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Behind the Piano: Lotar-Shevchenko

Lotar-Shevchenko Vera

In the spring of 1949, a woman wandered the streets of Tagil in search of a music school. In her worn-out cotton jacket, a skirt made of coarse fabric, and scuffed canvas shoes, she stood out, although many dressed quite modestly in those post-war years: affluence was still far away. Finally finding the right building, the strange woman asked the duty officer for permission:

"Could you show me an available class with an instrument?"

Sitting down at the piano, she didn't immediately place her hands on the keys: she was afraid of them. For ten agonizingly long years, she had only seen these black and white keys in her imagination. Strong emotions overwhelmed her as she extracted the first sound - long, anxious, and trembling. "I have to try, I have to try," echoed in her mind. "Perhaps I still remember something."

Two hundred classical pieces, creations of the greatest composers in the world, were once preserved in her unique memory. For ten years, she played them with her fingers... on the table.

With trembling hands, the woman touched the keys again, and the small hall filled with the sounds of Chopin's sonatas. They were followed by the powerful chords of Beethoven's solemn and melancholic music. The pianist saw nothing and no one. The music took her back to the distant past.

When the sounds subsided, applause broke out. Teachers and students gathered at the open door. The impromptu concert lasted for an hour, maybe two. Lessons were disrupted: no one rushed to their class; everyone wanted to listen more and more.

First, as the hostess, the school director Maria Nikolaevna Mashkova approached the pianist. She questioned the stranger, asking who she was, where she was from, and upon learning that the music school was her first destination in Tagil, Maria Nikolaevna welcomed her, embracing her warmly.

Thus, in our city, the famous former French pianist Vera Avgustovna Lotar-Shevchenko appeared.

This woman's fate is unusual.

Born in Paris into the family of a Sorbonne professor, an entomologist. Even in her school years, she traveled many countries in Asia and Africa with her father, who took her on expeditions; she even visited Australia.

Her mother, of Spanish descent, was a pianist.

She showed great musical abilities early on. Her first concerts date back to her childhood. Romain Rolland praised young Vera's playing. She received excellent musical education in the conservatories of Paris and Vienna.

After marrying an acoustics engineer, Shevchenko, who worked for the Soviet trade mission in Paris, Vera Avgustovna moved to Leningrad years later, unaware of the harsh trials this step would bring.

The year 1937 came... Working and living in France were sufficient reasons to accuse the engineer. He was arrested. His wife was sent to a labor camp in the north of the Sverdlovsk region for ten years, and their son to an orphanage, where he died.

I don't know what kind of work Vera Avgustovna was forced to do in the camp. She never talked about it herself, and to ask... How could one ask about it! Why reopen bleeding wounds! And what difference does it make what hard labor she performed. What matters is that she survived it all and could live and create again. But still, one witness could tell about those terrible years - her hands!

Not the delicate long fingers of a pianist, but rough, calloused, red hands of a person who performed heavy physical labor.

Vera Avgustovna was forbidden to enter the capital cities. And since she had no relatives or acquaintances anywhere, she requested to be sent to any city with a music school.

Without friends and acquaintances, penniless, life was hard for anyone. Especially for a woman, especially one who spoke Russian poorly, especially with a camp document. Maria Nikolaevna arranged for Lotar-Shevchenko to work part-time at the music school. Not as a teacher (heavens forbid!), but as an illustrator. Here, dear children, look, if you study well, you can achieve the same mastery.

In those years, a music school teacher's salary was meager, and part-time work was only enough for bread and a bowl of soup.

Someone among her new acquaintances advised Vera Avgustovna to apply to the drama theater. She went there, sat down at the instrument, played, and... won: she was accepted as a concertmaster. Moreover, they provided a small isolated room in the apartment where the actor's family lived.

It was at this time that I learned about the extraordinary pianist from the chief director Boris Osipovich Potik, with whom I was closely acquainted. It was in the theater that I first heard Vera Avgustovna play. I was amazed, although I am an ordinary listener, an amateur.

Vera Avgustovna did not have prepared scores for the performances and did not keep her own music recordings: she did not have time to write notes. Everything was built on improvisation.

We got to know each other more closely in 1952 when our family bought a piano, and my younger son was accepted into the first grade of the music school that year, and we wanted to invite a teacher for the older one. Vera Avgustovna lived in the adjacent house. And, naturally, the choice fell on her. By that time, she not only had two jobs but also enough students: her fame had spread throughout the city.

It's worth noting right away that money hardly interested her. She treated them rather carelessly. Not because she had a lot of them, but because, besides the bare minimum, she needed nothing. She often skipped lunch: there was no time to eat. Besides, lunch needed to be cooked, groceries needed to be bought. The world of music was her native element. Everything else didn't touch or concern her.

When we negotiated about the lessons, Vera Avgustovna asked only one question: Is your son talented? She didn't believe in long-scale practicing of scales. Two months after the start of the lessons, she made a serious remark to her student:

- Aren't you ashamed of yourself? You're so grown up, already thirteen, and you play Beethoven's sonata poorly, and he wrote it when he was eight!

