Rachmani-non? Rachmanin-off!

Rachmani-non? Rachmanin-off!


norman lebrecht

April 02, 2021

The violinist Misha Keylin has some spelling issues:

When research was done for our Hermitage Piano Trio 2019 “Rachmaninoff” recording, two interesting facts came out. First of course is the “correct” English spelling (the ending is often done with a “V”) of the composer’s name. Confirmation that it is indeed “FF” came from both his signatures in letters, documents, and the spelling used on his gravestone at his resting place near Mount Kisco, New York. Attached is a photo of the actual gravestone.
The second fact is a bit more complex. Most of the history books and biographies have Rachmaninoff’s birthday listed as April, 1 (1873) but his gravestone lists it as April 2 (again, see photo). Why the discrepancy? The Gregorian calendar was implemented in Russia on 14 February 1918 by dropping the Julian dates of 1–13 February 1918 pursuant to a Sovnarkom decree signed 24 January 1918 (Julian) by Vladimir Lenin. This resulted in confusion to the backwards “adjustments”, which were made for people that were born before 1918 (such as Rachmaninoff.)
So going by what Rachmaninoff’s own family is telling us, we want to wish Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff a very Happy Birthday and to thank him for writing such beautiful and powerful two Piano Trio’s amongst so many of his other compositions!





  • I have read that “ov” would be the more standard, more modern Romanization of a Russian name that ends in Cyrillic “ов” and that “off” represents an older-pre-Soviet style.

    A quick perusal of NY Times articles from 1910-1920 shows the Russian royal family’s name being spelled as “Romanoff” but after that, the style begins to evolve to “Romanov”.

    Rachmaninoff’s preference for “off” seems to represent a disavowal of the new, in addition to the fact that his name was already established in the West with the old-style “off”

    And to make a point of it, he would reject mail addressed in the new fashion.

    I bet he would cash a check with “ov” though.

  • Duncan says:

    Some of us are too old ( or too stubborn) to change. He will always be Rachmaninov – and for that matter these will remain: Canute, Boadicea and Purcell with the stress on the last syllable and not sounding like a brand of washing powder…!!

  • BRUCEB says:

    I remember learning, once upon a time, that the Russian letter could be transliterated as either “V” or “FF,” so either was correct.

    Hence Prokofiev/ Prokofieff as well as Rimsky-Korsakov/Korsakoff. (You don’t see that one with the double F so much anymore, but they used to spell it that way on old recordings sometimes.)

    No idea if I was taught correctly, but it did seem to explain the variation in FF vs. V spelling of some of those Russian names.

  • Stuard Young says:

    Indeed, Rachmaninoff became a citizen of the USA, and spelled his last name as you have stated. Yet there is still an argument here, in that many organizations perpetuate the spelling, “Rachmaninov” as used in much of Europe, and on many recordings. There is one other prominent composer often misspelled. Prokofieff, who spent much time touring the USA, and spoke English quite well, spelled his name with the final double “f”, instead of a “v”. It is easy to find facsimiles of his signature. Thank you for your advocacy of proper representation of the great man!

    By the way, it was probably your spell-checker, but I am certain that “…two powerful Trio’s..” was meant to be “…two powerful Trios…” Within the context of what was written above, the plural is appropriate, rather than the singular possessive.

  • The View from America says:

    In other news, scientists are currently debating the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. Opinion is divided so far …

  • David K. Nelson says:

    The editors of the magazine “19th-Century Music” published a style guide that they used (D. Kern Holoman is the named author) and at some point we adopted it for use at Fanfare magazine as well. They had two things to say on the subject. First in rule 2.60. that they tried to follow the precepts of the Chicago Manual of Style 9.86-101, transliterating Russian into the Latin alphabet following systems used by the United States Board on Geographic Names and the Library of Congress.

    Under “Composer’s Names” they have an entry titled “The Russian Problem” and say this:
    “Transliteration from the Russian alphabet is, at best, a vexing problem … We have adopted the spellings given in [rule] 1.23. Note especially

    From a magazine and magazine index standpoint it is perhaps as important to be consistent as it is to be correct.

    As a budding record collector I recall being briefly confused by a set of 78 rpm recordings featuring Stokowski conducting the first symphony of Szostakowicz. It took a while before the “aha! of course” moment hit.

    • Edgar Self says:

      David Nelson,– RCA Victor used the Szostakowicz spelling also on Stokowski’s album of the ssixth symphony with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He did have Polish roots. My friends and I puzzled over its pronunciation and decided it was “Shos-TOCK-o-vitch”. We were wrong. I’ve always spelt Rachmaninoff the way he and his family did.

  • Kevin Scott says:

    If we are to spell Rachmaninoff’s name correctly and translate it from the cyrillic, it should be Rakhmaninov, the k instead of a c.

    But I will always spell it Rachmaninoff. Old habits can be a bit hidebound, y’know.

  • Misha Keylin says:

    I appreciate everyone’s comments and feedback on this topic. However, it is even more interesting to me that his birthday date “issue” is not being discussed at all. All evidence that I have found shows Rachmaninoff listing April 2 as the correct date. I have posted a bunch of original documents on my Trio’s Instagram account at https://www.instagram.com/hermitagepianotrio/