The Harvest of Sorrow (1998) Movie Script

Cold winds have swept the harvest land...
and laid to waste my field of dreams...
and scattered wide the ripening seeds
which drift to earth upon the morrow...
to die, or bring forth choking seeds...
and bless the harvest of my sorrow
ln December 1 91 7...
the great Russian composer, conductor
and pianist, Sergei Rachmaninoff...
left the Finland Station in Petrograd -
Leningrad, as it was to become -
bound for Stockholm
Taking advantage of an invitation
to play for the Royal House of Sweden...
Rachmaninoff decided to leave
the growing chaos of Russia...
following the Bolshevik Revolution
With him were his two daughters
and his wife
His friends gave him warm clothes
for the winterjourney
Chaliapin brought him food and vodka
Such was the hurry of his departure...
that he took with him just one small bag -
and his music case
He was never to return
He became, as he said, ''like a ghost
wandering forever in the world''
lt is a curious story
The older we get, the more we lose
that divine confidence...
which is the treasure of youth
And the fewer are those moments when we
believe that what we have done is any good
Nowadays, l am rarely satisfied
with myself...
and almost never feel
that what l do is successful
l am burdened with a harvest of sorrow
But there is another burden, heavier still,
unknown to me in my youth
lt is that l have no country
the memories of SERGEl RACHMANlNOFF
You must know that l was forced
to leave my homeland...
where l struggled and suffered
all the sorrows of the young...
and where l really did achieve
great success
Now, the whole world is open to me
Success, apparently, awaits me everywhere
But one place, and one place only,
remains closed to me...
and that is my own country,
the land where l was born
True, l have my music,
and my memories...
which l now put down for you,
my dearest daughters, and your children
And if it is true that a composer's music
is the sum total of his experience...
then it must express his love affairs,
his religion...
above all, the country of his birth
And l was born... in Russia!
l was born the fourth of six children...
at Oneg, near Novgorod,
two hours north of Moscow...
on the banks of the river Volkhov,
in the shadow of the church
My father had been in the army
and married a wealthy general's daughter...
which perhaps accounts
for my own military bearing
But my father drank, enjoyed his women,
and gambled...
and soon we were forced
to sell our estates...
and move to ''temporary'' accommodation
in the great city of St Petersburg
Here l won a piano scholarship
to the Conservatory in 1 883...
when l was just 1 0 years old
Opposite the Conservatory was the famous
Mariinsky Theatre for opera and ballet...
where the premieres of Swan Lake and
Boris Godunov had recently taken place
And it was here l realised that
l must become a composer
My studies went badly and when
my sister Sofya died of diphtheria...
my mother decided
this was the last straw...
and blamed my father for
our slum-like circumstances
Shortly after, she left him,
and l never saw my father again
On the recommendation of my cousin,
Alexander Siloti...
l was packed off to Moscow to study
and live with his professor, Nikolai Zverev...
leaving behind my beloved
Mariinsky Theatre
Siloti, l discovered later,
was the lover of Tchaikovsky...
who thereby became my friend and mentor
With Zverev, it was always
practise, practise, practise
Finally, l could take it no more...
and moved out to live with my Aunt,
Vavara Satina...
her husband and her two daughters,
Sofia and Natalya
And every summer, we all travelled
to their country estates...
at lvanovka, 600 km southeast of Moscow
And here, l once again discovered
the country fairs...
which l had earlier visited with my parents
The sound of gypsies
and of the local peasant choirs...
made a profound impression upon me
lvanovka! 20 years of my life
were spent there
Every Russian feels strong ties with the soil
Perhaps it comes from
an instinctive need for solitude
The endless fields ofwheat,
stretching as far as the eye could see
The smell of the earth
and all that grows and blossoms
l felt so good there
l could work, and work hard
Most of my music was written there...
and even when l left Russia,
my music was inspired by there
There, at last, l found blessed happiness
Many artists, orchestra players,
young pianists or vocalists...
they were directly or indirectly influenced
by his figure, his personality
Even when he left Russia, l think...
the remaining energy
through the music he composed...
was influencing every second
or third musician...
