Music’s unmerry widows

Recent reports that Sergei Rachmaninov's great-great-grandson is a control freak will come as no surprise to anyone who has read John Drummond's autobiography - it seems to run in the family.

John Culshaw’s first foray into music, not long after leaving the RAF in the late 1940s, had been to write a very short book on Rachmaninov – at that time a deeply unfashionable figure, very little of whose music was played. The book was a triumph over the unavailability of material, and when the typescript was completed Culshaw went to see the composer’s widow in Switzerland. Ferried across Lake Lausanne in a private launch by a liveried servant, he was graciously received and asked to come back a week later, when Madame Rachmaninov would have read the typescript. Limited to twenty-five pounds ($48) in foreign currency, Culshaw had to explain that he could not wait that long. Grudgingly, Madame Rachmaninov agreed to a shorter time.

When he returned, he was told to wait in the hall. Shortly afterwards she appeared holding the typescript in an outstretched hand before dropping it on the floor. ’I have spoken to my lawyers in New York, Paris and London’, was her only comment. Yet the book is entirely favourable. It is one of the many examples of the disastrous influence of some composer’s widows - Die Unlustigen Witwen, as Boulez calls them – ‘The Unmerry Widows’. He has had to cope with Frau Schoenberg, Frau Mahler and worst of all Frau Berg, who for forty years spoke daily with Alban’s spirit and blocked the completion of Lulu.

Now read more about Rachmaninov’s music here.
Extract above from John Drummond's autobiography Tainted by Experience (Faber, ISBN 0571200540). Graphic sampled from an original by Jeff Ostrowski. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included for "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


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