In conversation, Vera Avgustovna was very lively, impulsive, with a characteristic French pronunciation of Russian words. She doesn't understand me, - she complained about the telephone operator.

After the lessons, Vera Avgustovna often lingered at our place, playing a lot for her own pleasure. Her manner reminded me of Emil Gilels' playing - powerful chord strikes. The pianist's gaze wandered into infinity. Only she knew where she was carried away in her thoughts at those moments. Those around her seemed to cease to exist for her. God forbid, if the phone rang during that time and she had to answer it. She returned to reality and couldn't play anymore.

Vera Avgustovna sometimes lost track of time, and then, in her absent-mindedness, amusing situations arose. Once, she had to go to a concert at the Palace of Culture of Metallurgists from our place. Time was running out. Before we knew it, Vera Avgustovna, forgetting her shoes and putting on our son's boots, rushed off to the concert. Fortunately, just before the start, she saw a familiar face in the audience and sent a messenger to her to borrow shoes for the duration of the performance.

She was drawn to big concert activities, and in 1954, Lotar-Shevchenko joined the Sverdlovsk Philharmonic. Solo performances were quite rare. More often, concerts were collective, as part of instrumental trios and quartets. In such formations, she often came to Tagil and sometimes dropped by us to rehearse.

In one of such situations, she insisted that my sick wife consult a good specialist.

- There is a neurologist professor living in our building. His wife, whom I know well, will arrange a consultation, - Vera Avgustovna announced.

And here we were in a small room that Lotar-Shevchenko rented in the apartment of the widow of a professor at the Polytechnic Institute. A studio piano, old and worn, a couch, a chair, and, it seems, nothing else.

While waiting for the meeting with the neurologist, we learned this story. Lotar-Shevchenko turned to the French Embassy in Moscow to find out about her parents' fate. After some time, a secretary from the embassy came to her and persistently offered to return to Paris, guaranteeing concert activity for the first year in France and then in any capital of the world. But Vera Avgustovna categorically rejected this tempting offer, as if her entire life in the Union was strewn with roses:

- Why return! I'm fine here.

Her action amazed us, the absence of mortal offense, resentment after everything she had experienced in the ten years in the camps.

Concert activity in Sverdlovsk did not develop as she wished, and the pianist moved to Barnaul and joined the Altai Regional Philharmonic.

Our connection was broken; we lost sight of Lotar-Shevchenko.

Once, it seems, in the late sixties, a large article about Vera Avgustovna appeared in Komsomolskaya Pravda. The correspondent described how on one winter day he saw a poster in the Barnaul club. He was struck by the program - ancient piano music by French composers. He hadn't seen such a rare program even in Moscow. Curiosity got the better of him; he wanted to see and hear some bold Lotar-Shevchenko. And he took the risk. Almost in an empty, cold hall, there were about a dozen listeners in coats. A woman came out, not very artistically bowed to the rare applause, sat down at the piano, and started playing. She played fiercely, one piece after another, not noticing the empty hall or the cold.

After the concert, the correspondent went backstage, introduced himself, and asked Vera Avgustovna to tell about herself. For two hours, holding his breath, he listened to the sad story of the three periods of her life to tell millions of readers later. Six months later, in the same Komsomolskaya Pravda, it was reported that Vera Avgustovna was invited to the Novosibirsk Philharmonic, given an apartment, and organized solo concerts. After that, posters with her name appeared in Moscow and Leningrad, the largest cities in the country. Thousands and thousands of listeners appreciated the outstanding talent of the pianist.

Years later, she entered every home from the TV screen as Ruth in the eponymous film by Tajikfilm. The wonderful French movie star Annie Girardot lived Vera Avgustovna's life for the viewers.

E.Yu. Fiskind
Literature: Tagil Local Historian.
Almanac. - Nizhny Tagil, 1992. - 128 p., ill.

The Strange Frenchwoman

I'm listening to a record - a worn-out flexi disc from a long time ago, from Krugozor. The imperfections in the recording and the defects that have appeared due to frequent playback are obvious. But even they cannot diminish the impression, quench the inexplicable emotional excitement caused by this music. Stormy, fiery, resistant, and all-conquering. The expressive, assertive, courageous manner of playing, though by a woman at the piano.

She was always reproached for her explosive temperament when performing classics, - says the voice of the announcer, commenting on the just-played fragment, followed by another, with a very strong accent: I can't do it any other way. It just happens that way for me. This unique recording allowed hearing the playing and the voice of the famous pianist Lotar-Shevchenko.

The newspaper has already written in detail about the fate of Vera Avgustovna last March. The occasion was the premiere of the film "Ruth," shown on Central Television, the prototype of the main character of which (as the announcements reported) was the famous musician. However, everyone who knew and remembered Vera Avgustovna, who found temporary shelter in our city, found nothing in common with the eccentric and by no means musical individual, played, although skillfully, by the French actress Annie Girardot. Given this majesty, the fact that there was such contempt shown in the film, that even the vague and often used phrase "based on" would have been inappropriate. About all the distortions in it: and discrepancies were then written by E. Fiskind, who detailed the biography of Lotar-Shevchenko, with whom he was acquainted.