coming out of schools in Siberia, Caucasus,
or in Moscow or Petersburg
This is my belief
This is what Rachmaninoff did to his country
This is what he brought back
to the culture...
which again helped him grow as an artist
and as a human being
You can't imagine a pianist,
a single pianist...
who would try to learn something
about piano playing...
and just passed by
without even looking at Rachmaninoff
l don't think it was possible,
and least in Russia
And it was for the Satins at lvanovka
that l wrote my C# minor Prelude
l heard the endless tolling
of the church bells...
and one day the Prelude simply
came to me, and l wrote it down
lt came with such force that l could not
shake it off, even though l tried to do so
And l was not yet 1 9 years old
Following Rachmaninoff's
departure from Russia in 1 91 7...
the Bolsheviks looted and burned down
his country house at lvanovka
Since perestroika,
it has been painstakingly rebuilt...
ironically, by a local administration
that is now communist
Alexander Borisovich, we are happy
to welcome you to lvanovka
According to our ancient Russian custom,
please take this bread and salt
Please break the bread...
put salt on it, and try
Welcome to lvanovka,
the land of your ancestors
We have been waiting for a long time...
for a direct heir of the Rachmaninoff
and Satin families to visit us
On this soil,
your great-great grandfather...
your great-grandfather
and your grandmother were born
And on June 21 st 1 907 your mother,
Tatiana Sergeieva, was born here
We are honoured to greet you here
Long life to you...
This is the Tambovsky Chamber Choir,
named in honour of your grandfather
This is the Head of the Region,
Ljubov Samodurova
You're the man, you hold the flowers!
And this is the Head of the District,
Evgeny Tarassov
And Nadezhda Vassilieva,
from the District Council
And Zinaiada Milusheva
from the Department of Culture
On the meadow at the back of the house...
we have put up a modest statue
of your grandfather
He is conducting the best,
and most perfect, orchestra...
the orchestra of nature!
lt's very modest,
and we hope only temporary
lf a young man was under
the iron discipline of his teacher...
his piano teacher...
So, of course, for the first time,
if suddenly...
he doesn't wake up at six, in a cold room...
with the stress of in about 25 minutes
you have to be ready...
you have two minutes to wash your hands...
then 30 seconds to reach your piano
and you have to play one hour exactly
Suddenly, he came for the first time
to two nice young girls...
who were very happy to pamper him...
to offer him a rocking chair,
to bring his tea for him
lt was absolutely an unbelievable discovery
The house itself has been rebuilt
exactly on the site of the original
On the veranda,
we even found wicker furniture...
to replace what we found in photographs
Your mother's father,
Alexander Alexandrovich...
had great respect for your grandfather
He thought him very honest...
and incredibly industrious
When your grandfather first came to stay...
he liked to be in this little house
in the gardens
And this is the actual study
of Rachmaninoff
These walls must have been the first
to hear your grandfather's music
He chose this room because
it is so quiet and solitary
lts only window looks out over the garden
and the gazebo, shaded by maple trees
All these things on the desk
your grandfather held in his hands
Vavara Arkadievna,
your grandfather's mother-in-law...
was the only person allowed in here
when Rachmaninoffwas working
The daughters of my aunt,
Varvara Arkadyevna, were not my only loves
There were also the sisters Skalon -
Natalya, Ludmilla and Vera
But perhaps my first true love
was a gypsy called Anna Lodizhenskaya
Alas, she was married
l was by now a student
at the Moscow Conservatoire...
and when l set to work
on my first opera, ''Aleko''...
l based it on a poem of Pushkin
called ''The Gypsies''
Aleko - still not performed in the West -
is only a student piece
Nevertheless, it was accepted
by the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow
Chaliapin sang it in the Mariinsky Theatre
Tchaikovsky came to the dress rehearsal
and was full of praise
But it was Anna, the gypsy l lost,
who inspired it
How quickly my youth has fled!
The days of love pass even more quickly
l only knew her love for a year
One day, near a river...
we came across
an encampment of gypsies
They had pitched their tents near ours
Two nights we spent together
On the third night, they departed
When l awoke, my beloved had gone...
leaving behind our small daughter
l searched everywhere, calling her name...
but there was no trace
l wept
And since that time,
all girls are to me abhorrent...
and l wish never to look on them again
''Going to your heart'', that's his description
''l am trying to make music
which goes directly to your heart...
without passing through your brains
You have to feel yourselfwell,
relaxed, captivated...''
