Category Archives: Musician’s Homes

Dimitri Tiomkin house, Los Angeles

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And now we come back to Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979). This time it is to show the house into which he moved in the spring of 1950. This ethnic Jew, Ukrainian-born pianist and composer was already one of Hollywood’s top names by now, but he still had a long, successful, creative life ahead of him. More or less as he was moving his furniture into this home he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture for Champion (1949). Just three years on he would win the first two of his Oscars – one for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture for High Noon (1952), and another (with Ned Washington) for Best Music, Original Song for High Noon (1952) for “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’,” as sung by Tex Ritter. Also in 1953 he would win the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Score for High Noon (1952). It was a man at the top of his game who brought his life and family into this house. He had previously lived in Beverly Hills (about which I will write in the future), but if one can move up by leaving Beverly Hills, Tiomkin did so by purchasing this mansion in the Windsor Square neighborhood of Central Los Angeles, near Wilshire. Virtually all of his neighbors were famous – all of them were rich. The official address of this home was, and still is, 333 S. Windsor Boulevard.
Tiomkin had grown up in what was known during the Russian empire (and later in Soviet times) as the Ukraine – a place out on the edges, the far limits, so to speak. His town of birth was Kremenchuk, near Poltava. He was taught the piano by his mother Maria Tartakovskaya, who had plans of him being a concert pianist one day. She surely expected those dreams to come true when Tiomkin was admitted to the St. Petersburg Conservatory to study under the great Alexander Glazunov and Felix Blumenfeld. What she did not expect was the Revolution that would come along in 1917 and shake the Russian empire to the core. Tiomkin left Russia for Berlin in 1921 then moved on to Paris in 1924. He struck out for New York as a member of the Dimitri Tiomkin/Michael Khariton piano duo in 1925. However, with the US economy taking a dive in 1929, Tiomkin headed west in search of better pay. In short, Hollywood was calling, and by 1929 he hit upon several small jobs. According to the imdb website, Tiomkin wrote the ballet music for Devil-May-Care and Pointed Heels, both uncredited, and the music for a short called A Night at the Shooting Gallery, all in 1929. By 1930, his career was off and running.

The house in Windsor Park can’t help but remind one of a Russian estate. The stately, columned entrance, the decorations on the walls, the classical box of a many-roomed mansion, all bear a resemblance to places Tiomkin might have seen in his childhood, or, certainly, in St. Petersburg. One of the first things Tiomkin did at the new house was to add a swimming pool, the total cost of which was $2,550.
In the end, however – in the course of one night, in fact – this house was darkened by evil and Tiomkin sold it and left it without ever looking back.
It happened on the night of the funeral of Albertina Rasch, his second wife, in early October 1967. A small report in the Los Angeles Times (republished here) puts it as follows:
Several hours after his wife’s funeral Thursday, composer Dimitri Tiomkin was attacked by thieves in his home at 333 S. Windsor Blvd. 
Three men and a woman forced their way into the home, police said, and one of the intruders struck Tiomkin over the head with a gun. He was not seriously hurt. 
Tiomkin and his secretary, Martha Harrington, were tied up and the intruders searched the house. However, they obtained only $13 in cash, police said. 
Inurnment services for Mrs. Tiomkin, the former Albertina Rasch, had been held at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park. 
Mrs. Tiomkin, who was a former ballerina, died Monday at Motion Picture Country Hospital after a lengthy illness. The composer is her only survivor.”
Almost immediately, Tiomkin sold the house and left Los Angeles. He spent the last 12 years of his life living in London (where he died) and  in Paris. After his death, Tiomkin’s ashes were brought back to Los Angeles where they were interred in a mausoleum at Forest Lawn in Glendale.

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Nikolai Beloborodov house and plaque, Tula

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Nikolai Beloborodov ran a dye business in Tula. His father had been the manager of a rich man’s estate. His mother came from a family that had made its living working in the famous Tula armory factory. None of this gives us a hint as to why we remember Beloborodov today – which is because, in the first half of the 1870s, he invented the first accordion (button box, squeeze box) that was equipped with half-tones.
A paragraph on a very nice Tula-based website tells the story with both brevity and interesting detail:
At the age of 11 he became fascinated with playing the accordion, for which endeavor he independently learned to read music. Possessing extraordinary abilities, he achieved notable success in his mastery of the instrument, but the primitiveness of the harmonies existing at the time severely limited his performing abilities. Therefore, in 1875 (according to other sources, in 1870) he commissioned a fundamentally new instrument from the renowned Tula master Leonty Alexeevich Chulkov.  The novelty of the instrument consisted in the construction of a right-hand keyboard consisting of 23 keys, which included all 12 sounds of the chromatic scale.”
Still, apparently, the difficulties of the new instrument were such that it required further development. Beloborodov, who was now fascinated by new plans and ideas, did not continue work on the new instrument. At first his thoughts were occupied with the idea of putting together the first accordion trio – which he found relatively easy to do, since he took up one of the places, while his daughters Maria (Kuvaldina by marriage) and Sofya Beloborodova took up the other two places. Then he was inspired to create an entire orchestra of accordions. He gathered amateur musicians (for the notion of a “professional” accordionist was ahead of its time) and rehearsed them at his home on Sunday afternoons and evenings. All of them played on the new-fangled chromatic-scale accordions.
Ah, but our hero was not even close to being finished. Presumably somewhat taken aback by the roar of an entire orchestra of identical accordions – no matter how many half-notes they could play – Beloborodov began to realize that a whole array of different accordions was needed. As such, he commissioned the creation of a series of accordions “of different ranges and timbres: piccolo-accordion, prima-accordion, alto-accordion, cello-accordion, bass-accordion, and double bass-accordion” (I’m quoting from the same site). Even I, as I sit here and write 150 years later, can hear the drastic changes taking place in Beloborodov’s living room as he gathers each week with his musician friends. All of a sudden a monotonous wall of sound begins morphing into a nuanced pattern of sounds that begins to sound like sophisticated music.

And yet, and yet… Beloborodov was not done. Now that he had put together such a versatile combination of accordions, he began commissioning works written or adapted specifically for accordion or an accordion orchestra. Thus his orchestra was able to play not only sophisticated versions of folk music, but it could also play popular classical works by Mikhail Glinka, Franz von Suppé, Johann Strauss and others. When this greatly enlarged repertoire was not enough to satisfy Beloborodov, he began writing his own works. His “Fantasia” polka, “The Hunt” quadrille and his Waltz were, therefore, the first works ever written for chromatic scale accordion. If that wasn’t enough, Beloborodov also wrote the first instruction manual for this new instrument.
Once again, that Tula website provides a nice description of the orchestra’s activities:
The orchestra’s first performance took place in the hall of the Tula Assembly of the Nobility in 1897. Further, the collective repeatedly demonstrated its skills not only in Tula, but also in Kaluga, Serpukhov, Aleksin, and Yefremov. Great events in the life of the orchestra were a concert at the Moscow Conservatory, a recording session, and, in the summer of 1893, a performance for Leo Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana, where the orchestra presented the great Russian writer with an honorary address and a membership card at the Tula Society of Music and Dramatic Artists.”
Beloborodov was born February 27, 1828 and he died December 28, 1912. He lived his entire life in Tula. His mother died shortly after he was born; his father wanted his son to be educated, but not too educated. He saw to it that a priest taught Nikolai to read in Old Church Slavonic, but one the pupil began making progress at that, the father stopped his education. He considered that that was enough to get him through life. His father also died when he was relatively young, and the young man set up his dye business in his home. It brought him precious little money and he and his family were often short of necessary funds.
The point here, of course, is the extraordinary nature of Beloborodov’s fascination  with, and dedication to, his chosen – it was never really a profession for him, but rather more an obsession.
The plaque at the top of this post reads: “Nikolai Ivanovich Beloborodov (1828-1912), the inventor of the chromatic scale accordion, and the organizer of the world’s first accordion orchestra, lived in this building.”
This building, located at 16 Lenin Prospekt, was turned into a museum commemorating Beloborodov’s life and work in 1995.

