Vladimir Putin to purchase Sergei Rachmaninoff’s archive and estate?

Pianist Denis Matsuev claims that the Russian president has shown interest in Rachmaninov’s Swiss villa, which holds much of the late composer’s manuscripts and mementos

Vladimir Putin has proposed that Russia purchase the estate and archive of composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. Under direct orders from the Russian president, officials are reportedly exploring the possibility of buying a Swiss villa where the composer once lived.

The issue of Rachmaninoff’s estate appears to have come to Putin’s attention during a meeting with the pianist Denis Matsuev. According to the New York Times, Putin and Matsuev discussed “the situation” at an October gathering of the presidential council for culture and art. On 17 November, Putin instructed his government to prepare a formal report on the possible repatriation of Rachmaninoff’s property.

Located outside Hertenstein, near Lake Lucerne, Villa Senar was Rachmaninoff’s summer home for most of the 1930s. It was the site for compositions including the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, and several of Rachmaninoff’s manuscripts and mementos, including a piano, remain on the grounds. Although the Russian-born composer apparently hoped to be buried at Villa Senar, he died in 1943, after immigrating to the United States, and the second world war prevented his wishes from being carried out.

Switzerland’s Aargauer Zeitung reports that officials in Lucerne have been informed of Russia’s interest in the Rachmaninoff estate, and Russia’s Swiss embassy has issued a press release calling for Villa Senar to be “preserved as a holistic memorial”. Following the death of Rachmaninoff’s grandson last year, four great-grandchildren have reportedly inherited the property.

“If this would belong to Russia, I think it would be a place of pilgrimage,” Matsuev told the New York Times. “It is a place for unique master classes, festivals and competitions. And a museum, of course.”

Villa Senar is estimated to be worth about 18m Swiss francs (£12.2m). This may or may not present an obstacle for the Russian government: in 2012, the country’s ministry of culture worked with regional government, NGOs and business-people to acquire the archives of filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, paying £1.3m at auction.

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