A graduate of the Paris and Vienna Conservatories, a brilliant pianist, applauded throughout Europe, spent 10 years in Stalinist camps. She was arrested in '37, in Leningrad, as the wife of a Soviet specialist - a representative of trade representation in Paris, repressed on denunciation. Upon her release, Vera Avgustovna, whose living was prohibited in the capital and major cities, asked to be sent to the nearest city with a music school. So she ended up in Nizhny Tagil.

... An old German piano with candlesticks. She loved this instrument very much, the comfort and hospitality of this apartment. The collection of French books gathered here provided a rare opportunity to read in her native language.

- Tell me, what kind of teacher was she? Probably very strict? - I ask the landlady, Tatiana Konstantinovna Guskova, a teacher at the Department of the History of the USSR of the Pedagogical Institute, who was fortunate enough to be a student of Lotar-Shevchenko.

- Vera Avgustovna always gave very difficult pieces. She patiently listened. And then she approached the instrument with the words: "You need to play like this," and performed the piece - one, another, a third. So the lesson turned into a concert, and everyone around, dropping everything, listened with bated breath.

She didn't resemble the French women we, infrequent visitors to foreign countries, only know by hearsay and therefore imagine as elegant fashion legislators. And not because Lotar-Shevchenko appeared in Tagil when she was already around 50. She lived in her own special world, was absolutely defenseless and impractical in domestic affairs. It seemed that she was indifferent to how she ate, what she wore. Music completely filled her, was the meaning of existence, life, and happiness. This can even be seen from the letter that Tatiana Konstantinovna carefully keeps. Almost everything, from beginning to end, is about music...

She went on tour with the orchestra to Arkhangelsk, Murmansk, etc. Now I'm working a lot and preparing a concert for Chopin's anniversary. I will play 24 études and four ballads. They allowed me to give the concert after an audition in Moscow, the committee gave me excellent reviews. How strange and contradictory this opinion is to what was in Sverdlovsk. I was accepted not only as a Chopinist but also as an interpreter of Bach, Beethoven, with which I don't entirely agree.

Indeed, after moving to Sverdlovsk, the pianist felt rejection. Obviously, the local celebrities simply envied her.

- Until I heard her play Chopin, I considered his music refined and sophisticated, somewhat salon-like, - recalls T.K. Guskova. - The pieces performed by her with a stormy temperament sounded and were perceived completely differently. Not only in music, but also in the character of Vera Avgustovna, there was a certain impulsiveness, ardor - probably, she inherited these qualities from her mother - a noble Spanish woman.

The creators of the film Ruth literally fixated on one real fact from the pianist's life: her refusal to return to her homeland. With the current widespread blind flight to the West, they regarded this act as: super-heroic. Vera Avgustovna did not see it that way. Simply, there was no one left among her close friends and relatives in France. And most importantly, with the onset of the thaw, all-Union fame came to her. She received an invitation to the Novosibirsk Philharmonic, concert tours to the concert halls of Moscow and Leningrad began. There was never any malice, bitterness, or hatred in her for the bitter cup she was forced to drink. She considered the years spent behind barbed wire simply as misfortune, fallen to her lot.

... I was not the first visitor interested in the fate of Vera Avgustovna. Recently, documentarians from Novosibirsk visited Tagil - the city where the pianist's life path ended. We hope that this time the film will be sincere, honest, and above all - truthful.

N. DUZENKO.
Literature: Tagil Worker newspaper dated 02.04.1991.

Heard her Romain Rolland.

Today, at the art school, an evening dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the French pianist Vera Lotar-Shevchenko will take place.

Her tragic fate and her name are associated with Nizhny Tagil. The extraordinary story of Vera Avgustovna is told by the historian and local historian, the honorary citizen of our city, Tatiana Konstantinovna GUSKOVA.

...The director of music school No. 1, M.N. Mashkova, looked with surprise at the strange visitor in a prison outfit, who, confusing Russian and French words, asked to be allowed to play a concert at the piano.

The request was granted, but she still peeped into the slightly open door. The guest took off her padded jacket and sat silently for a while, cautiously touching the keys with her overworked, disfigured hands. And suddenly, powerful, triumphant sounds of Beethoven's sonata, which Vera Lotar once played for Romain Rolland, filled the air.

Beethoven, Chopin, Bach, again Beethoven - a whole waterfall of music flooded the small hall of the school. Children, teachers gathered, lessons stopped. And the pianist kept playing and playing, paying no attention to anyone. She resembled a starving person who was finally given a piece of bread.

Such was the first concert of Vera Avgustovna Lotar-Shevchenko in Nizhny Tagil. She lived here for several years, and it was a great joy for the people of Tagil. For the first time, they could hear live music by great composers performed by an outstanding pianist with a worldwide reputation.