 

 

Vladimir Bakaleinikov home, Moscow

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I have been chasing after Vladimir Bakaleinikoff (Bakaleinikov) and his brothers Constantin (Konstantin) and Mischa (Mikhail) for several years now. I have followed their traces all over Los Angeles numerous times, always armed with new locations. I have addresses for them in several places. I have information about their burial places in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale. And every time I come up empty. Every house that they occupied in the L.A. area – at least as far as I can determine – has been torn down and replaced since the time they lived there. And, as I suggested, even their grave sites turned out to be fictive. I have the plots for Vladimir and Constantin and I had the directions from the cemetery staff. My sister Margie and I even plugged the coordinates into the Forest Lawn internet app on her iPhone – and still no go. We went back to the office to ask again and they said there was nothing more they could do. They suggested that maybe the grave markers have not been maintained and are lost. Elusive guys, these Bakaleinikoffs!
But I am nothing if not tenacious. And one day when I was researching the homes in Moscow’s Arbat region, I happened upon a building that ties Vladimir Bakaleinikov to the earth on Bolshoi Afanasyevsky Lane, house No. 30. I would have preferred to locate a Los Angeles address for at least one of the brothers, because the U.S. is where their careers in music flourished. On the other hand, this location in Moscow was the site of at least a few of Vladimir’s formative years.
Let’s get past the Bakaleinikov/Bakaleinikoff dichotomy for those who may be confused. As I have pointed out many times in these pages, these are alternate English spellings which occurred often in the post-revolutionary years. Broadly speaking, though not exclusively so, the two “ff”‘s for the soft, final Russian “v” were used in Europe. Any emigrant who spent much time in Europe grew used to the “ff” spelling and kept it. To this day, for example, most people recognize the spelling of Rachmaninoff as “correct.” Having said that it would appear that the Bakaleinikovs chose to use the “ff” spelling without any European influence. in 1927 Vladimir headed straight from Moscow to Cincinnati, of all places. Constantin went from Moscow to Hollywood in 1929. (In this post I will use the “ff” spelling when referring to the family in the U.S., while I will employ the stricter, more “proper” “v” transliteration when referring to them in Russia.
Vladimir Bakaleinikov was actually quite an accomplished musician (viola), conductor and composer before he left Russia. Born into a poor clarinetist’s family in 1885, his talent allowed him to begin studies at the Moscow Conservatory at the tender age of nine. He was the conductor of the Theater of Musical Drama in Petrograd from 1914 to 1916, and was employed in the musical studio of the Moscow Art Theater from 1920 to 1927. He taught at the Petrograd Conservatory from 1918 to 1920, and at the Moscow Conservatory from 1920 to 1924.
Konstantin (1896-1966) was significantly younger, and appears not to have had much of a career until he left Russia. At least a moderate internet search turns up no major information about him in Russia other than the fact that he studied at the Moscow Conservatory, graduating in 1916, and that he emigrated to the U.S. with his brother Mischa (more about whom in a moment) in 1929. One Russian site states plainly in a cursory bio that he began his career in 1929 in the U.S. That debut was a film called Father and Son, although it was another four years before his second major Hollywood job came along – Only Yesterday (1933), for which he again served as composer. Over the years, Constantin was nominated for four Oscars for best original score – Something to Sing About (1936), The Fallen Sparrow (1944), Higher and Higher (1945) and None but the Lonely Heart (1945). Throughout his career Constantin (as his first name was spelled in the U.S.) was the musical director at Paramount Pictures, MGM and Grand National Pictures. At times he was associated with local symphony orchestras in the L.A. area.
In his book Russians in Hollywood, Hollywood’s Russians, Harlow Robinson throws the emigration date of Constantin into question by claiming it was 1920, but also provides a nice anecdotal description of him: “…he played the cello briefly in the Los Angeles Philharmonic before being hired by the producer Sid Grauman as musical director for his movie theaters, conducting the orchestra for silent films shown at such palaces as the Egyptian and the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theater. So familiar was he with movie audiences that they started calling him by the nickname of ‘Backy.‘”
I am pleased to report that in the game of six degrees of separation I am only a handshake removed from Constantin Bakaleinikoff. The great Pearl Bailey starred with Nat King Cole in Constantin’s last major motion picture, St. Louis Blues (1958), while Ms. Bailey was a Cub Scout den mother in my hometown of Apple Valley, CA, around 1960-61. I once won a 45 rpm record of hers from her own hands for performing some Cub Scout stunt that I have long forgotten. That lovely hand of hers figuratively could have reached out and touched Constantin Bakaleinikoff.

For the record, Vladimir and Konstantin had two other talented brothers, Nikolai (1881-1957) and Mikhail (known in the U.S. as Mischa Bakaleinikoff, 1890-1960). Mischa performed in the Columbia Studios orchestra and scored over 20 films in a career that ran from 1930 to his death in 1960. U.S. Wikipedia claims he left for the U.S. in 1926, while I find the 1929 departure date in other sources. Since he apparently began his Hollywood career in 1930, and since his brother Constantin (apparently) made the move in 1929, I’m tentatively sticking with that date.
Vladimir’s career in the U.S. was full, if not quite as spectacular as that of his oft Oscar-nominated brother. He was chief conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1927 to 1937, at which time he followed his brothers to Hollywood. However, after two years, he apparently felt the pull for more serious work and accepted an invitation to head up the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (1948-1952). He was a well-known teacher and one of his prize pupils was Lorin Maazel, who began studies with Vladimir at the age of seven. Vladimir wrote a book, Elementary Rules of Conducting for Orchestra, Band and Chorus (in English, 1938), and memoirs under the title of The Notes of a Musician (in Russian, 1943). 
Aside from a stint with Sergei Diaghileff’s Ballets Russes before the Revolution, the eldest brother Nikolai Bakaleinikov spent his entire life in Russia or the Soviet Union. He was a noted flutist, a conductor and a composer. Not surprisingly, with three brothers skipping out of the Soviet Union in the 1920s, Nikolai found himself moving to Sverdlovsk – far from the cultural centers of Moscow and Leningrad – in 1931. One wonders if the move was voluntary. He remained in Sverdlovsk (today’s Yekaterinburg) until his death.
I have not been able to pin down what, if any, connection Nikolai, Konstantin, and Mikhail might have had to the building that is pictured in today’s post. I do find a tantalizing link on the Russian net which seems to connect Nikolai to this address, but the link will not open. In any case, we know that Vladimir lived here, and, since the family was apparently quite close-knit, at least early on, I’m guessing every one of the brothers was here at one time or another, even if they didn’t live here.
Vladimir wrote in his memoirs that, “My father earned very little. We, the children, helped him earn money by playing at weddings, in restaurants, and by giving lessons, and, subsequently, concerts. We children did not scorn any kind of work. It was shameful not to work, seeing how our mother did the washing, cooking and sewing for everyone, while serving us all.
It is worth noting that this remembrance would not have been connected with the home I show here. An apartment in this house, built brand new in 1906, would have been out of the reach of the younger Bakaleinikov family. This would have been accessible to them only after Nikolai and Vladimir’s careers in Moscow had taken a significant upturn.
P.S. Some additional information on emigration dates for the brothers. FamilySearch.com tells us that “Mihail” Bakaleinikoff arrived as an emigrant in Los Angeles harbor in 1930 and that he was naturalized in 1931. For Constantin I find he was naturalized in Los Angeles in 1927, and that he was married in Cincinnatti, Ohio, on Dec. 23, 1925. I don’t find an immigration date for him. Finally, the information on Vladimir is somewhat confusing. FamilySearch offers several different immigration dates, the earliest of which might be 1924. A notation suggests that a border crossing into Vermont may have happened as early as 1924 (although the actual date given is 1924-1952). Another notation, giving the spelling “Bakaleinicoff,” suggests a 1925 arrival (“immigration”) to New York in 1925. A third posits a Sept. 2, 1930, arrival in Detroit, although this may simply have been a return trip from abroad. I’m guessing that the 1925 date is pretty close to correct.