Feeling well and happy byjust listening -
that was his answer to the journalists
''lf you want to know me, listen to
my music'' - his second sentence
My 1 st Symphony,
written at lvanovka when l was 22...
and first performed in the Philharmonic Hall
in St Petersburg, was a disaster
My wife later thought the conductor,
Glazunov, was drunk
One critic wrote: ''lf there were
a music conservatory in hell...
and one of its students was compelled
to write a programme symphony...
on the seven plagues of Egypt,
then Mr Rachmaninoff has done it
The inhabitants of hell must be delighted''
As you know, the Symphony has never
been performed again in my lifetime...
or even published...
and l'm pleased to report
that the manuscript will never be found
l had, of course, dedicated it
to my gypsy, Anna Lodizhenskaya
lronically, l had added to the title page:
''Vengeance is mine''
ln the Philharmonic Hall,
l hid during the entire performance
l refused to come on stage at the end,
and fled into the night
You can imagine how l felt.
l sought refuge at lvanovka...
but was unable to compose again
for almost three years
But when l did begin again, well,
you knowwhat that was!
My Second Piano Concerto,
which l dedicated to Doctor Dahl...
who had helped me
through this difficult period
And to celebrate, l was incautious enough...
finally to marry my cousin,
Natalia Alexandrovna Satina, your mother
l had to write at least twelve songs
before the wedding...
so as not to go bankrupt -
and have something to pay the priest with
Ah, lvanovka!
When l was still in despair
about my First Symphony...
l was taken to meet Leo Tolstoy,
the author of War and Peace
lt was thought he too might help me
restore a little faith in myself
He stroked my knees and said:
''You must work, young man, work
Work every day, just as l do''
Later, l played for him
He asked me: ''Tell me, does anybody
really need music like that?''
War. lt was bound to come.
l felt it. We all did
l had the idea for a piece
from a painting by Bcklin...
in which a boatman ferries us over
to the lsle of the Dead
How little did we know ofwhat was to come
lt was suggested that l went to America
l had already been -
played with the New York Symphony!
My conducting career had also flourished -
since beginning at Mamantov's
Private Opera Company...
l had already conducted
at the Bolshoi in Moscow...
and, of course,
at my beloved Mariinsky Theatre
So now l was offered the posts
of chief conductor...
of both the Cincinnati
and the Boston Symphony Orchestras
But now, war!
And the destruction
of all that we had known
Once l had a homeland
How beautiful it was!
Above me swayed a fir tree
But it was only a dream
My family of friends was living then
l was surrounded by words of love
But it was only a dream
And war bred revolution...
and flight... into the darkness
When l heard that they had looted
and burned down lvanovka...
and we were forced to continue
our winterjourney by sledge
When we eventually arrived in Stockholm,
we were frozen, homeless and alone
But we were too tired to weep
After all, it was Christmas Eve
As l told you, l had been before,
been successful...
but not liked it, not liked the crowds
although in 1 909
l had given the world premiere...
of my Third Piano Concerto in New York...
with a second performance
conducted by Gustav Mahler
But now? l was 44 years old,
homeless and in debt
When the Boston Symphony
again asked me -
1 1 0 concerts in just 30 weeks -
l was tempted, but refused
After all, l spoke not a word of the language.
Howwould l manage?
But, almost a year
after we had arrived in Sweden...
fearing the worst,
we had set sail for a new life
My wife and l, with our two children,
settled first, ''temporarily''...
in an apartment block at 33 Riverside Drive,
by the Hudson River...
a far cry from lvanovka
A terrible pain in my head
resulted in surgery...
although the news that l was in hospital was
interpreted back in Russia that l had died
Thomas Edison asked me to make some
recordings for his new ''gramophone''
But l never cared for those...
and always destroyed any pressings
l thought less than perfect
My concert debut was on December 8th
in Providence, Rhode lsland
Little did l know that l was to give
over 1 000 concerts in America alone...
during the next 20 years
The only thing that suffered
was my composition - not a single line
l just didn't feel like it
He simply had not the time
to put his mind on composing...
because he had the family to look after
He even got some money lent to go
to America which he repaid later...
and actually he was forced to do...
the second period of his life
as a concert pianist
He would have liked probably
to compose, but no time!