A carrier of great art, Vera Avgustovna was an extraordinary person, with a tragic yet heroic fate, who did not break under its blows and preserved within herself, despite everything, the rare gift of creativity. And the ability to share it with everyone who listened to her or came into contact with her in life.

She amazed and impressed. At her performances, wherever they took place - in a school hall or a small home circle - there were no indifferent listeners. She captivated everyone who listened - from the simplest, inexperienced people to professionals, sometimes disagreeing with her interpretation of individual pieces.

Lotar-Shevchenko's repertoire was boundless. Her remarkable memory retained almost all the outstanding works of Western and Russian music: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and others. The most beloved and frequently performed were Beethoven, Chopin, and Bach. The flawless sense of style of each composer, the rich palette of nuances combined with a courageous, willful manner of playing, left an indelible impression, enchanting the listeners. Sensing the beauty of great music keenly, she never compromised for the audience.

A person poorly adapted to life, Vera Avgustovna often surprised those around her with her eccentric actions. This was explained by her vivid Spanish temperament and... poor knowledge of the Russian language. And most importantly, she always lived in her own, special world of music, which constituted her entire life. Those who knew Lotar-Shevchenko closer understood this well. And Vera Avgustovna had many friends and acquaintances in Tagil. They helped her find a permanent job at the drama theater as a musical designer. There she met the famous director Vladimir Motyl and became almost a member of the Ostrovsky family of actors, renting a room in their apartment.

But her favorite activity was giving lessons in musical literature at music school No. 1, where she played works by composers she talked about to the children's teacher. For the students, it was a real celebration of music, memorable for a lifetime.

She also gave private lessons in the homes of the Tagil intelligentsia - the Pokrovskys, Rimshis, Fiskindovs, Guskovs, and many others. There, she was met with the warmest and most attentive treatment. They tried to warm her and feed her, but most importantly, they wanted to hear her enchanting music. Lessons turned into improvised concerts that could last for hours. Vera Avgustovna never refused the opportunity to perform any program in any venue, as long as there was a decent instrument. She worked tirelessly, restoring her repertoire and her professional form.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Vera Lotar's name was well-known in musical circles in Europe and America. She was born in 1906 in Paris, into the family of a Sorbonne professor. She began her concert career at the age of 14. Her teachers were famous musicians: Eugene d'Albert, Alfred Cortot, and Emil Sauer. In Italy, she met the Russian emigre and anti-fascist A. Shevchenko and became his wife. In 1937, together with her husband and children, she came to the USSR with a dream of finding her new homeland here and serving it with her talent, which was admired by the great French writer and connoisseur of Beethoven's work, Romain Rolland.

But fate had other plans. In the first year, it seemed that all Vera Avgustovna's dreams were coming true. The family was warmly received, provided with an apartment, and interesting work (her husband had a rare and in-demand profession as an engineer-acoustician). The people of Leningrad immediately appreciated the brilliant playing of the French pianist.

But just a few months later, based on denunciations, Vera Avgustovna's husband was arrested. Despite futile attempts to prove his innocence, she herself ended up in prison, and their children were sent to one of the city's orphanages. Vera Lotar-Shevchenko didn't speak Russian, had no one in Russia to help her, and she served her full term in the Gulag camps - 15 years! In prison, she learned about her husband's death and the death of her children during a bombing. She doesn't remember how she managed to survive this terrible blow: she lived as if in a fog, perceiving everything around her as a terrible, unbelievable dream. Her fellow inmates sympathized with her and tried to ease her fate. In her final years, she worked in the kitchen, washing and cutting vegetables, dividing prisoners' rations. She was respected for her honesty and strong character. They made a board with piano keys for her. And in the evenings, when everyone was asleep, the pianist mentally played her vast repertoire on this keyboard.

In the fall of 1952, she found herself in Tagil (living and working in large cities was forbidden), and here, as she learned, there was a music school.

It seemed that life was getting better. Music was once again close to her, but she wanted to perform with an orchestra, to perform in real concert halls. Such an opportunity arose after her full rehabilitation, when she was finally allowed to live in large cities other than the capital. She immediately went to Sverdlovsk, where she worked for two years in the regional philharmonic. Then she was invited to Barnaul, Kurgan. However, the concert life, for various reasons, was not easy and did not provide complete satisfaction.

Help came unexpectedly. At her concert in a rural club, a Moscow journalist, a correspondent for Komsomolskaya Pravda, Simon Soloveichik, happened to be there by chance. Struck by the extraordinary program of the unknown pianist, he was amazed by the performance of V.A. Lotar-Shevchenko. The journalist wrote an article in the newspaper about the fate of the French pianist in Russia and invited her to the Komsomolskaya Pravda editorial office. Her concert, attended by famous musicians from Moscow, was brilliant. One of the listeners, the outstanding pianist and well-known human rights defender M.V. Yudina, managed to organize an audition for V.A. Lotar-Shevchenko with the qualification commission of the Ministry of Culture. Her performance was recognized as magnificent, and she was awarded the highest category with the right to perform in the most prestigious concert halls in Moscow, Leningrad, and other major cities, and she was helped to find a job at the Novosibirsk Philharmonic.