 

2nd Igor Stravinsky home, Los Angeles

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Igor Stravinsky spent 28 years in Hollywood. I don’t know how that sounds to you, but it sounds like something out of science fiction to me. Especially when you consider that during his last years there, we almost, almost, almost shared the same sidewalk a time or two. I used to hang out on Sunset Boulevard a lot in the early 1970s. Stravinsky bailed out, moving to New York City, in 1969. Virtually the entire LA sojourn was spent on N. Wetherly Dr., just few hundred feet above Sunset. (N. Wetherly turns up off of Sunset just west of the Roxy Club.) Some time ago in this space I shared photos of Stravinsky’s first property at 1260 N. Wetherly. Today I share a few photos of his second address on this street at 1218 N. Wetherly. I think it’s interesting to note that Stravinsky lived in LA longer than in any other city.
Do you think of Stravinsky as an “LA composer”? I surely don’t. Just imagine it, Stravinsky’s driver Edwin Allen driving him home past the Whiskey A-Go-Go in the mid-1960s as Jim Morrison and the Doors are warming up. It doesn’t fit into my head.
It would appear that the great maestro moved into the house at 1218 N. Wetherly in 1963. In any case we know that he moved into his first house in LA in April 1940 and that he spent 23 years there. This would leave him six years at the home you see pictured in this space today.
He wrote several major works at 1218, including his four preludes to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, and his Requiem Canticles. It was at this home in 1965 that a film clip was made by CBS of Stravinsky playing part or parts of his The Rite of Spring.
It was here, also, that his health began to fail.
Stephen Walsh’s Stravinsky: The Second Exile: France and America, 1934-1971 contains a detailed chapter about the last days at this home. It pictures the composer as quite unwell, perhaps not even fully cognizant of what is going on around him. Meanwhile, his wife Vera apparently never took a particular liking to the new home, making her uncomfortable. “Now Vera was exhausted and depressed, hated Hollywood more than ever, and disliked the house as much as before,” Walsh writes.
Not sparing Angelenos’ ego, Walsh writes about the hurried departure from  N. Wetherly Dr., “…a move to New York was being planned. Europe had not worked out; Los Angeles, quite apart from its social and cultural desolation, was impossibly remote from the first-rate doctoring the composer needed.”
Obviously, Walsh is no fan of the Doors or even Buffalo Springfield, but, still, his attitude to LA would make Woody Allen sound like a fan. “Impossibly remote from first-rate doctoring”?
Whatever the case, here is what one eye-witness said about Stravinsky at that time, as reported by Walsh:
“…We did not expect the sight which faced us when we were admitted to his bedroom. He had lost so much weight that he seemed transparent. […] He looked like a ghost, his eyes so deeply sunk in a face which was but skin stretched on bones. Still, he found the strength to bless me in Russian with a sign of the cross over my chest. We left in a state of utter desolation.”

We glean a little more information about this residence from Neil Wentborn’s Stravinsky: The Illustrated Lives of the Great Composers. “…The Stravinskys moved house after 23 years at 1260 North Wetherly Drive. Their new home was in the same street – No. 1218, the house, until her death in 1959, of their old friend the Baroness Caherine d’Erlanger, a one-time backer of Diaghilev – but it was much better adapted to Stravinsky’s decreasing mobility. It also had more space than the old one, and the couple set about expanding it still further, adding bathrooms, a guest room and a swimming pool, and converting existing rooms into a library and a studio. It is indicative of the changes age and sickness had wrought in Stravinsky, however, that he found the move disorientating and never really settled in the new house.”
I was fortunate to get two shots of the house itself (pretty much the same shot from different distances) because the current residents’ gardener just happened to be watering and mowing as I arrived. As a result, both gates to the otherwise hermetically closed property were flung wide open.
I am not a paparazzi in fact or in spirit, and I must admit, I was disconcerted to be shooting my subject furtively while the gardener did his work and wondered what the hell I was up to. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t bring myself to actually step onto the inner driveway in order to get better shots – I didn’t feel it was proper.

 

Vladimir Vysotsky guest home, Fountain Valley, CA

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I’ve been sitting on this one for two years. I’ve done that on purpose. I wanted the dust to settle a little from the kerfuffle that arose in the Vladimir Vysotsky world when my old colleague Carl Schreck dug up and collated a ton of heretofore unshared information about Vladimir Vysotsky hanging out in the LA area in the 1970s. I say “kerfuffle” because Carl’s article for RFE/RL knocked my own personal hat off. And, since I know a thing or two about Russian culture, I guarantee you that nobody had ever come up with the deets that Carl scared up. So if his article did not cause a ruckus at the time, it will in the future, when the rest of the world catches up to it. Because Vysotsky is one of the great Russian cultural figures of all time – that’s not hyperbole – and any off-the-map episodes in his much-studied life are worth their weight in gold.
In his piece “When the Legendary Soviet Bard Vladimir Vysotsky Hit Hollywood” Carl outlines a few well-documented evenings and instances when Vysotsky encountered the Hollywood elite at cocktail and swim parties in the second half of the 1970s. You should definitely go and read the whole thing, it’s a fun ride. But I’ll provide a few excerpts here anyway.
On a balmy summer evening in the posh Los Angeles neighborhood of Pacific Palisades, movie stars and industry players mingled around the pool and on the veranda, nursing drinks and clouding the air with plumes of expensive cigar smoke.
The partygoers, according to witnesses, included Hollywood royalty and rising talent alike: Gregory Peck, Natalie Wood, Liza Minnelli, Robert De Niro, Anthony Hopkins, Michael Douglas, and Sylvester Stallone, whose film Rocky would make him a worldwide star after its release four months later in November 1976.
A stranger dressed in pale blue maneuvered his short, sturdy frame through the crowd as well. His intense eyes ‘glistened with excitement’ on that evening, and an implant of the antialcoholism drug disulfiram had helped liberate him temporarily from his bondage to the bottle, his wife would later write.
At some point during the evening, the host of the party, Hollywood producer Mike Medavoy, introduced the man, who had brought his own seven-string guitar to the star-studded gathering.”
The guest, of course, was Vysotsky. His wife, who would later describe this evening in her memoir, was the famous French actress Marina Vlady.
The producer Mike Medavoy graciously and loquaciously shared his memories of Vysotsky with Carl, providing some of the juiciest sections of the article. For example:
“‘It was a typical party in Hollywood with lots of people in the business, some who knew each other and others who didn’t,’ said Medavoy, who has been involved in seven Best Picture Oscar-winners and at the time served as head of production at United Artists. ‘And the thing that was different was having Vysotsky. Obviously, nobody knew who he was.’
That was something that Vysotsky, who died 35 years ago this week, had hoped to change in what turned out to be the final chapter of his short, hard-lived life. Vysotsky’s iconic status in his homeland derived from his poignant, ironic, and cleverly subversive songs — delivered in a passionate, guttural rasp — that circulated hand-to-hand on underground recordings across the Soviet Union’s 11 time zones. But he was also a Soviet stage and movie star. And having already conquered the hearts of his compatriots, in his last years Vysotsky turned his ambitions toward Tinseltown, where he hobnobbed with celebrities and ultimately sought to make a splash on the silver screen. For Vysotsky, the concert at Medavoy’s house would become a launching point of sorts for this mission, his inaugural plunge deep into the exclusive world of Hollywood stardom with his wife, the French actress Marina Vlady, by his side.”

