Rachmaninov and Chaliapin… Two legendary names, two
great musicians, whose beautiful art became one of the most significant phenomena in the
world music culture. They were admired during their lifetime, and now, more than fifty
years after they died, the world still admires them.
Both artists were born in the same year of 1873. For some time they worked together and
were also great friends during all their lives.
They first met at Savva Mamontov's Moscow Private Opera Company. Chaliapin, unsatisfied
with his position at Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg where his tremendous talent was
not recognized, came to Mamontov's Company in 1896. A year later, Savva Mamontov offered a
post of a conductor in his Opera to Rachmaninov.
"In the summer of 1898, I was invited to stay with Tatiana Lubatovich (a singer at
the Mamontov's Op-era)", - Chaliapin wrote in his book "Pages of my life".
- "Together with Sergei Rachmaninov, our conductor, we worked on Mussorgsky's opera
"Boris Godunov"… Rachmaninov encouraged me to learn works by Mussorgsky and
Rimsky-Korsakov; he also taught me some music theory and harmony".
Chaliapin was not always a very accurate pupil; but still Rachmaninov's influence on his
friend's musical education was undoubtedly very important.
On the other hand, Chaliapin's part in Rachmani-nov's creative life was also very
significant. Rachmaninov adored his friend's talent, his magnetic power, sincerity, the
profound wisdom of his interpretations, that unspeakable sense of truth and beautiful
reality that one could feel in every note, every phrase that he sang. Apart from musical
side, their personal relationship was also very important for both musicians.
At the very same time as the singers of the Mamon-tov Private Opera were learning
"Boris Godunov" with Rachmaninov, he was already beginning his work on the
Second Piano Concerto.
In 1899, Rachmaninov's opera "Aleko" was perfor-med in St. Petersburg. Chalipin
sang the part of Aleko. "All singers were marvellous," - Rachmaninov wrote to
his friend Yuri Slonov, - "except Chalipin, who was much more than that - he was
great, and they all seemed a little colourless in comparison with him". The great
success of this performance helped Rachmani-nov to get over the depression he felt after
the failure of his First Symphony in St.Petersburg.
Two years later, in December 1900, Rachmaninov performed two movements of his new Second
piano concerto for the first time. It is interesting to note that Chaliapin also took part
in that concert.
The success of the concerto was outstanding. The audience and critics were very
enthusiastic. Since that moment, Rachmaninov's self confidense returned, and the next 16
years were the happiest and most productive in his life.
After Rachmaninov left Mamontov's Opera, Chaliapin continued to consult his friend about
his new roles; they also worked together at the Bolshoi Theater in 1904 - 06, when
Rachmaninov was invited to take up the post of a conductor.
Apart from the theater, Rachmaninov and Cha-liapin appeared together in many concerts.
"When Chaliapin sang and Rachmaninov played the piano part, it wouldn't be quite
correct to say that Rachmani-nov was the accompanist. They both sang! Their performance
was fantastic, it was great!" - Anna Trub-nikova, Rachmaninov's cousin, wrote. They
performed works by Rachmaninov as well as other composers: songs, romances, scenes and
arias from operas.
Rachmaninov dedicated to his friend five ro-mances. Unfortunately, no recordings of
Chaliapin singing them were made.
Rachmaninov was very fond of his wife's family estate Ivanovka, in Tambov region,
southeast of Mos-cow; he spent much time there, composing and practicing. Most of his
major works were written in Iva-novka. Many of his friends were invited to stay there,
Chalipin was among them.
After 1917, Rachmaninov with his family left Russia and made his home in USA. A few years
later, Chaliapin also went into a self-imposed exile. The two friends met again. One of
their meetings was special: in 1923 Chaliapin, together with several actors of the Moscow
Art Theatre which was on tour in USA at that time, visited Rachmaninov. The party was a
very happy one, there was a lot of jokes and laughter (both great artists had wonderful
sense of humor). Later on, Chaliapin sang "Black eyes" so beautifully, that
everybody was astonished by his performance. When Chalipin made a recording of this song
in Paris several years after that, Rachmaninov enjoyed listening to it, he especially
liked the culmnation phrase: "You ruined me!"; he used to let his guests listen
to this recording and was always pleased if they reacted in the same way as he did.
Chaliapin died in 1938. During his illness, Rachma-ninov visited his friend twice a day,
but did not attend the funeral - he was too shocked by his death. On the day of the
funeral Rachmaninov said: "Chaliapin will not die. He cannot die. This wonderful
artist with a really fantastic gift, cannot be forgotten. For future generations, he will
become a legend".
Rachmaninov outlived his friend for only 5 years. He died in 1943 in Beverly Hills,