Saturday, 9 July 2011

Spring Waters, Rachmaninov and the young nun...

The child who played with the nun.

At the same piano ?

Is Sr Francis or young Olga one of these aristocratic girls - I like to think so.....

Going back to Sr Francis at the Convent school in Littlehampton...............this remarkable lady, who grew up in the last Csar's court between 1900 and 1917 in St Petersburg Russia also had a fantastical story to tell about Rachmaninov. My readers need to understand that nuns are not always very forthcoming about their pre religious life, and, I imagine, older sisters even less so. Thus it took some prodding on my part over the 7 years I taught there to release some of her childhood tales.

Her family were very friendly with the Rachmaninovs, and she seemed to spend quite a bit of time playing in the nursery with his daughters Tatiana and Irina. She had many memories of being brought down from the nursery with the Rachmaninov girls and sitting under the grand piano listening to the first performances by the great man, of his latest compositions for the piano. She told me that 'as a small girl, I thought it was a madman playing the piano, and I had to cover my ears'!

I still marvel at the thought that she, who was part of his life, was part of mine.

I sang a number of Rachmaninov songs in my career, notably Spring Waters and To the Children, both of which I loved. The sadness is that I can never, up here in Paradise, ever give them to my pupils, as in a zillion years, and a trillion piano lessons, I would never be able to play the accompaniments !

We were so blessed at the RAM with wondrous house accompanists who could play gushing and rushing Rachmaninov semiquaver piano parts, and bake bread at the same time! A small overstatement, but not a 100 miles from the truth!

Therefore my singers miss those rapturous and passionate songs which send a thrill racing up and down the spine.

Sorry guys! OK I'm a failure.....................however, in reading about his life I note that he and his family escaped Russia at the same time as Sr Francis and her mother and brother, and on my birthday!! I shall always remember that from now on.


...The 1917 Russian Revolution meant the end of Russia as the composer had known it. With this change followed the loss of his estate, his way of life, and his livelihood. On 22 December 1917, he left St. Petersburg for Helsinki with his wife and two daughters on an open sled, having only a few notebooks with sketches of his own compositions and two orchestral scores, his unfinished opera Monna Vanna and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's opera The Golden Cockerel. He spent a year giving concerts in Scandinavia while also laboring to widen his concert repertoire. Near the end of 1918, he received three offers of lucrative American contracts. Although he declined all three, he decided the United States might offer a solution to his financial concerns. He departed Kristiania (Oslo) for New York on 1 November 1918. Once there, Rachmaninoff quickly chose an agent, Charles Ellis, and accepted the gift of a piano from Steinway before playing 40 concerts in a four-month period. At the end of the 1919–20 season, he also signed a contract with the Victor Talking Machine Company. In 1921, the Rachmaninoffs bought a house in the United States, where they consciously recreated the atmosphere of Ivanovka, entertaining Russian guests, employing Russian servants, and observing Russian customs.

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