I contacted Carl the day his piece came out two years ago and asked if he had addresses for any of the stories he told. He didn’t, but as a man properly obsessed with his topic, he shot me several internet links that led me towards one of the lesser locations that Vysotsky lived at during his LA trips.
One particularly was a blurry photo of a man named Dick Finn standing next to Vysotsky and Vlady  in front of a typically nondescript LA suburban home. The Russian caption reads: “Dick Flinn, Vladimir Vysotsky, and Marina Vlady in America, August 1976.” If you look carefully you can make out the house number 9876 on the facing of the roof. Carl put that together with a Google Maps image of a house at 9876 Sturgeon Ave. in Fountain Valley, CA. The resemblance was good. Then a note from Flinn confirmed that he had lived in this house and that Vysotsky had visited him there.
Boom. So here we are. One of the places where Vysotsky hunkered down while looking for ways to become a part of the Hollywood machine. The house has been spiffed up and modernized since Vysotsky was there, but the brickwork, the chimney, the large front window and the main entrance with its narrow walkway are all still there to bear witness to Vysotsky’s presence.
Carl brings Finn into his story at one point:
Vysotsky’s singular growl reverberated through Medavoy’s house and drifted out into the California night, drawing the attention of guests milling about in the backyard.
‘As he kept singing with his rough voice and delivery, others were coming in [saying]: “Who is this guy singing like this?” said Dick Finn, a retired Los Angeles-based businessman and a friend of Vysotsky’s, who attended the party. ‘They were mesmerized by his performance.’
Finn, 74, hosted Vysotsky and Vlady several times in Los Angeles. He recalled in a recent interview with RFE/RL that De Niro and Minnelli, who were shooting the Martin Scorcese-directed film New York, New York at the time, came to the party straight from the set, still wearing their costumes.”
So, the big parties with all the stars may not have been at this house. But Vysotsky himself was, who, for our purposes, outweighs all the Tinseltown lovelies put together.
My purpose in this short piece is not to tell the story of Vysotsky in LA. Carl Schreck has already done that beautifully. My goal is more modest – to share images of a location in the greater Los Angeles area that is connected with the great actor, singer-songwriter’s life. Enjoy. There is Russian cultural history even in the wastelands of the LA suburbs. As for the whole story: Go to Carl’s article and read it. It’s a wonderful tale.

 

Alexander Vertinsky plaque, Moscow

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Few individuals in the history of Russian culture have lived more dramatic lives than the great singer and songwriter Alexander Vertinsky (1889-1957). It all began before he was born.
Vertinsky was the second child born scandalously in Kiev to Nikolai Vertinsky, a lawyer, and Yevgenia Skolatskaya, the daughter of the head of Kiev’s assembly of nobility. Vertinsky, Sr., was married and nothing he could do would convince his wife to agree to a divorce. The situation – this was the end of the 19th century, after all – was, indeed, dramatic. Alexander’s sister Nadezhda was separated from her brother and given to an aunt in the father’s family. Alexander was turned over to his maternal aunt, a severe woman who hated Alexander’s father, was extremely strict in her dealings with the young boy, and who told him that his sister was dead. His mother died when he was three; his father, who apparently spent much of his last years sitting by his lover’s grave, died when Alexander was five. Not the easiest start in life far a young boy, although this was just a prelude.
The story that follows is packed with details that I could never have collected without the help of a few good websites, Know EverythingPeoples.ru, and Russian Wikipedia. I doff my cap to them all. (Although I should point out that the sources differ on dates occasionally, with some claiming he moved to Moscow and began his film career either in 1912 or 1913. In unclear instances, I tend to side with Wikipedia, rightly or wrongly.)
Vertinsky received a good education, at least at first, studying at the No. 1 Gymnasium for aristocrats. His classmates included the future writers Konstantin Paustovsky and Mikhail Bulgakov. But Vertinsky’s independent nature was not to be tamed. For kicks he began stealing money that pilgrims left as honors on the graves holding the remains of saints at the Kiev-Pechersky monastery. He was caught and kicked out of school, and, when he refused to quit doing it, his aunt kicked him out of her home. His saving grace was a love for theater and music. He tried out his acting chops first and, when that failed, he took up singing. A chance meeting with an old friend of his mother gave him another “in” to high society. She took him under her wing, inviting him to her house where he met such individuals as Marc Chagall, the philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, the poet Mikhail Kuzmin,  and the painters Kazimir Malevich and Natan Altman. This, apparently was an environment that began to serve and feed Vertinsky’s talent. His new benefactress helped him get a job as a theater critic and he turned out to be very good at it. He became well-known in Kiev with his notices about performances by Fyodor Chaliapin and others. He also began publishing short stories. When he had saved up enough money by the age of 24, he set out for the bright lights of the big city of Moscow. His primary goal was to make a career in literature, but first he made an astonishing discovery – his sister Nadya was not only still alive, she was an actress in the theater! Alexander began performing and directing, all the while continuing to write stories, poems and short plays, often under the influence of Alexander Blok and the Symbolists. An attempt to enter the Moscow Art Theater school ended in failure when the auditioning master Konstantin Stanislavsky complained that Vertinsky could not properly pronounce the letter “r.” This hardly stopped him. He made his debut in silent film in 1913 and, when World War I began, he volunteered as a medic. There he applied some 35,000 bandages to wounded soldiers before he was wounded slightly himself and sent back to Moscow where he learned that his beloved sister had died of an overdose of cocaine. Nevertheless, Alexander wasted little time getting his career going again, continuing to act in films and making his Moscow debut as a singer in 1915 at the Miniature Theater. A crucial choice was made to dress and make Vertinsky up as Pierrot, and it stuck, becoming his own personal image forever after. His early repertoire was based on the poetry of others, but he also began slipping in a few of his own songs, too. Before long he had become a star in his own right.

