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The moving story of Rachmaninoff's years in exile and the composition of his last great work, set against a cataclysmic backdrop of two world wars and personal tragedy.
In 1940, Sergei Rachmaninoff, living in exile in America, broke his creative silence and composed a swan song to his Russian homeland—his iconic “Symphonic Dances.” What happened in those final haunted years and how did he come to write his farewell masterpiece?
Rachmaninoff left Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) in 1917 during the throes of the Russian Revolution. He was forty-four years old, at the peak of his powers as composer-conductor-performer, moving in elite Tsarist circles, as well as running the family estate, his refuge and solace. He had already written the music which, today, has made him one of the most popular composers of all time: the second and third Piano Concertos and two symphonies. The story of his years in exile in America and Switzerland has only been told in passing. Reeling from the trauma of a life in upheaval, he wrote almost no music and quickly had to reinvent himself as a fêted virtuoso pianist, building up untold wealth and meeting the stars—from Walt Disney and Charlie Chaplin to his Russian contemporaries and polar opposites, Prokofiev and Stravinsky.
Yet the melancholy of leaving his homeland never lifted. Using a wide range of sources, including important newly translated texts, Fiona Maddocks’s immensely readable book conjures impressions of this enigmatic figure, his friends and the world he encountered. It explores his life as an emigré artist and how he clung to an Old Russia which no longer existed. That forging of past and present meets in his Symphonic Dances (1940), his last composition, written on Long Island shortly before his death in Beverly Hills, surrounded by a close-knit circle of exiles. Goodbye Russia is a moving and prismatic look at Rachmaninoff and his iconic final work.
Fiona Maddocks is the classical music critic at the Observer. She was founding editor of BBC Music magazine and chief arts feature writer for the London Evening Standard, and has written for numerous other publications. She is the author of Hildegard of Bingen: The Woman of Her Age; Harrison Birtwistle: Wild Tracks—A Conversation Diary with Fiona Maddocks; and Music for Life.
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“An engaging account of resilience and regeneration, of fast cars and slow cooking, of a man who struck roots wherever he went in untouched corners of the human soul. Fiona Maddocks quietly reframes Rachmaninoff’s context as a man of the world—belonging not to Russia or America but to civilization as a whole, basking in its inventions and distractions, balancing life’s joys and sorrows in his ever-enduring concertos.” The Wall Street Journal
"In Maddocks’s gentle recounting, Rachmaninoff—a livid presence in absentia in Soviet Russia—was by 1940 celebrated but passe in the United States. To this familiar overview, Maddocks adds a trove of anecdotes and documents. The picture that emerges of Rachmaninoff in exile is by no means insular." The American Scholar
“Fiona Maddocks draws on archival materials including newly translated ones, as she paints a riveting portrait of the Russian composer’s struggles to adapt to a new life outside his beloved homeland. A fan’s affectionate ode to Rachmaninoff, Goodbye Russia provides a spirited tour through the evolution of his music while he was in exile, as well as a glimpse of the cultural history of classical music in the early to mid-20th century in the U.S.” BookPage
“Classical music critic Maddocks details in this captivating biography the fascinating and traumatic life of Russian composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff. Maddocks provides an up-close portrait of an influential musician and the shifting cultural climate in which his legacy was shaped. Classical music lovers will be engrossed.” Publishers Weekly
"Fiona Maddocks provides an extremely insightful and thoroughly readable appraisal of the trials and tribulations that [Rachmaninoff] faced during this problematic period Five stars *****" BBC Music Magazine
"An entertaining and humanising portrait of a shy, stiff, kindly giant of a man who channelled his emotions into his music. Maddocks has eschewed a cradle-to-grave approach. By presenting a series of snapshots from different angles, she avoids the deadening chronicling of the successive concert tours that were a feature of Rachmaninoff’s life . . . delightful." Rupert Christiansen, The Literary Review
"The man that emerges from Maddocks’s account is reserved, if not shy, surprisingly partial to fast cars and speedboats and consumed with a longing for Russia." David Mills, The Sunday Times
"Orbiting Rachmaninoff is a motley cast of characters, both celebrated and unknown. It is one of the triumphs of the author’s meticulous research that she brings them to life with such vitality, from the heights of Prokofiev’s rivalrous ambition to the loyal piano technician from the Bronx who followed “Rocky” from performance to performance." The Financial Times
"Fiona Maddocks's Goodbye Russia is a superb portrait of the misunderstood composer . . . Maddocks is a deft narrator. She dissolves into her story, surfacing only in wry asides and a tender, precise arrangement of material that builds to a deeply moving climax." Alexander Coghlan, The Sunday Telegraph
"A genial story, well told." The Spectator