The museum was established inside the apartment where Elena Fabianovna Gnesina (1874-1967) dwelt the last 18 years of her life. She was a legendary Russian figure who made a significant contribution to the culture and music education of Russia. Throughout 72 years she was the head of several educational institutions which were founded by the remarkable Gnesins family (five sisters and one brother called Mikhail) and later named in their honour.
The Gnesins always lived and worked at the same place. While the current building of the Gnesins’ Academy was under construction, a project to build a new apartment for the Gnesin sisters Elena and Olga was initiated. Everything was done to revive the atmosphere of their former house – the old family mansion in Sobachya Ploshchadka, one of the most charming places of old Moscow where the Gnesins dwelt almost 50 years.
After Elena Gnesina’s death the interiors of the apartment have remained unchanged and in 1969 the memorial museum was founded. It is one of the few museums today where the memorial exposition is exactly the same as when the owner lived there. The museum was opened for visitors in 1970.
Aram Khachaturian is opening the museum. 25.02.1970
It is the only memorial museum-apartment in Moscow situated inside the educational institution. Its founder Margarita Rittich was in charge of the museum for 25 years. Until 1990 the museum worked as a charity and all members of the staff were volunteers.
In her last years Elena Gnesina occupied two rooms: the study-room and the bedroom. Moreover, there is an anteroom with two exits and a front lobby with a stairway in the museum. The stairway with the 18th century stained glass window is a unique and vivid architectural element of the apartment.
Elena Gnessina's study-room
Elena Gnesina’s study room was used as a drawing room, classroom and director’s office. On the walls there are lots of photos some of which are autographed – since studying at the Moscow Conservatoire the Gnesins were surrounded by eminent people. On those photos one can see Vasily Safonov, a director of the Moscow Conservatoire and a teacher of Evgenia and Elena Gnesins; a pianist Ferruccio Busoni, Elena’s teacher for a year; a singer Pavel Khokhlov, the first performer of Yeugeny Onegin in the Bolshoi Theater; Modest Tchaikovsky, the composer’s brother; actresses Olga Knipper-Chekhova and Alexandra Yablochkina; a sculptor Sergei Konenkov and many others. Also there are photos of the great Russian composers Alexander Scriabin and Sergei Rachmaninoff who were Elena Gnesina’s fellow students at the Conservatoire. In addition, Scriabin’s children studied at the Gnesins’ school. Also Sergei Rachmaninoff autographed his photo of the 1916 with a small music dedication to Elena Gnesina on it. Some photos were taken throughout the later years when Elena Gnesina was visited by such famous people as the first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, a pianist Van Cliburn and Queen Elizabeth of Belgium.
There are two old grand pianos in the centre of the study-room one of them having been chosen together with Rachmaninoff. Among the paintings presented to Gnesina by their authors are a pencil portrait of Beethoven by Leonid Pasternak and a pastel painted by Sviatoslav Richter. Furthermore, a few little piano boxes are also among his presents.
Elena Gnessina's study-room
Genuine belongings in Elena Gnesina’s bedroom, such as an old cabinet and a trellis with small items on a dressing table, precisely reflect the lifestyle of the house and the late epoch. Unlike the study-room, there are only family pictures in the bedroom according to the old tradition. One can see on these photos the unique Gnesins’ family where there were seven talented musicians in the same generation.
Elena Gnessina's bedroom
Elena Gnesina’s large archive contains valuable historical materials from the period which covered a span of more than 80 years: letters (including those from outstanding people), concert programmes, pictures and documents of the Gnesins’ educational institutions. The memorial library consists of many rare editions of books and a collection of autographed printed music. Archival collections are many times larger than the exposition and are available for research upon request.
Temporary exhibitions are changed regularly helping visitors get acquainted with rich archives. The museum often displays visiting expositions and hosts guest collections as well as special events (more than 250 of them have already been held) dedicated to notable masters of art, conferences, concerts and demonstrations of archive records. Annually on February, 15, the founding day of the Gnesins’ schools (1895) is commemorated. The initiation ceremony for the first year students is held here annually in September.
Excursions are arranged in different forms containing elements of a quiz for children, involving mini-concerts, multimedia activities and guided walks to old Moscow’s music places of interest. Moreover, lectures on music history, history of the Gnesins’ institutions and music education in Moscow are delivered. Equally the museum staff is engaged in research activity.
The well-known writer Vladimir Soloukhin wrote in the museum’s guestbook: “An amazing source of art, music, light. It’s impossible to imagine neither the history of Moscow, nor our culture and even Russia without the Gnesins’ name”.