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dscn0971Vertinsky’s songs reflected the age in which they were written – one of violence, uncertainty and fear. The usual characters that he wrote about found themselves alone and vulnerable before a hostile world. There was a note of fatalism in Vertinsky’s voice that, together with his unique, personal sound of deep regret and profound understanding, gave his songs enormous emotional impact. It is not surprising (I say as I leap-frog over all kinds of interesting biographical details) that Vertinsky would increasingly feel himself an outcast in Moscow in the years after the Revolution. Even though the rhetoric was not even close to what it would become in the next decade/decade and a half, it was plenty to alienate Vertinsky almost immediately. Here’s a little story worth repeating from Peoples.ru:
Following the Bolshevik Revolution Vertinsky came to the conclusion that he would never get along with the new government. His romance titled ‘What I Must Say,’ written under the impression of the deaths of three hundred cadets in Moscow, aroused the interest of the Cheka [secret police], which summoned the actor to explain his sympathy for enemies of the Revolution. Legend has it that Vertinsky responded to the Chekists indignantly: ‘It’s just a song, and anyway, you cannot forbid me to pity them!’ He received a clear and concise answer: ‘If necessary, we can forbid you to breathe!‘”
Shortly thereafter Vertinsky – who was now a nationally famous singer – set out on a protracted tour through the southern regions of the new Soviet Union, as far from Moscow as he could get. In 1920 he slipped out of the country on the good ship Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, and set foot in the safety of Constantinople. He began performing there with success for the growing emigre population, but, being a restless soul, he kept moving, visiting in coming years Romania, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Libya and Germany. When in Poland he made an attempt to return to the Soviet Union but was refused a visa. He settled in France from 1925 to 1934, where he, once again, became an enormous star. Yes, he was supported by the huge Russian emigre community, but the French, with their love of style, art and literature, took him in as well. He continued writing his beautiful, sad songs of longing, regret and stoicism, creating one of the greatest oeuvre of popular songs in the world.
In 1934 Alexander set sail for New York on the good ship Lafayette. He never felt comfortable in America’s financial capital and set off on tours that took him to Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. There was an attempt to get him started in Hollywood as an actor, but his lack of knowledge and deep dislike of the English language were a barrier that could not be breached. There is a tale that Marlene Dietrich, seeing how Vertinsky struggled with English, suggested that he just “get a grip on himself” and learn the language. He couldn’t, however, and ended up turning down the offer to act.
Disillusioned with the States, Vertinsky set sail for China in October 1935. It was a decision that would change his life, and the history of Russian/Soviet performing arts.
He set up base in Shanghai where he continued to perform, and, even, for a short while was the owner of a cabaret. But life was getting more and more difficult, and when he unexpectedly received an invitation from the Soviet consulate in Shanghai to return home, he was intrigued. He even began writing for a Soviet newspaper. Still, the road home was not easy. His final papers from Moscow were delayed, in large part because of the beginning of World War II, and so, when he married his second wife Lidia Tsirgvava in 1942, he was still in Shanghai. Vertinsky was then 53; Tsirgvava, the daughter of a Soviet official in China, was 20. Their first daughter Marianna was born several months later. When Japan invaded China Vertinsky made still another, now desperate, attempt to return home. He wrote Stalin’s right-hand man Vyacheslav Molotov, who immediately made arrangements for Vertinsky and his family to receive traveling papers. They were given an apartment in a prestigious building on Tverskaya Street (occasionally and exaggeratedly called Moscow’s Fifth Avenue or Champs Elysses) in building No. 12. You see that building here, as photographed in the fall of 2016.
Just a few months after arriving here in Moscow in 1943, the couple’s second daughter Anastasia was born. Both Marianna and Anastasia would become successful actors themselves, Anastasia, especially, becoming one of the Soviet Union’s most popular actresses in the 1960s and 1970s.
Vertinsky himself found an uncomfortable mix of success and alienation upon his return to a nation that had nothing to do with the country he left in 1920. He was allowed to act in films and to give concerts, and yet, he was kept on the outside of mainstream Soviet cultural life. His songwriting muse pretty much dried up in this period. One source claims he wrote barely two dozen songs over the last 14 years of his life.
In 1956, the year after Nikita Khrushchev launched his de-Stalinization campaign, Vertinsky wrote to his wife:
Look at this whole story with Stalin. It’s false, base and disingenuous, At the convention Khrushchev said: ‘Let’s stand in honor of the 17 million people who were martyred in the camps.’ How do you like that?! Who, when and how will the ‘mistakes’ made by these scums ever be repaid? How long will they continue to  mock our Motherland? How long?

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Alexander Scriabin house, Moscow

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Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915), the pianist and composer, rented rooms in this house at 11 Bolshoi Nikolopeskovsky Lane, just north of the Arbat, for the last three years of his life. He died on the very day that his rental contract expired. (His landlord was Apollon Grushka, a prominent philologist, a specialist in historical Latin grammar and Roman poetry.) Thanks in large part to the efforts of Scriabin’s common-law widow Tatyana Shlyotser, the building was turned into a museum honoring Scriabin’s memory in 1922 – just as Shlyotser herself died. Today it continues its life as a museum and a cultural center where concerts and other cultural events are often held. The plaque that hangs on the second floor of the building (a rare enough occurrence) is probably one of the oldest in Moscow. It was surely made and first displayed within two or three years of the composer’s death for it uses the pre-revolutionary script, including the so-called hard sign that is added to the end of several of the words. The plaque reads: “Here lived and died Alexander Nikolaevich Scriabin.”
Scriabin’s reputation has gone up and down over time. I doubt that means much; I mention it as a fact. During his life, especially in the later years, Scriabin was hugely famous. More importantly, his influence on other musicians, Russian and otherwise, was significant. As Arnold Schoenberg was developing his form of atonal music in Europe, Scriabin was independently performing similar experiments in Russia. I have never had a close personal connection to his music and so I asked my wife Oksana Mysina, a musician by education, what she might say about him. “He is an elemental storm,” she said. “His music comes crashing at you like a storm at sea. His compositions are for pianists what Paganini’s are for violinists.” Scriabin was and remains an enigmatic figure, a mystic, a symbolist, a Theosophist. A Russian biography site begins with a nice, if somewhat florid, description of the man and musician:
“Scriabin’s works embody ideas of ecstatic aspiration for unknown ‘cosmic’ spheres, as well as the idea of art as a transformative power. His music is characterized by great tension and a range of images from inspired idealism to the expressively heroic. He was a brilliant innovator of musical methods of expression, particularly in the field of harmony. He developed the notion of light music [see below] and was the first to introduce a part for light into musical practice – this in his symphonic poem “Prometheus”…
Alexander was a very suspicious and religious man. His abrupt mood swings frightened his family and friends, as did his views on current events. In addition to his unique music, he was also the first in history to employ and popularize color music. According to doctors, Alexander suffered from schizophrenia…”

