Lot 110: Stalin's Russian "Mata Hari" Warmly Inscribes a Photograph to Sergei Rachmaninov
Presidential Letters, Free Franks & Speeches: Washington to Bush + Important Autographs in History, Science & the Arts
26 October 2016
New York, NY, USALive Auction
Description: Russia’s “Mata Hari” Warmly Inscribes a Photograph to Sergei Rachmaninov! ********** PLEVITSKAYA, NADEZHDA. (1884-1940). Russian folk singer and Soviet spy who was a muse to one of Russia’s greatest composers, Sergei Rachmaninoff. SP. (“N. Plevitskaya”). 1p. 4to. New York, March 15, 1926. A sepia photograph of the singer attired in Russian folk costume inscribed in Russian diagonally across the image to pianist and composer SERGEI RACHMANINOV (1873-1943), “To esteemed Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninov, from N. Plevitskaya who is caressed, deeply touched by his grand Russian soul.” ********** Born a peasant, Plevitskaya became a popular folk singer admired by the Tsar Nicholas II and Russian opera singer Feodor Chaliapin. Following the October Revolution, she joined the communists before being captured, in 1919, by the White Army. After its 1923 defeat, she married White Army General Nikolai Skoblin and lived in exile, performing across Europe and the U.S. ********** “Plevitskaya earned accolades for her performance on February 16, 1926, at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, where she performed at a benefit concert for financially struggling Russian emigres… Max Rabinowich, who often played for Chaliapin, accompanied Plevitskaya on piano for most of the concert…But the showstopper was a new arrangement of ‘Powder and Paint’…which Sergei Rachmaninov composed especially for her – and which he himself performed with her on this occasion, accompanying her on piano. Rachmaninov at this time lived in New York City with his wife and daughter. Like Plevitskaya, he was homesick for the Russian countryside, and they shared an appreciation for folk music. In addition to performing the piece together live, they recorded it at Victor Studios in New York City, although it was not released until 1952,” (Stalin’s Singing Spy: The Life and Exile of Nadezhda Plevitskaya, Jordan). It was Plevitskaya’s American performance of “You, My Cerise, My Rouge” that inspired Rachmaninov’s 1926 composition of his choral work Three Russian Songs. ********** Plevitskaya’s career took an unusual turn in 1930, when she and Skoblin were recruited by the Soviet secret police to become intelligence agents, working first in Western Europe and, later, in covert counterintelligence roles in the U.S.S.R. where they were assigned to uncover Stalin’s enemies. In 1937, she and her husband were involved in the kidnapping of a former White Army general in Paris who was drugged and taken to Moscow where he was tortured for more than a year before being murdered. France sought to arrest Skoblin who had sought asylum from Spain’s pro-Soviet government while his wife, after evading French police in a high-speed car chase, was finally arrested before she could escape to Spain. She was tried and convicted of espionage and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, where she died during the German occupation. Her life inspired Vladimir Nabokov’s short story, “The Assistant Professor.” ********** Near fine and very rare; the only example we have ever seen. Accompanied by an additional, unsigned publicity photo of Plevitskaya elaborately attired.