The press became interested in the fate of Vera Avgustovna: much was written about her, including by those who had listened to her or simply heard of her. Vera Lotar-Shevchenko was remembered in her homeland as well. A representative of the French embassy spoke with her, offering her to return to France. But she refused to leave the country where she had experienced much sorrow but at the same time found friends and grateful listeners. "Happy is the country where Bach is loved," she said to the embassy representative. Later, her friends placed these words on the monument erected on Vera Avgustovna's grave in Novosibirsk. She lived her last happy years there.

As a soloist of the Novosibirsk Philharmonic, she toured extensively, and her concerts were hugely successful. She performed most often in Moscow, where her closest friends lived (the Soloveichik family and A.K. Guskov), and most unexpectedly, her son, whom she had believed dead, was found: Denis Yarovoy (this was the surname he took upon returning from the front) became an outstanding violin master. His children were Vera Avgustovna's beloved grandchildren.

The story of the French pianist, who became a Soviet citizen and lived for several years in our city, did not end with her passing. Grateful memories of her and the joy her music brought remained forever in the hearts of her listeners. Novosibirsk solemnly marked the 100th anniversary of V.A. Lotar-Shevchenko's birth. There, a music festival and an international piano competition were held, which will now be held regularly.

Similar celebrations dedicated to Vera Avgustovna took place in Barnaul. Now, the Ural region takes up the memory relay. In March-April 2007, a music festival and a piano competition will take place in Yekaterinburg and other cities in the region. The honorary right to open these celebrations has been granted to Nizhny Tagil.

T. GUSKOVA.
Literature: Tagil Worker Newspaper dated 10.03.2007.

Life with Bach

The extraordinary fate of Vera Avgustovna Lotar-Shevchenko, an outstanding pianist of French origin.

Vera Avgustovna Lotar-Shevchenko was an outstanding pianist of French origin who, by the twist of fate, lived in the USSR for a long time, where she spent her entire life. Her tragic destiny has been the subject of numerous publications in the media, and both fictional and documentary films have been made about her. An international competition of young pianists in Novosibirsk has been named after her, where she spent her final years. Over time, her laborious life has been surrounded by legends, and some facts of her biography are interpreted differently in various sources.

The biography of this remarkable woman awaits a meticulous researcher with access to archival documents.

The first mention of Vera Lotar-Shevchenko was made by the renowned educator and journalist Simon Soloveichik. The article was titled "The Pianist" and was published on December 19, 1965, in Komsomolskaya Pravda. The story described in this material was sensational and made the performer's name known throughout the country. Subsequent publications followed, and in 1989, a feature film titled "Ruth" was made, where the brilliant Annie Girardot portrayed this talented woman with a difficult fate.

In my childhood, I was fortunate enough to briefly communicate with Vera Avgustovna and even receive a few piano lessons from her. This was in the early 1950s. We lived then in Vyye, one of the outskirts of Nizhny Tagil, in a forty-square-meter apartment, as everyone used to call this almost the only well-appointed house in the area, where engineers and technical workers of the Vyysokogorsky mine lived. Once there was a rumor around the house that some extraordinary music teacher had appeared in town. Many mothers hurried to get her for their children's education. Our neighbor invited this teacher to prepare her daughter for admission to the conservatory.

We didn't have a piano at home, but my mother, caught up in the general excitement, also wanted to teach me music. She made arrangements with the neighbor, and soon I was brought into the large living room, where stood a huge black instrument with brass candlesticks on the sides. The teacher entered the room, moving heavily on swollen legs. She was an elderly, plump woman with an otherworldly face. She spoke Russian with a terrible accent, and I could hardly understand her speech. The teacher put the Beyrer's School notes on the music stand and suggested studying these, perhaps useful but unimaginably boring passages. The teacher rigorously monitored the correct hand placement. I did poorly at this, and she often shouted, "Round!"

Although I was only six years old, I felt that these lessons burdened the teacher, and only cruel necessity compelled her to spend time on such useless students. She looked at me but seemed to see something else, something incomprehensible to my understanding. Other authors of memoirs about her also noted that she didn't like teaching music. Her true passion was her own playing, to which she devoted herself completely. Despite the short time of interaction, I remembered this extraordinary woman for life.

Many years later, in the early 1970s, I met a good seamstress whose husband worked as a deputy headmaster at the music school. She knew well and, apparently, dressed the musical and theatrical elite of our city. Once I told her about the strange music teacher who had amazed me once. It was Lotar-Shevchenko! I was well acquainted with her and even sewed for her," exclaimed my new acquaintance, and she told me her sorrowful story. From this story and publications read later, I learned about the extraordinary fate of Vera Avgustovna.