The schedule in America -
touring from October to January/February...
how can a person on the train all the time
start composing?
America! What madness!
And they always wanted me to play
that damned C# minor Prelude!
l'm not sorry l wrote it, it has helped me
But now l play it without feeling,
like a machine
l think l prefer it as a dance tune
But the money was good -
what a bourgeois l've become!
My character has been quite ruined.
l'm surrounded by nothing but business
Business drives everything along.
Business, and the worship of money
To how many human cares...
betrayals, prayers and misery...
does money bear painful witness?
True, l was feted everywhere,
and welcomed by my musical colleagues...
Pierre Monteux, who had conducted
the Premiere of ''The Rite of Spring''...
the young German conductor,
Wilhelm Furtwngler...
even by my fellow exile, lgor Stravinsky...
although he was later to describe me
as a ''six-foot scowl!''
A widow brought me
some baubles to pawn...
in lieu of her husband's debt
America gave me material security
But America could not give me
peace of mind
To hell with her!
But this?
My idiotic son brought me this
How could such an idle bastard have got it?
Stole it, no doubt
Or perhaps ''found'' it on the road
lf all the tears, and blood...
that have been shed...
for these riches and gold...
that l have stored away...
were suddenly to be disgorged...
from the bowels of the earth...
there'd be a flood...
and l'd be drowned...
in money!
We found some consolation
each summer...
by renting a house out at Locust Point, NJ,
about an hour from New York City
l employed a Russian secretary,
a Russian cook...
and because l had failed my American
driving test, a Russian chauffeur
We all spoke Russian together,
observed Russian customs...
and surrounded ourselves
with Russian friends...
some ofwhom already lived here,
and some ofwhom joined us in exile
Stanislavsky was there...
the people from the Arts Theatre...
He adored Chaliapin.
They met in Moscow...
when he was at the private opera,
and Chaliapin was an up-and-coming...
very talented singer -
so they learned from each other
Chaliapin also gave him lots of pleasure
because he was full of funny stories
But nothing could give us back what we
most desired, our homeland
For the exile, whose musical roots
have been annihilated...
there remains no desire
for self expression
A friend wrote about his feelings
of being a nobody
Such feelings are probably
unknown to me, he said
Howwrong he is!
l am filled to the brim with such feelings
l still wrote music, of course...
but somehow
it did not mean the same to me
Only you, my family, and my religion,
sustained me
My Liturgy, written all those years ago
for the choir of the Mariinsky Theatre...
was constantly in my head
Lord, give us this day our daily bread
Lead us not into temptation
and deliver us from evil
l did give many charity concerts
to those wounded in the war...
both Russian and American...
as well as countless recitals for those
in Holland, ltaly and France
But whatever else l played,
they always wanted the Preludes!
Eventually, for convenience,
we settled, ''temporarily''...
in a villa outside Paris, in 1 929,
called Clairfontaine
Here we planned to spend our summers
At least Europe seemed
a little closer to Russia
l loved to sit under the pine trees
and just watch the rabbits!
Breakfast of tea, with cream, ham,
cheese and hard-boiled eggs...
once again reminded us of our Russia
Meanwhile, news from Russia
became ever more distressing
Stalin and his bullies seemed determined
to destroy the Russia we loved
ln 1 931 , with Count llya Tolstoy
and others...
l wrote a letter to the New York Times
in which l said:
''At no time, and in no country...
has there ever existed a government
responsible for so many cruelties...
wholesale murders
and common-law crimes...
as those perpetrated by the Bolsheviks
For 1 3 years now,
the communist oppressors...
have subjected the Russian people
to indescribable torture
They are nothing
but a group of professional murderers''
My music was now forbidden
at the Moscow and St Petersburg -
now called Leningrad - Conservatories,
where l had long ago been a student
l knew now that for me,
Russia was forever closed
Dies Irae! Day of anger!