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Scriabin’s work with color and light in music is much better known in Russia than in the West. You can find all kinds of writings on the topic in the Russian netsphere (go here, for instance). I did find one source, originally written in Russian, but translated into English, that offers views on some of the complexities of Scriabin’s experiments. This piece, titled “Was Scriabin a Synaesthete?” goes into much detail about topics that are translated variously as “colored hearing”; “color tonal”; “color sound”; “light-music synthesis”; “light-sound synaesthesia” &cetera.
There are geniuses,” the poet Konstantin Balmont wrote, “who are not only brilliant in their artistic achievements, but who are brilliant in their every step, their gait, in every aspect of their personal being. You look at one of these individuals – they are pure spirit, beings of  a complete other kind, from another dimension. Of all the particular people who are no longer entirely human, or who have, at least, gazed deeply and often into the non-human, into whatever is done outside the three dimensions – it was Scriabin who gave me the impression of being the most complete and inexhaustible genius.”
Balmont, incidentally, lived two doors up from the house pictured here. I wrote about it some time ago on this site.
Scriabin himself wrote the following in regards to the “moment of truth” when an individual would awaken to the full potential of the world:

Let’s be born into a whirlwind!
Let’s awaken into the heavens!
Let’s mix feelings in a single wave!
And in the luxurious splendor
Of the final dawn
As we appear to each other
In the naked beauty
Of glittering souls
We shall disappear…
We shall melt…

He was not of this world, either as a man or as a musician,” said Scriabin’s biographer Leonid Sabaneev.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov called Scriabin “a star of the first magnitude.”
Upon hearing one of Scriabin’s piano miniatures, Leo Tolstoy is said to have proclaimed, “Very sincere. Sincerity is valuable. This one piece alone allows us to call him a major artist.

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Rachmaninoff hill-top rental, Beverly Hills

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I’m not quite sure why, but I have a soft spot for this particular address over all of the Russian culture-related addresses I have photographed in the Los Angeles area. It’s one of the few where I have no coherent image of the actual house itself. I was able only to shoot a series of photos of the approach to the property and the gates that keep prying eyes like mine out. Even when I did step a little over the bounds of propriety and peered over or between the large green gates, there still was nothing visible other than woodsy territory (in the photo immediately below), and two driveways leading in different directions (the last photo in the block immediately below, taken through a crack between the gate doors). Yes, there are bits of two structures visible in this shot, but, even if they are primary residence structures, they don’t give us any real idea as to what they look like. As such, this post consists mostly of environs, and I love the environs. So woodsy and isolated. You can only assume (but I think with good reason), that much of what you see would have been there when Sergei Rachmaninoff rented this property from the silent film star Eleanor Boardman in 1942. Most of the trees look like original landscaping. The bricks walls, with the local boulders used as decor, the gates and the mailbox all look like they probably were there when Rachmaninoff passed through briefly. Actually, it was the mailbox that got to me. Such a simple little object, but when you stand next to it, you can imagine Sergei Rachmaninoff reaching out to open it in order to find mail from – from whom? Walt Disney? Vladimir Horowitz? Michael Chekhov? Bruno Walter? Electric bills from Southern Edison? Whatever. If you ever make it up here, reach your hand out to that little catch on top of the mailbox and see if you don’t feel a little something shoot through your system.
The “genealogy” of this place is impressive. It was built for the director King Vidor by the architect Wallace Neft, known for creating the “California style,” in 1928. In subsequent years following Vidor’s tenancy it was owned or occupied by an astonishing number of remarkable individuals: John Barrymore, Katherine Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Richard Harris, Candice Bergman, Stephen Stills, Barbra Streisand and many more. The address these days is 9941 Tower Lane. Long ago it was known as 6 Tower Road, and it is possible that it was known as 1139 Tower Road (or Lane) when Rachmaninoff was here. The very cool Movieland Directory site, from which I’ve cribbed most of my info so far, informs us that the street address was 1139 for awhile in the 1940s, but when exactly in the ’40s it doesn’t say. Regardless of the slipping and sliding numbers and names, this is the place where Rachmaninoff first set down his bags when he came to look for a permanent place to hang his hat in Los Angeles. As I have written elsewhere on this site, he shortly thereafter moved to a home that he purchased in the heart of residential Beverly Hills. If you’re interested, look to your left, find the name “Sergei Rachmaninoff” and click on it…

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In a lecture delivered in Santa Monica in April 2015, Keenan Reesor, a pianist and musicologist, wrote about Rachmaninoff’s debut at the Hollywood Bowl on July 17 and 18, 1942, and about his recent relocation to Southern California: “…The Rachmaninoffs had just moved to Los Angeles. In May they rented the house at 9941 Tower Lane in Beverly Hills and, enjoying the atmosphere, decided immediately to buy a house nearby at 610 North Elm Drive.” Here is how Reesor describes Rachmaninoff’s stature at the time, including a quote from a review of the Hollywood Bowl performance in the Los Angeles Times:
“…[Rachmaninoff’s] music had been performed by an array of illustrious musicians, among them pianists Josef Hofmann, Vladimir Horowitz, and Benno Moiseiwitsch and conductors Albert Coates, Eugene Goossens, Otto Klemperer, Pierre Monteux, Artur Rodzinski, Leopold Stokowski, and Bruno Walter. He had come to be regarded in Los Angeles as one of the greatest pianists and composers of his time. The capstone of it all was Rachmaninoff’s Hollywood Bowl debut—also his last appearance in the city—in two performances of his Second Concerto on July 17 and 18. ‘It was an occasion,’ wrote Isabel Morse Jones. ‘The large audience was aware of its significance and offered . . . the revered pianist, who now makes his home here, homage and appreciation.’ The orchestra, too, ‘greeted him by rising when he came in. . . . It was resplendent music Rachmaninoff made last night.'”
Our trusty Movieland Directory site tells us that Vladimir Horowitz was a frequent guest here, and that he and Rachmaninoff would often sit down at pianos (or the same piano?) and entertain guests. Just stop and imagine that for a moment. There is an account of the first time Rachmaninoff (as conductor) and Horowitz (pianist) met and became fast friends. It was in 1928 in New York. I will let Walter Monfried, a journalist for the Milwaukee Journal in 1943, pick up the story:
Sergei Rachmaninoff was conducting his own second concerto and the pianist of the evening was Vladimir Horowitz. The performance was one of surpassing beauty and perfection. After the concerto was finished, the composer shook hands with the young pianist and said simply, ‘This is the way I have always dreamed that my concerto should be played, but I never expected to hear it that way on earth.’ […] The two pianists formed a mutual admiration society and each made it a point never to miss a recital of the other. Horowitz always instructed his manager: ‘If I am out of town when Rachmaninoff plays in New York, you must telegraph me, and you must let me come back, no matter where I am or what engagement I have.’ And whenever Horowitz performed in New York, Rachmaninoff never was absent and always was the last to leave the hall.”
Finally, a study guide for students by Mary Jane Ayers adds a bit of atmosphere and detail to Rachmaninoff’s life more or less at the time he was moving West, away from turmoil in Europe.
Rachmaninoff spent the next 20 years successfully touring Europe and North America as a piano virtuoso and conductor, working with dozens of orchestras as sort of a ‘citizen of the world.’ He continued to compose piano, vocal, and orchestral music. He never lost his desire to return to Russia, saying, ‘even the air here [in the US] is not like in Russia—it smells differently.’ As he got older, he felt most comfortable in the company of fellow Russians who had also been driven from their homeland. Unfortunately, by 1938, his world was again turned upside down by forces beyond his control. Following the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany, Europe was once more on the brink of a world war. It was no longer safe for Rachmaninoff and his family to travel there. In 1939 he returned to America. His fellow Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who had also fled from Russia, called Rachmaninoff ‘a six-foot-two scowl.’
In 1942, Rachmaninoff moved to Beverly Hills, California, and in 1943 he became a US citizen. Sadly, he died of cancer just one month later. In his last few days he wrote, ‘Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is never enough for music.’ He was 70 years old.”

