Russia raises row over Rachmaninoff's remains

Sergei Rachmaninoff was buried in a town near New York City after his death 72 years ago.
Sergei Rachmaninoff was buried in a town near New York City after his death 72 years ago.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

VALHALLA (US) • It was quiet beneath the mountain laurel shrubs shielding the grave of the composer Sergei Rachmaninoff from the late summer sun.

The furore is 7,000km 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 the composer's body back. His great-great-granddaughter, Ms Susan Sophia Rachmaninoff Volkonskaya Wanamaker, says "nyet".

Or she might, if she spoke Russian, but probably not.

Rachmaninoff was buried here, in a town with a distinctly Wagnerian name, about 40km 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 New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig, actress Anne Bancroft, bandleader Tommy Dorsey and author Ayn Rand.

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 told the New York Times.

"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 that 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 because his body could not be delivered to Switzerland during World War II.

The Tass News Agency reported that Mr Medinsky had said that Rachmaninoff's grave was in unsatisfactory condition. "Untrue," said Ms Judy Mitchell, a spokesman for the cemetery, as she stood near the grave, where the grass was green and healthy-looking.

Ms Wanamaker said she last visited the grave in July, and it was "beautifully maintained".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2015, with the headline 'Russia raises row over Rachmaninoff's remains'. Print Edition | Subscribe