Vera Lotar's birthplace is usually listed as Turin, in northern Italy, but some authors mention Nice. Her year of birth is also not confirmed documentarily - ranging from 1899 to 1906. According to Wikipedia, the free Internet encyclopedia, Vera Lotar was born on March 10, 1901. Her full name was Vera-Adelaide-Carmen. Her father, originally from Lorraine, soon obtained a position as a professor at the Sorbonne, and the family moved to Paris. Her mother, a Spaniard from an aristocratic family, was a talented pianist. In addition to their apartment in Paris, the family owned a villa on the French Riviera, where young Vera lived for a long time with her nanny - an Englishwoman. Auguste Lotar often took his daughter on scientific expeditions. As a child, she traveled to Asia, Africa, and Australia.

The girl's great musical talent was discovered early, and at the age of 12, she was already performing as a soloist with an orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini himself. She graduated with honors from the Paris Conservatory, where she studied under Alfred Cortot, and after an internship in Vienna, she toured all the major cities of Europe and America. She performed at Buckingham Palace in front of the royal family and was warmly received everywhere.

In the 1930s, Vera Lotar married Vladimir Yakovlevich Shevchenko, an acoustics engineer, who was called the Russian Stradivarius for the beautiful violins he created. According to some sources, he was an employee of the Soviet trade mission, while others claim he was the son of first-wave emigrants who dreamed of returning to Russia. The family had three children: two sons from her husband's previous marriage and one child of their own.

In the late 1930s, Vladimir Yakovlevich obtained permission to enter the USSR, and the happy young family moved to Leningrad, where repression was rampant. Soon, her husband was arrested for espionage, and his grief-stricken wife appeared before the authorities and, after lengthy explanations with a valiant Chekist, declared, pounding her fist on the table, that if such a wonderful and honest person as her husband was accused of crimes against the state, then they should arrest her too. Convoys were immediately called.

She was sent to the vast Tavdinsky camp, where, in appalling conditions, she served her term alongside criminals, artists, musicians, and other representatives of the intelligentsia. She disliked recalling that terrible time. During those years, her husband perished in the camps, and two of her children died in the besieged Leningrad. She herself turned from a beautiful, flourishing woman into a sickly old lady, but she retained her indomitable character and creative passion.

Many publications about Vera Lotar-Shevchenko describe how she carved out a piano keyboard with a knife on boards and, in rare moments free from hard labor, played her favorite works by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussy. To her neighbors in the camp barracks, exhausted by inhuman conditions, it seemed as if they heard this immortal music, so inspired was the performer's face, and so expressive were her overworked hands. In one of the Radio Liberty broadcasts, journalist Yuri Danilin, who knew Vera Avgustovna closely during her time in Novosibirsk, recounted how he managed to find this legendary piano keyboard on boards.

In January 1950, Vera Avgustovna's term in the labor camp ended, and soon she arrived in Nizhny Tagil, dressed in a worn-out coat, a burlap skirt, and worn-out felt boots, where she was ordered to live. She walked through the city and, in broken Russian, asked frightened passersby to show her the way to the music school. I remember that ancient single-story building, the long-demolished Music School No. 1, with its cozy little hall. Here came Vera Avgustovna, hoping that she would be allowed to play the piano after so many years of being separated from her beloved art. I also remember the longtime director of this school, Maria Nikolaevna Mashkova. This intelligent and kind woman greeted the disgraced pianist. At her own risk, she arranged for her to work part-time as a music illustrator, as no one would officially allow yesterday's zek to teach. Maria Nikolaevna helped her with accommodation and clothing at first.

The income as a music illustrator was negligible, and to survive, Vera Avgustovna started giving private music lessons. Among her students in Nizhny Tagil were children from the families of Mirovsky, Rimsha, Nikolaev, Pokrovsky, Fiskind, Guskov, and Ugodnikov. Some of them later wrote warm memories of Vera Avgustovna.

Here are excerpts from the article "Behind the Piano of Lotar-Shevchenko" by engineer E. Yu. Fiskind, whose son studied with her for several years. Someone among the new acquaintances advised Vera Avgustovna to approach the drama theater. She went there, sat down at the instrument, played, and... triumphed: she was accepted as a concertmaster. Moreover, they provided her with a small isolated room in the apartment where the actor's family lived... Vera Avgustovna had no prepared scores for performances and did not keep her own music notes: she didn't have time to write them down. Everything was built on improvisation...

When we arranged the lessons, Vera Avgustovna asked only one question: Is your son talented? She did not believe in long rehearsals of scales. Two months after the start of the lessons, she made a serious remark to her student: "Shame on you. You are so big, already thirteen, and you play Beethoven's sonata poorly, and he wrote it when he was eight!"... After the lessons, Vera Avgustovna often stayed with us, playing a lot for her own pleasure. Her manner reminded me of Emil Gilels' playing - powerful chord strikes. The pianist's gaze was directed into infinity. Only she knew where her thoughts wandered at those moments. Those sitting around seemed to cease to exist for her. God forbid, if the phone rang at that time, and she had to pick up the receiver. She returned to reality and could no longer play.

