Arts Global

02 November 2011

Russian Friends of the Swiss Global Artistic Foundation



by Michael W. Green, Advisor to Swiss Global


The forthcoming event on November 29 at the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Washington, in association with the Embassy of the Swiss Federation to the United States, with the artistic programme presented by the Swiss Global Artistic Foundation, is a timely reminder of the strong links which have existed over the centuries between the two countries. These links have been marked by visits or permanent stays in Switzerland by prominent Russian personalities, and above all, by the production of many artistic works of major importance.

In the musical field, the composers Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky and Sergey Rachmaninoff found Switzerland a particularly inspiring environment for their creation, and in 1878 Tchaikovsky wrote his legendary violin concerto in a single month while staying at Clarens, near Montreux, on Lake Geneva (a plaque marks the event). Stravinsky had also come to the same area of Switzerland before the First World War, and was joined by the impresario Diaghilev, the dancer Nijinsky and other prominent Russian artistic personalities (plaque to Diaghilev in Lausanne). Here Stravinsky wrote his ballet music for Petruschka, the Rite of Spring and Pulcinella and The Soldier's Tale, the main work to be performed at the Washington event. Based on an old Russian folk tale, it was adapted by the Swiss poet C.F.Ramuz to be set in the Vaud area of Lake Geneva and first performed under the baton of eminent Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet at the Lausanne Municipal Theatre in September 1918 (commemorative plaque marks the occasion). In addition a street in Montreux is named "Rite of Spring" to honour Stravinsky while the town's splendid modern concert auditorium also bears his name. Rachmaninoff built himself a villa on his estate on Lake Lucerne, where he was a frequent visitor. He intended to live there permanently, but died suddenly in Los Angeles in the Second World War. His Villa Senar has been kept as it was during the great composer-pianist's life and contains his piano and considerable memorabilia. It is supervised by the Rachmaninoff Society, whose President, the eminent Russian pianist/conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, lives nearby.

Russian literary giants who lived and worked in Switzerland included in the 19th century the novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky (plaque in Vevey) and above all, in the 20th, the novelist and lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov, who moved into a suite in the Montreux Palace hotel in 1961 and was based there until his death in 1977. His remains are buried in the Clarens cemetery nearby and a statue of him by the Russian sculptor Alexander Rukavishnikov, commissioned by the City of Moscow, stands in the gardens opposite the hotel.

Among other notable Russians who have lived in Switzerland are Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who was exiled to Zürich at the outbreak of World War One before returning home in a sealed train at the start of the revolution in 1917, the novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who first came there in exile and stayed for several years before moving to the US and then finally returning to Russia with the change in the political climate, and the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, domiciled in Lausanne.

The Swiss Global Artistic Foundation, in its over ten years of operation in organising cultural events and nurturing emerging talents, has featured many outstanding young Russian artists in its programmes, including a unique tribute to the iconic Imperial Russian jeweller Carl Fabergé (who died in Lausanne) when songs from the Russian repertoire complemented a lecture on Fabergé's life and work by his great grand daughter Tatiana Fabergé, who lives in the Geneva area today.

English version Version française Deutsche Version