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Sergei Rachmaninoff home, Moscow

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There is no plaque here, but the proof that Sergei Rachmaninoff lived briefly in this building at 15 Plotnikov Lane (it was numbered 19 at the time, and the street was called Nikolsky Lane) can be found in the writings of the late, great Moscow historian Sergei Romanyuk. “S.V. Rachmaninoff briefly moved into the house on this plot in the fall of 1892 after his triumphant graduation from the Conservatory.” That phrase, more or less in that configuration, is repeated over and over in many sources. That’s the influence of Romanyuk – if he said it, it happened.
Rachmaninoff is in the news a lot these days mostly for the wrong reasons. The Russian government, as though it has nothing else to do, decided not long ago that it wanted to bring Rachmaninoff’s bones home. This appears to have been the idea of Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky and, frankly, it sounds like one of his cockamamie ideas. I guess it wasn’t enough for Medinsky to wage war against obscenities in art; against so-called representations and propaganda of the “gay lifestyle” in art; against theater productions that supposedly “offend the sensibilities of religious believers”; against theater festivals that his department accuses of failing to support “traditional Russian values,” and so on and so forth. No, he had to go and decide to try to get someone to dig up Sergei Rachmaninoff’s remains, where they are buried north of New York City, and “bring them home to Moscow.” Medinsky is irked that the United States has “arrogantly privatized the name of Rachmaninoff” and that he, Rachmaninoff,  is put forth as a “great American composer of Russian descent.”
Since I’m not really up to jumping into this controversy at the moment, I’ll just say this: I’m not quite sure what sources Medinsky relied on to come up with the claim that people in the United States call Rachmaninoff an “American” composer. I never recall having seen such a definition, not in a respectable publication, anyway. As for the fact that he lived the last 25 years of his life in the U.S. – it’s true.
Maybe Medinsky is unhappy with the way Rachmaninoff’s name was westernized. Technically speaking his last name should be spelled Rakhmaninov. As I said not long ago in this space, the “ch” (in place of the hard “kh” sound) and all the “ff’s” are the sign of the era in which he emigrated. French and German styles of transliteration influenced American usage heavily at the time. There were, virtually, no Slavic studies in the U.S. at this time – just a few intrepid translators (Louis and Aylmer Maude, Constance Garnett) and producers (Sol Hurok). So there was no community concerned with keeping order in the transliteration of the names of all those Russians pouring in over the borders, many of them by way of France and Germany…
And don’t get me started on immigrants… Thank God the United States is a nation of immigrants. Anybody who tells you otherwise, in any form, doesn’t know jack about the United States, about humanity, about art, about culture, about life…
But I digress too much today…

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It doesn’t look like Rachmaninoff spent much time in this building at all. He arrived in the fall of 1892 and surely was gone by the summer of 1893, which he spent with family friends in Ukraine. It’s true that he came back to Moscow at summer’s end, but it sounds like he took up residence elsewhere at that point.
This building – now a fish restaurant – appears to have witnessed at least one important career moment in Rachmaninoff’s life, even though he was only 19 when he moved in. It so happens that the last work he composed while a student at the Conservatory was the opera Aleko, based on Alexander Pushkin’s narrative poem The Gypsies. Although he disparaged the work, it turned out to be a big success. The Bolshoi Theater picked it up and mounted it on May 9, 1893 (April 27, Old Style). (I have seen other dates for this premiere – including March of 1893, but I trust the May 9 date.) Moreover, that production starred none less than the great bass Fyodor Chaliapin. Rachmaninoff probably would have received word of the Bolshoi’s decision, and would have been involved in the preparation for the premiere, while living here on Nikolsky Lane.
I can’t nail it down as a fact, but it would appear that Rachmaninoff lived here with his relatives, the Satin family. In any case, Wikipedia tells us that he “spent the summer of 1892 on the estate of Ivan Konavalov, a rich landowner in the Kostroma Oblast, and moved back with the Satins in the Arbat District.” That is precisely the time that Romanyuk has him showing up on Nikolsky (Plotnikov) Lane. Wikipedia offers a few more tidbits that appear to characterize the short time Rachmaninoff spent here: “His publisher was slow in paying, so Rachmaninoff took an engagement at the Moscow Electrical Exhibition, where he premiered his landmark Prelude in C-sharp minor (Op. 3, No. 2). This small piece, part of a set of five pieces called Morceaux de fantaisie, was received well, and is one of his most enduring pieces.”
The Satin family (pronounced Sah-TEEN) was important for Rachmaninoff: He would marry Natalya Satina, his first cousin. There is a nice little story about Sergei and Natalya on the Find a Grave website:
Sergei and Natalya met as young music students during Easter 1888. Rachmaninoff later roomed with the Satin family. Natalya wrote, ‘in September 1901 my parents finally succumbed to my pleas to be allowed to marry Sergei Vasiliyevich. All that was left was to obtain legal permission, which was not easy since we were closely related. [Marriage of first cousins was barred in the Russian Orthodox Church.] My mother took on the challenge with her one-of-a-kind energy and zeal. She thus bustled all through winter, and only in March it transpired that a petition had to be sent to the Czar. The wedding was postponed till the end of April due to the arrival of Lent. Early in April Sergei went to Ivanovka and sat down to write twelve romances, deciding to turn out one daily to earn money for our trip to Italy after the wedding.’ These are the 12 Romances for voice and piano, Opus 21.
Of their wedding day she wrote, ‘We were wed on 29 April 1902 on the outskirts of Moscow in some regimental church. I rode in the carriage in my wedding dress, with the rain pouring relentlessly. The sole entry into the church was via a long succession of barracks. The soldiers stared at us in amazement.'”

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Igor Stravinsky home, Los Angeles

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IMG_7462.jpg2Some topics I write about in this space require my digging deep to come up with a narrative thread. That will be no problem today. My only problem will be keeping the length of this text somewhere under that of the first two volumes of War and Peace (which runs four volumes in Russian).
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) lived a very public life in Los Angeles, for approximately 20 years at 1260 N. Wetherly Dr. (featured here today), and then for another nine years or so at 1218 N. Wetherly Dr. He was a star when he arrived in 1940 and his star did not wane until – well, in fact, it never has.
Thanks to Eric Walter White’s Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works, we know precisely when Stravinsky arrived in L.A. and where he lived. I fully quote the first footnote on page 93: “At 124 South Swall Drive, Beverly Hills, May-November 1940; Chateau Marmont, Hollywood, March-April 1941; and North Wetherly Drive, Hollywood, after that.” Stravinsky left Los Angeles (West Hollywood) in 1969 for New York where he died two years later. I know some Angelenos who would consider that a warning to the rest of us… For the record, Stravinsky was a resident at the Essex House for his two-year New York stay.
Stravinsky arrived in the U.S. from Europe in September 1939, pushed by the early conflagration of WWII. In Dec. 1939 he traveled briefly to CA to conduct two concerts in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He returned to NY to meet the ship on which his longtime mistress Vera de Bosset (formerly the wife of the great Russian painter Sergei Sudeikin) would arrive from Europe. He married Vera on March 9, 1940, in Massachusetts. Shortly after, on April 15, 1940, the composer was arrested in Boston (“Banned in Boston”) for the horrific offense of rearranging the score of the Star-Spangled Banner. According to a book called Igor Stravinsky: The Complete Guide, compiled by the Wikipedians, he employed a major seventh chord in his arrangement, thus violating a federal law against reharmonizing the national anthem.
That tidbit was news for me and brought to my mind a similar situation that I experienced as a child – Jose Feliciano performing his beautiful Latino-tinged version of the Star-Spangled Banner in Detroit in 1968, and setting off a storm of protest and anger from uptight America…
The time of Stravinsky’s move to the Left Coast was fortuitous for him. Walt Disney’s innovative and wildly popular Fantasia was just about to be released (that happened Nov. 13, 1940), and it, of course, included a powerful scene set to Stravinsky’s ground-breaking The Rite of Spring. If anyone in the States didn’t know who Stravinsky was at that moment, they surely would know soon. (However, see page 95 of White’s book to see how Disney strong-armed Stravinsky into giving him the rights to The Rite of Spring for a relative pittance because the work was not yet copyrighted in the U.S. According to Stravinsky: “The owners of the film wished to show it abroad, however, (i.e., in the Berne copyright countries), and they, therefore, offered me a sum of $5,000, a sum I was obliged to accept.“)

