Writing Rachmaninov in one crisis after another

Fiona Maddocks outlines the backdrop to her new book on the great composer’s exile years:

…In January 2021, I agreed to deliver, 15 months later, 90,000 words on Rachmaninov for publication this year. It was the start of the second year of lockdown. The diary was virtually empty. Appointments were on Zoom, concerts I hoped to review mostly cancelled. I had checklists about my father, in his 90s, living alone far away: what was he eating apart from tins of rice pudding and chocolate biscuits? Could he get a vaccine? I can’t remember what the rules were for visiting by that time, but all encounters were a risk: my husband, the artist Tom Phillips RA, had a long-term lung condition so was in the vulnerable category for Covid-19….

In February 2022 the invasion of Ukraine occurred. World events, instead of endless Covid rules and threats, now absorbed our attention. As weeks of war turned into months, exile took on a sharper meaning. The placenames on the news, telling of the latest horrors from Kyiv or Kharkiv, resonated: these were cities Rachmaninov had visited, where he had conducted and performed. Media reports showed once grand edifices, some of them the very buildings in which he had played, reduced to rubble. A double timeline of suffering was unfolding…

My deadline was close. I had booked, months earlier, to go to Berlin in October 2022 to hear Daniel Barenboim conduct his last Ring cycle…. Tom died shortly after my return from Berlin.

Read the full moving article here.

Goodbye Russia: Rachmaninoff in Exile by Fiona Maddocks is published tomorrow in the UK.

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