Only art that is free has meaning
Only creativity that is free
can be joyful
ln Russia, there are no free artists,
only victims without rights
The title ''free artist'' is now a bitterjoke
The need to find a more permanent home
now became urgent
And through a friend, a biographer -
who, like so many others,
had misrepresented me -
l found a site by Lake Lucerne,
hidden in the mountains of Switzerland
There's a big flat space right by a precipice,
down to the lake
l fell in love with the view
immediately l saw it
l kept imagining what it would be like
to have my own music room...
with big windows, with such a view
l've even found a place
where l can be buried
l should build a house here
and call it ''Senar'' -
Sergei and Natalya Rachmaninoff
Here, l believe l shall find peace at last
And here it was l wrote my
''Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini''...
as a kind of christening present
for the new house
l worked literally from morn to night
lt is a large piece - some compensation...
for the many stupidities l allowed myself
to commit in building the house
Dies irae!
For me, he was the epitome
of a gentlemen
He was slender, he was tall...
he had a very good conservative taste
for dressing
lt was always beautifully done,
from Savile Row
And always he looked absolutely
perfect, to my way of thinking
He was not at all gloomy.
lt's all rubbish to say that
He loved Armenian and Jewish jokes
He laughed his head off
when somebody told him a new one
And he had a very special movement -
you know, he had that short hair
lrina, his daughter,
told me father has two hairs...
one is silk and the other one is velvet
lt really was like that - lt was silky,
and when you went against it, it was velvet
After breakfast he went for a walk
around the house and garden...
and then he'd practise,
and he always started with scales
He loved boats, going very fast
He loved also driving his car
in a very fast way
He was a very good horseman,
he was a good rider...
but in Clairfontaine, he fell off the horse
and aunt said that's it, no more
My new boat in Senar
only cost me 1 600 francs...
plus 1 00 francs to the neighbour
who drove me to the auction...
plus... oh dear, oh dear...
200 francs for the little dog
we ran over on the way
Despite its great age -
l'm talking about the motor, not me -
it works magnificently,
and if l do change it...
it will only be because l want to go faster!
ln future, l intend to limit
the number of my concerts...
or find some cure for old age
The only place to be now is Senar
Old age!
Perhaps it is that l'm lazy
Perhaps the incessant practice
and eternal rush...
inescapable from life as a concert artist...
is taking too much toll of my strength
My fingers are giving me real trouble
and the little finger on my left hand...
threatens to go the same way
as the one on the right
And so a last work for piano solo
Music should bring relief
lt should rehabilitate the mind and soul
lt cannot be just rhythm and colour
lt must reveal, as simply as possible,
the emotions of the heart
l have made immense efforts to understand
the music of today, but l cannot
Perhaps it is that the music l care to write
is not acceptable today
But time may change the technique of music,
it cannot alter its fundamental mission
But l sometimes feel that all my audience
wants is noise and excitement
On a recent tour of America, for instance...
l played the Corelli Variations
about 1 5 times...
but only one of these performances
was any good
The others were slapdash
l even, the first time in my life,
had a memory lapse...
and, to the audience's
great consternation...
tried for a long time
to remember what came next
l was usually guided by the amount
of coughing in the audience
Whenever the coughing increased,
l would just leave out a variation
ln one concert,
the coughing was so violent...
that l only bothered to play
about half the variations
l have yet to give a complete performance
l practise and practise but the more l play,
the more l hear my own inadequacies
lf l ever do learn to play properly,
l'll probably drop dead the next day
But now the blood vessels on my fingertips
have begun to burst, bruises are forming
When that happens,
l can't play for about two minutes...
so l just strum some chords
But take me away from my concerts
and that'll be the end of me
Oh, Russia, my Russia!
And did l tell you about my 3rd Symphony?
They played it in New York, Philadelphia,
Chicago and elsewhere...
and they played it wonderfully
But one critic wrote: ''Oh, Rachmaninoff.
Does he have a 3rd symphony in him?''
Cut, cut, cut, they say
lt's like cutting out pieces of my heart
l just broke off this letter
to glance at the local afternoon newspaper
The news is getting worse
Calm is departing from those of us in Europe,
even though war does not come
To be the first to run away
would seem improper in every way
But l fear we are living on a volcano
That there should be such possibilities
in the world - it is unthinkable!
