Love Story: Rodion Shchedrin and Maya Plisetskaya

Love Story: Rodion Shchedrin and Maya Plisetskaya

He always strived for individuality and self-expression. She appreciated freedom and challenged tradition. They walked hand in hand for 57 happy years together. And both admitted that they were meant for each other.

An acquaintance at Lilya Brik’s

The first acquaintance was fleeting: they met in 1955 at mutual friends’. At that time, Lilya Brik was recording voices of her friends on a reel-to-reel tape recorder that had just appeared in the USSR, one day she asked Shchedrin: "Would you like to listen to a young ballerina singing Prokofiev's Cinderella?"

Maya's bright and clear voice startled Rodion. But when they met, they didn’t experience any deep feelings. They continued to see each other at different events and talk nicely. In 1956, Plisetskaya married Maris Liepa, but three months later they divorced.

“You and I are the same suit”

At the beginning of 1958, Maya Plisetskaya said at a friend’s party that she would soon be dancing at the Bolshoi Theater in the premiere performance of Spartacus. Rodion Shchedrin, among others, asked to get tickets. The performance was a triumph: a delighted audience, a storm of applause and brilliant Maya!

The next morning, he called to tell her how much he admired her. At that time Shchedrin was working on the music for the ballet The Little Humpbacked Horse for the Bolshoi Theater and asked permission to visit a rehearsal in order to better understand and feel the atmosphere of the ballet. 

During this rehearsal, he fell in love. Later, Rodion Konstantinovich said

“I was very persistent - when a man likes a woman, there is little that can hold him back. And Maya reciprocated these feelings.”

They never parted since then. He was 25 years old; she was 32. He was already a famous composer, she was a prima ballerina. At that time, you couldn’t even check in to the same hotel room without a marriage stamp in the passport. And the party leadership told Plisetskaya quite openly: “If you get married, our attitude will be more loyal.” So, the two people, who loved freedom and didn’t want any official relationships, registered their marriage in the fall of 1958. 

America and peonies

A few months after the beginning of their life together, Plisetskaya left on a long-awaited tour of America. The expectation was extremely nervous: the ballerina didn’t know if the Soviet leadership would allow her to go or not.  But parting was harder. 

 73 marks on the calendar - 73 days of separation, which Shchedrin crossed out every day, bringing Maya's return closer. 

Brilliant performances, receptions, acquaintances with foreign celebrities - nothing could distract Plisetskaya from her thoughts about Shchedrin. She called him at the first opportunity, and they talked for a long time. 

Finally, the tour was over, and he was picking her up at the airport. In her autobiography, I, Maya Plisetskaya, the ballerina wrote:

“In the excited, flushed crowd of people meeting me, I hungrily searched for Shchedrin’s dear face. We hadn’t seen each other for exactly seventy-three days. A whole eternity... There he was, standing with a gigantic bouquet of pale pink peonies. Peonies grown in the outskirts of Moscow are insanely fragrant. My head spun. Ever since that day, the astringent, intoxicating fragrance of peonies returns me to 1959.”

Later, that variety of peonies - pale pink, almost white - were called by the breeders in her honor “Maya Plisetskaya". 

"We’ve got a lucky ticket in life"

The two great people, who reached all possible heights and world recognition in their profession, walked through life, supporting and admiring each other. They always had something to overcome: torments of creativity, prohibitions of the management, obstacles of the regime. But they were two, they were together.  

The love of Maya Plisetskaya and Rodion Shchedrin was of the same highest standard as was their work. They complemented and helped each other not only in life, but also in work. 

There was beauty in her every movement, and he never tired of admiring her throughout all these years. In an interview, Rodion Konstantinovich shared:

“She is gifted by God. This drew me to the genre of ballet, of course. My ballets are inspired and dedicated to her.”

 Maya Mikhailovna never hid her love too:

“I’ve admired my husband all my life. He never disappointed me in anything. Maybe that's why our marriage has been going on for so long. Without him, life loses interest for me.”

“Combine our ashes together”

Maya Plisetskaya passed away in 2015, in Munich, suddenly and rapidly. The night before, they both went to a football match, and now, suddenly - her heart! Doctors did their best, but she died in two days, she was almost 90 years old.

Rodion Konstantinovich lives in Munich now, he fondly keeps the memory of his brilliant, incomparable Maya Mikhailovna, who has remained his only Muse. 

They even made one will for the two of them:

“This is the last will and testament. Burn our bodies after death, and when the sad hour of the death of the one of us who has lived longer comes, or in the case of our simultaneous death, combine our ashes together and scatter over Russia.”