Vera Avgustovna sometimes lost track of time, and then, in her absent-mindedness, amusing situations arose. Once, she had to go to a concert at the Palace of Culture of the Metallurgists from our place. Time was running out. Before we knew it, Vera Avgustovna, forgetting her own shoes and putting on our son's boots, rushed off to the concert...

Interestingly, at the same time as Vera Avgustovna, Vladimir Motyl worked at the Nizhny Tagil Drama Theater, the future director of the immortal masterpiece "White Sun of the Desert." They say that the image of the charming Polina Gebl-Annenkova from another of his famous films, "Star of Captivating Happiness," was largely inspired by the fate and character of Vera Lotar-Shevchenko.

Among Vera Avgustovna's favorite students in Nizhny Tagil were the sisters Gelya and Tanya Guskova. Angelina Konstantinovna became a well-known radiologist in the country, the head of a Moscow clinic. Tatyana Konstantinovna, later an honorary citizen of Nizhny Tagil, a local historian and historian, a professor at NTGSPA, wrote an article about her unforgettable teacher, "He Listened to Her, Romain Rolland," published in the Tagil Worker newspaper on March 10, 2007.

In the essay "Strange Frenchwoman," journalist N. Duzenko of the Tagil Worker newspaper also writes about Vera Avgustovna's close relationship with the Guskov family: "... An old German piano with candlesticks. She loved this instrument, the comfort, and hospitality of this apartment. The collection of French books assembled here provided a rare opportunity to read in one's native language."

- Tell me, what kind of teacher was she? Probably very strict? - I ask the hostess, a teacher at the Department of History of the Pedagogical Institute, Tatiana Konstantinovna Guskova, who was fortunate enough to be a student of Lotar-Shevchenko.

- Vera Avgustovna always gave very difficult pieces. She listened patiently. And then she approached the instrument saying, "You need to play like this," and performed one piece, then another, and another. So the lesson turned into a concert, and everyone nearby stopped their work and, holding their breath, listened...

She lived in her own special world, was absolutely defenseless and impractical in everyday matters. It seemed that she didn't care about how she ate or what she wore. Music filled her completely, was the meaning of existence, life, and happiness. This is evident even from the letter that Tatiana Konstantinovna carefully keeps. Almost all of it, from beginning to end, is about music: "Went on tour with the orchestra to Arkhangelsk, Murmansk, etc. Now I'm working a lot and preparing for a concert for Chopin's anniversary. I will play 24 etudes and four ballads. They allowed me to give the concert after the audition in Moscow, the commission gave me brilliant reviews. It is strange and contrary to the opinion that was in Sverdlovsk...

- Until I heard her play Chopin, I considered his music refined and somewhat salon-like, - recalls T. K. Guskova. - The pieces, filled with passionate temperament, sounded and were perceived completely differently in her performance. Not only in music, but also in the character of Vera Avgustovna, there was a certain impulsiveness, fervor - perhaps she inherited these qualities from her mother, a Spanish noblewoman.

Despite the good attitude of the residents of Nizhny Tagil towards Vera Avgustovna, the outstanding pianist painfully lacked concert activities. After Stalin's death, when the grip of the repressive machine weakened, she achieved rehabilitation and permission to live in regional centers. She moved to Sverdlovsk hoping to become a soloist at the philharmonic. This difficult stage of the performer's life is mentioned in the essay "Nizhny Tagil Remembered" by Ninel Plyatskovskaya, published in the magazine "Baltic Seasons," and in the book "I Love Harmony" by Zera Germanovna Myshkina, where a chapter "French Phenomenon" is dedicated to Vera Avgustovna.

In Sverdlovsk, Vera Avgustovna rented a room from the widow of Professor Sokolov, Anna Georgievna, in one of the cottages surrounded by an apple orchard. Recently, these houses could still be seen near the circus. It was cozy but cold. Vera Avgustovna desperately froze, warming her hands, already frostbitten in the camp, in an old fur muff. At the audition before joining the philharmonic, she played preludes and fugues from the first volume of Johann Sebastian Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. The high commission was struck by the unbridled power of her performance style.

Here are excerpts from Ninel Plyatskovskaya's article: On the first, free from the daily bread money, she rented a studio piano, and at the next opportunity, sewed herself a black concert dress, clearly for the philharmonic halls, although they were still far away... I remember her first concert in the Sverdlovsk Philharmonic. Several close people were with her that evening. Before the concert began, the hostess, wanting to see what Vera Avgustovna looked like, looked into the room where she was preparing. It was a kind of intellectual check. She nodded approvingly at that very black dress, sewn quite early. To which after her departure Vera Avgustovna said: "She thinks I'm from Tagil, she forgot that I'm from Paris." The phrase sounds somewhat provocative, but V. A. said it in a quite moderate tone, as something self-evident. For her, it was an indisputable fact of life. Not more. But not less.

- I'm almost sure that the famous dress in which Vera Avgustovna performed multiple times was sewn by that tailor from Tagil who once told me about the fate of the pianist.