'Christ is risen'...
they sing in holy places
But l am sad
My soul is silent
So much blood, and so many tears...
are shed now in the world
This song of praise before the altar...
offends us like a mockery
lf He were among us now...
and could see the achievements...
of our glorious age...
how brother has come to hate brother...
how man himself is shamed!
And if, in this world of ours now...
He heard 'Christ is risen'...
He would weep the bitterest of tears...
in agony at what we have done
l don't think that he was a very...
Sunday church-goer
lt meant a lot to him otherwise he would
never have written the Vigils and the Liturgy
An unbeliever couldn't have written that
Also, that he loved the bells -
it must be something in a Russian soul...
When l came to England, the first thing
l missed were the evening bells
lt must be something which means a lot
to Russians, l don't know
l think he was quite fascinated by death -
he didn't like to think about it...
l don't knowwhether
he was afraid of death...
but it occupied his mind,
l'm sure, quite a bit
And like the church bells, something
in his music came always back to...
you are here not forever, so one day
you have to face the end is coming
And so we left Europe once again...
once again bound for America,
to Los Angeles
Left my beloved Senar,
just as we had once left lvanovka
Once again cut off
from those places which sustained me...
gave me comfort
And from the comfort of America
we heard of Leningrad - St Petersburg -
starving to death during the German siege
My Symphonic Dances,
which l wrote in America...
were a memory ofwhat was,
and what might have been
After all, composing is as essential
a part of my being as breathing or eating
lt is the expression
of my deepest thoughts...
and my constant need to compose...
is actually the urge within me
to give sounds to those thoughts
l write down only what l hear within me
My music is therefore
a product of my temperament...
and so, wherever l live,
it is Russian music
l wish to say, simply and directly,
what l feel...
and if that be love or sadness
or bitterness, well, so be it
My music is perhaps a long dark coda
into the night
How l miss the peace of Senar
This endless concertizing,
just to earn enough money to survive
ln New Orleans, l definitely noticed
that my cough was getting worse
Soon l shall not be able to get up,
sit or lie down
Like Chekhov, l keep spitting phlegm
into paper bags -
phlegm covered with blood
Too many cigarettes
l am frightened, embarrassed and guilty
And so, finally...
as l end this long letter to you,
my dearest lrina and Tatiana...
l feel that my mournful features
are clearing
l have signed myself up for a course
of ''healing by music''
What other function can music have
but to make us whole again?
As you know, the title of one
of my first published songs...
was ''The Harvest of Sorrow''
Perhaps nowwe can gather in the harvest
and heal our sorrow
Farewell. Farewell my hands
lt's just a very, very unique ability...
for a composer to be able
to compose a melody...
which lasts sometimes nearly a minute...
and people still can remember it right away
This is difficult
There are some composers of today,
if they could only do it...
and there's some very popular people
in the last, let's say 20 or 30 years...
Look at these young Beatles -
they have this ability to give you...
simple, but beautiful and strong...
simple but strong, you know, image
l call it a gift. The melody,
you just take it and it stays with you
There were many, many others.
None of them reached the same level
This is what Rachmaninoff brought to
classical music in general:
endless melody
And also endless in terms that it starts...
and it never gives you the feeling that...
''it's clear, this melody - stop it''
You want to listen,
you want it to continue...
you want to be led by this melody
to the next and the next and the next vision
And you see more and more... and every
door opens and you see even more
Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff
died in Beverly Hills on March 28th, 1 943...
a few days short of his 70th birthday
He had composed four piano concertos,
three operas, 80 songs...
over 1 00 pieces for piano
including two sonatas...
numerous choral works for the church -
and three symphonies...
the second ofwhich, Rachmaninoff himself
conducted the premiere in St Petersburg...
on the 26th January, 1 908,
in the Mariinsky Theatre
After his death, since return of the body
to Europe was impossible in wartime...
he was buried in a cemetery he and his wife
had chosen, outside New York...
appropriately called ''Valhalla'' -
the place of the Gods
And his death certificate it said simply: "Composer".