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Vivarte Online / First part
at the State Tretyakov Gallery

The Vrubel cycle opens with a story about the artist's wife and muse, the wonderful singer Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel. For  Rachmaninoff wrote inspirational romances for her, specially created roles in Rimsky-Korsakov's operas.  She was one of the best performers of the part of Tamara in Rubinstein's opera The Demon based on Lermontov's poem, which played a crucial role in Vrubel's life.


“The fantastic story of their meeting - the artist fell in love with the voice of the singer, was the beginning, the singing of his wife - the only thing that calmed the seriously ill Vrubel - was its end. Vrubel created many portraits of Zabela. The last one was - “The lady by the fireplace. Portrait of N.I. Zabela in a concert dress”, made according to the sketch of the artist. Vrubel was one of the first Russian designers, he was the personal "fashion designer" of the singer, continuing to create her beautiful image in life. He worked on this portrait in 1905 in a St. Petersburg apartment - Zabela received an engagement at the Mariinsky Theater.


Returning home, after performing on stage, tired and devastated, the singer poses in a concert dress, the image of which Vrubel turns into a real "symphony". The artist works in pastel – sharp dynamic lines intersect and turn into crystalline flowers, lay down in vibrating waves. And it seems that the flounces and folds of the dress are still fraught with the tension of an ecstatic impulse and the echoes of music, just like 

Mikhail Vrubel and Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel (1896)

how the flickering coals of the fireplace symbolize "the ashes of artistic inspiration that have not yet cooled down." This portrait is one of the pinnacles of the graphic formal portrait genre. The portrait contains many "talking" details, one of them is the image of a piano. This piano helped the singer to choose S.I. Rakhmaninov. Captivated by her voice, he often accompanied her, dedicated romances, including the famous Lilac. It is believed that the romance could have been written under the influence of Vrubel's painting. (Evgenia Ilyukhina, art critic, employee of the Tretyakov Gallery).


Mikhail Vrubel “After the concert. Portrait of N.I. Zabela-Vrubel by the fireplace "(1905)

To the right of the figure of the singer stands a piano filled with the light of a fireplace fire. Its presence in the picture is not accidental, this piano helped the singer to choose S.I. Rakhmaninov. Interestingly, this piano was not lost. The restorers managed to save the unique instrument. Today, the singer's piano is in the museum-estate of the composer in the Tambov region. A 1903 Bechstein grand piano adorns the front room in the Sergei Rachmaninoff Museum-Estate in Ivanovka.

Piano miniatures by Sergei Rachmaninoff performed by pianist Alexander Ghindin open the Vivarte Online concert:


Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943)

Elegy, op. 3#1 (1892)

"Lilac", op. 21 No. 5 (1902), transcription by the author

"Daisies", op. 38 No. 3 (1916), transcription by the author

Study-painting in E-flat minor, Op. 39 #5 (1916–1917)

In 1892, Rachmaninoff brilliantly (with a Grand Gold Medal) graduated as a composer from the Moscow Conservatory and made a successful debut as a concert pianist. In December of the same year, he published a collection of fantasy plays (Morceaux de fantaisie) op. 3, several miniatures from which became unprecedented hits. One of them is the E-flat-minor Elegy that opens the cycle, a tragic monologue of the most powerful emotional impact, which has gained popularity not only among listeners, but also among performers. Collection of op. 3 Rachmaninov dedicated to Anton Stepanovich Arensky, his conservatory professor, and before publication he sent the manuscript to his idol, Arensky's teacher Tchaikovsky, who liked the plays very much.


Sergei Rachmaninov 


Among the piano cycles of Rachmaninov there are also two collections of etudes-paintings (genre definition belongs to the author). All of them are mostly paintings, miniatures of a lyrical and dramatic plan, rather than etudes - instructive plays. They are characterized by pictorial imagery, colorfulness, diversity and richness of texture, monumentality.

Their name was determined by the fact that the inspiration that visited the composer was often born from picturesque or inspired by nature impressions. Among the plays of the lyrical type, the etude-picture in E flat minor (Op. 39 No. 5) stands out - a kind of confession of the soul, in which frankness, freedom and sincerity are combined with oratorical pathos, romantic elation. The theme of courage, strength, with a pronounced Russian character is also heard in it. Recalling the first performance of the sketches-paintings by the author, Academician Boris Asafiev compared Rachmaninov with the greatest masters of oratory.

Sergei Rachmaninoff, not only an outstanding composer, but also one of the greatest pianists in history, made many transcriptions of works by great predecessors, from Bach to Glazunov, for his concert practice. Among the pieces that Rachmaninoff performed especially frequently after his departure from Russia, there were also arrangements of his own miniatures, primarily vocal ones. The audience was very fond of the piano versions of the romances "Lilacs" and "Daisies" - small fragrant masterpieces, reminiscent of some of the lyrical pages of the famous Second Piano Concerto with their melody.

The romance “Lilac” , filled with light sadness, written for the crystal soprano Nadezhda Zabela, and its transcription (the transcription exists in two versions - 1914 and 1941) became incredibly popular. This led one of the musician's ardent admirers, a teacher from the Kiev province Fekla Yakovlevna Russo, to the idea of sending bouquets of white lilacs to Rachmaninoff as a sign of gratitude and admiration. He received them at every concert, at home on his birthday, he found them in a train car ... (A white lilac bush, brought by Van Clyburn from Moscow, is growing on Rachmaninov's grave in New York today. The Rachmaninov Piano Festival in Kazan also received the name "White Lilac". )

The transcription of the romance "Daisies" appeared much later, when the composer was already living and working in the United States. The developed accompaniment part, as in the Lilac romance, made it possible to turn the vocal miniature into a full-fledged instrumental piece without loss of content: comparing young femininity with a beautiful flower, the composer sings a dithyramb of girlish beauty.


Fragment of the painting by Mikhail Vrubel "Lilac" (1900)

at the State Tretyakov Gallery

A fragment of the text about musical works was prepared by musicologist Tatyana Davydova.

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