Here's a quote from the article "French Phenomenon" by musicologist and writer Zera Germanovna Myshkina: Lotar-Shevchenko predominantly played works by foreign classics in her concerts: Schumann's Carnaval, Liszt's compositions, and, of course, French impressionists. I heard her interpretation of Debussy's pieces: "The Sunken Cathedral," "What the West Wind Saw," "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair." Lotar-Shevchenko's piano playing differed from our lyrical Russian style with some masculine dryness; it lacked the usual impressionistic delicacy, watercolor shades, fragile world of changing impressions; apparently, her fingers lost their former softness and flexibility. Some musicians felt that she didn't play as is customary, didn't approve of her interpretation, sometimes even accused her of amateurism...

And again, a quote from Ninel Plyatskovskaya's article: It was necessary to overcome a lot of prejudices, musical and non-musical ones. For some, the authorities, she was a recent political prisoner; for others, especially the teachers of the Sverdlovsk Conservatory (who had to give their approval for her right to work in the philharmonic), she was a creative outsider. She said that she was constantly accused of not having the right interpretation of Liszt or Chopin, and asked to explain the meaning of this word that was not quite clear to her.

Because of this unusual interpretation for the Russian ear, Vera Avgustovna was rarely allowed solo concerts. She had to travel to small towns and villages of the region as part of brigades for collective concerts and musical-educational lectures. It was difficult for the elderly woman, and it did not correspond to the scale of her talent.

During Vera Avgustovna's stay in Sverdlovsk, an event occurred that largely softened the pain of irreparable losses - her stepson, the elder son of her beloved deceased husband, was unexpectedly found. Here's how Ninel Plyatskovskaya describes this event: ... A photograph of a young man fell out of the envelope. Looking at it, V. A. literally choked with excitement... The letter was from the elder son of V. Ya. Shevchenko. Having grown up, he strongly resembled his father, which initially completely confused her. Now he bore the surname Yarovoy, to which he was entitled by family ties. And Denis Yarovoy wrote that, as the eldest and knowing languages, with the start of the war, he managed to voluntarily join the active army, while the younger brothers, alas, did die during the blockade. The confession letter began from the moment when they were separated. Denis was also shocked by the news he learned. After all, he, too, considered her dead... About himself, he wrote that he decided to continue his father's work and also became a master acoustician, a creator of stringed instruments (anticipating, I will say that over time, he gained serious recognition in his field, twice became the winner of major international competitions). Until the end of her life, Vera Avgustovna maintained warm family relations with her newly found stepson, whom she affectionately called Denisik.

Unfortunately, the creative life of the pianist in Sverdlovsk did not develop as she wanted. Not finding understanding among the musical elite of Sverdlovsk, Vera Avgustovna moved to Barnaul, but there, too, few realized the level of the pianist working in the local philharmonic. And only a chance encounter at the end of 1965 with the capital journalist Simon Soloveichik changed her fate for the better. After the sensational article "The Pianist," Vera Avgustovna was invited to Akademgorodok near Novosibirsk.

In the last 16 years of her life, Vera Avgustovna finally gained nationwide recognition. She successfully toured the largest cities in the country, visiting Odessa, Moscow, Kiev, Vladivostok, and her beloved Leningrad. No one accused her of interpreting Chopin, Debussy, and Ravel incorrectly anymore. She had her own vision of the world and her own approach to performing immortal musical masterpieces.

In Novosibirsk, Vera Avgustovna socialized with highly intelligent people, many of whom knew her native French language. She was loved by students and pupils of the famous FMSh - the physics and mathematics school for gifted children. It is said that the door to her apartment was often left ajar - she played, and young people sat on the stairs and listened mesmerized.

Vera Avgustovna died on December 10, 1982. She was buried in the Southern Cemetery of Academgorodok. Her modest gravestone bears the words: "Life blessed with Bach."

Why didn't she return to France when the opportunity arose? Numerous publications write that she usually answered such questions by saying, "It would be a betrayal of the memory of Russian women who helped me survive in hellish prison conditions." In other articles, a different answer is given: "Why return when I am happy here?"

It seems to me that neither the first nor the second answers reflect the true reasons for her adamant refusal to leave the USSR. Wouldn't Russian women who shared the terrible years of captivity with Vera Avgustovna understand her desire to return home? And was life in our country really so good for her, even when she had the opportunity to perform in major cities? Is her fame comparable to what she would have had, living comfortably in France and touring the world? In a conversation with Simon Soloveichik, Vera Avgustovna explained her reluctance to return to Paris: "In life, one can never go back." And this was said back in Barnaul, when she performed in half-empty cold clubs in provincial towns, often without understanding, living in a tiny apartment where neighbors, tormented by endless powerful chords, constantly banged on the wall, asking for at least a little silence. She suffered greatly from the cold of long snowy winters.

Natalia POZDNYAKOVA.
Literature: Newspaper, Tagil Variant, No. 20(69) dated 07.06.2012.