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The fact of the matter is that Stravinsky became a true celebrity in Hollywood. Mark Swed, the Los Angeles Times music critic, chronicles that extremely well in a 2011 blog. Swed, who himself studied music with Stravinsky at the composer’s home (presumably the later address, not the one shown here), tells of how Frank Zappa once wanted to do a version of The Rite of Spring with the Mothers of Invention. Elsewhere, we find that the late, great rocker Warren Zevon, a neighbor, also studied music with Stravinsky.
Indeed, this was, and has remained a neighborhood with genuine star quality. According to The Movieland Directory, other residents on Wetherly Dr. (at the time of Stravinsky’s residence and after he left) have included: Genevieve Bujold (1990s), Conan O’Brien (1990s), Troy Donahue (1960s), Cheryl Ladd (1990s), Suzanne Pleshette (1990s), Rita Coolidge (1990s), Tony Curtis (1960s) and Janet Leigh (1950s).
Bernard Holland ran a nice piece in the New York Times about Stravinsky’s Los Angeles years in 2001. Allow me to quote at length from that:

A curious pilgrim follows a colonnade of three-story palm trees along Doheny Drive, across frenetic Sunset Boulevard and up the narrow winding street to 1260 North Wetherly Drive. The Stravinsky house is small — white stucco and wood — on rising ground and sheltered by green growth around it. The interior, we are told, was artful clutter: the furniture was worn; the books were many. North Wetherly was the site of Stravinsky’s first sustained domestic happiness after the lingering illnesses and deaths of his first wife and his older daughter, and his subsequent marriage to Vera de Bosset Sudeikina in Bedford, Mass. Two of Stravinsky’s four children eventually came to America: Soulima, teaching piano at the University of Illinois, and Milene, settling in Los Angeles.
The Stravinsky friends were polyglot, international and many. There were the Russian and German enclaves, but also a detachment of British writers, like W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Dylan Thomas (who shared the composer’s taste for hard spirits) and, especially, Aldous Huxley, with whom Stravinsky spoke in French.
Years later, Mr. Salonen considered buying the house, which had fallen on hard times. The conductor noted the carpet indentations where the great man’s pianos had stood, the hook where a goat had been tethered (Stravinsky liked the milk) and the built-in couch where Thomas had slept off more than a few over indulgences. An aspiring composer himself, Mr. [Esa-Pekka] Salonen wisely feared the presence of ghosts.
[Conductor Otto] Klemperer and others performed Stravinsky’s pieces at the Philharmonic. The composer himself appeared as pianist and conductor. Even the gaping Hollywood Bowl embraced the Stravinsky of The Firebird. The publisher Boosey & Hawkes eventually provided him a comfortable annual retainer, and there were the constant tours and travels for a man less famous than Clark Gable but not too far behind.”

Allow me to quote from still another source, this one from L.A. blogger Patrick Swanson:

In the summer of 1946, Igor Stravinsky was a freshly naturalized citizen of the United States. A fit and healthy 64 years of age, he was happily settled with his second wife (painter Vera de Bosset) in a cozy house nestled at the foot of the Hollywood Hills. Stravinsky-worshipers who make the requisite pilgrimage to 1260 North Wetherly Drive are in for a surprise when they see that the house that bore so many hallowed masterpieces of 20th century music (Symphony in Three Movements, The Rake’s Progress, Agon) is mere yards away from that mecca of flashy dross known as the Sunset Strip. Does Stravinsky’s ghost ever haunt Ryan Seacrest? He could if he wanted to. To experience one of those surreal juxtapositions of which Los Angeles excels, go to the house on a Friday night and think of Stravinsky working out the haunting medievalisms of the Mass (1947) on his muffled upright; then, walk down the hill until you are in front of the Roxy Theatre, where the spray-tanned and spiky-haired gather to watch a DJ press the ‘play’ button on his iTunes.
    The Los Angeles that Stravinsky called home for over 20 years had its own absurdities. During the war, the city’s blend of endless sunshine and endless creative (and financial) opportunity proved attractive for hosts of European intellectuals and artists seeking safe haven from Hitler’s Europe. Many flocked to  Hollywood to work for the booming film studios (Erich Korngold); Stravinsky’s great rival, Arnold Schoenberg, who had his own flirtations with Hollywood, settled nearby (about 20 minutes west on Sunset) in Brentwood, just down the street from Shirley Temple. When he wasn’t playing with permutations of the 12-tone row, Schoenberg could be found playing ping-pong and tennis with Charlie Chaplin and George Gershwin. (Schoenberg and Stravinsky, however, made sure to avoid each other.) It must have been a dizzying place. Invited to a cocktail party at the Stravinskys? Start boning up-you are going to be talking hallucinogens with Aldous Huxley, the Nuremberg Trials with Thomas Mann, nuclear bombs with Bertrand Russell. Even with all the imported brains, the Stravinskys managed to live a relatively normal LA existence. Vera Stravinsky’s diary for January 21st, 1948: “Sunbathe, and I drive Igor in the hills to air out his hangover.”

Stravinsky’s home at 1260 Wetherly Dr., at least these days, is almost entirely hidden from view. I had to fight back my sense of propriety and my own disgust at the manners of paparazzi  in order to get a decent shot of the house over the thick, tall hedges protecting the building and yard. I forged ahead, however, overcoming my reticence, in order to serve the god of history and information. The first shot in the block immediately above gives a decent view of the house. If you’re interested in other pictures of this house (and of other physical sites connected to Stravinsky around the world), you can find some nice ones on Katya Chilingiri’s photo website.  The Igor Stravinsky Foundation Facebook page publishes a nice photo of the composer playing a game of solitaire right here at his Hollywood home.
This post has already gone on unconscionably long. But if you’re interested in the topic I must also direct you to a nice tale of the relationship between Stravinsky and Aldous Huxley in Murray Pomeranoe’s Michelangelo Red Antonioni Blue: Eight Reflections on Cinema, and to a review of the film Stravinsky in Hollywood, which provides some great information on the composer’s work during his L.A. period.

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