he was in America, why British people insist on writing it with a “v” at the end…?

    • Eric Koenig says:

      That’s because the Russian name Рахманинов transliterates as Rakhmaninov. In non-Russian speaking countries he agreed to have his name spelled Rachmaninoff. This is because the “Kh” has the same sound as the German “ch,” and the “v” in the German language is pronounced like an “f” as in Romanoff (which is properly spelled Romanov). The “ch” in Russian sounds as in “cheese” so retaining it rather than using the “Kh” doesn’t make sense.

  • Furzwängler says:

    The British way of writing his name with -‘ov’ is nearer to the softer Russian pronounciation (-‘ob’ in cyrillic), as is also the German transliteration (Rachmaninow). It seems to be only in America that his name is written ‘Rachmaninoff’, with a hard -‘ff’, though as you say this may come from the time when the great man was first in the US and his knowledge of English was not very good.

    • Halldor says:

      Erwin Poelstra is correct. Rachmaninoff spelled his name that way in all non-Russian territories for his entire life, and so did everyone else, including in the UK. “Rachmaninov” is an affectation that postdates his death; its continued use is both disrespectful and historically wrong.

      • Hank says:

        He also insisted all his concert engagements and recordings use the “-OFF” spelling.

      • Furzwängler says:

        Come come, don’t be so sensitive. What on earth does disrespect have to do with it. It’s spelled RachmaninOV also in France, and RachmaninOW in Germany, for example, so perhaps they too are being terribly “disrespectful”. Any anyway, what does it matter…..

  • Brian b says:

    For whatever it adds to the debate, Rachmaninoff (his own transliteration) became an American citizen in 1943 shortly before he died.

    • Robert Hairgrove says:

      To me, this is the certainly the most compelling argument against any repatriation attempts of the remains of the master.

  • Keenan Reesor says:

    Rachmaninoff should be allowed to rest where he is. He wanted to be buried at Senar, but the war prevented that, and his widow could have had his remains exhumed and reburied at Senar after the war but elected not to do so. Of course she is buried with him in New York. No one forced them to take American citizenship. Additionally, his contribution to American musical life in particular was huge—it’s downright offensive to assert that “no one in America needs” him. In any event, if anyone is to determine the fate of Rachmaninoff’s remains, it ought to be his surviving family, not politicians.

    By the way, Rachmaninoff’s own transliteration of his name is the spelling espoused by the Library of Congress Authorities and was adopted both by Barrie Martyn in his 1990 biography of the composer (despite the prevalence in Britain up to that point of alternate versions) and, subsequently, in the 2001 edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. The ending “-off” was very common for English transliterations of Russian names in the early twentieth century and needn’t be interpreted as ignorance on Rachmaninoff’s part.

  • Eric Koenig says:

    Both Rakhmaninov and Bartók died in exile during World War II. Both men had strong feelings about their native countries and the governments that were running them. Bartók specifically forbade the naming of any building, street, public square etc. in Hungary so long as a dictatorial government was in power, as well as forbidding the removal of his remains to Hungary under such circumstances. The composer’s wishes should be respected and, for so long as Putin and his cronies remain in power, I’m quite sure the composer’s family would not accede to the idea of exhumation and reburial in Russia.

  • Mahlerfan says:

    I agree, Rachmaninov’s remains should be transferred to the estate.

  • Mark says:

    The composer’s descendants are against it.

  • Jim says:

    Valhalla, NY, August 17, 2017: A caretaker at the Kensico Cemetery arrived at work today only to discover that the grave of famed composer Server Rachmaninoff had been desecrated overnight and his coffin removed. Reaction was swift. President Trump said, “Whoever this guy was, he was ours, see? We know who did this thanks to a Google search by one of my staff and found an article on Slipped Disc that shows without a shadow if a doubt who did this. This is a complete disgrace done by losers. So today I am signing a new Trump Decree™ effective immediately authorizing not only the removal of all embassy staff from Moscow but the building as well. Also I am authorizing my cultural agents to search and destroy all copies of recordings by any Russian composer as well as recordings of Van Cliburn, Vladimir Horowitz, Arthur (sic) Rubinstein that were recorded in Russia. The United States if America is great again and we will not take this lying down.”

  • Pickled Cabbage says:

    Mr Putin, just take the cast of Rachmaninoff’s hands and bury that if you wish.. Stop digging the cemetery in other people’s country.

  • AB says:

    The Russian govt does not own the human remains of Rachmaninoff