…..'A sense of humour lends you poise, it gives you balance and it helps you to bend without breaking'…..

(HH Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda)

Menory Lane - historical meanderings

Picking up the tale of a small country church...

The wooden crosses (okay here's the picture again!), did indeed prove to be of Russian Orthodox style.

What is interesting is that the headstone you can see most prominently in the centre of this photograph is also for one of these interred.

Who is it?

Maria Korchinska, aka Countess Benkendorff.


For the following, my thanks to the writings in the booklet provided at the Church of
St Peter Claydon, Wikimedia and Google Images.

Maria Korchinska (b. Moscow 1895, d. London 1979), was a distinguished 20th-century Russian harpist
Korchinska entered the Moscow Conservatoire in 1903 to study both piano and harp. On the advice of her father, she decided in 1907 to concentrate solely on the harp. Her father believed that Russia was entering a time of great change and that given the relatively high number of pianists in Russia it would be easier for his daughter to earn a living through the harp. In 1911 Maria Korchinska was awarded the Moscow Conservatoire Gold Medal, the first time it was ever given to a harpist.
In 1919 she became the Professor of Harp at the Moscow Conservatoire and also the Principal Harpist at the Bolshoi Orchestra. Maria Korchinska was a founder member of the Persimfans "Orchestra without a conductor". She was one of the many musicians who played at Vladimir Lenin's funeral.
In 1922 Maria Korchinska married Count Constantine Benckendorff DSO. Her daughter Nathalie was born in Moscow in September 1923. Conditions were extremely difficult during the Civil War in Russia for the family. For example, Maria Korchinska had to carry her own father's body to his funeral. It is believed that one of her two Lyon-Healey harps was in fact purchased for a bag of salt. In 1924 she left with her family for England where her son Alexander was born in 1926.
In England, she had a great career as a performer and an advocate for the harp.
Arnold Bax dedicated his 1927 Fantasy Sonata for Harp and Viola to Maria Korchinska. She was the first harpist to play at the Glyndebourne Festival, in the 1930s and performed in the premieres of several Benjamin Britten works including the Festival of Carols. During World War II she travelled ceaselessly throughout the country to play. In her 1969 BBC interview "Studio Portrait" she said:
"I played .... underground in caves near Lewes, where a piano could not survive the damp. I played in cathedrals and clubs and YMCAs and several times in secret camps and aerodromes, without having the faintest idea of where I was. My life was spent in the black-out trying to find my way. I was lucky I never missed one engagement in spite of all the difficulties in transporting the harp. Several times I was given up, but arrived with my instrument at the last moment, very hot and scared because of the bombing, but able to play."
Maria Korchinska founded the UK Harp Association and was an active member of the Wigmore Ensemble. In 1960 she set up Harp Week (subsequently known as the World Harp Congress) in Holland with Phia Berghout, and was the first British judge in the Israeli International Harp Competition.
Favourite pieces included the Ceremony of Carols (Britten) and Dances Sacre (Debussy). Her 1953 portrait, by Norman Parkinson, is in the archive of the National Portrait Gallery. Celebrated pupils include Karen Vaughan, currently Director of Harp at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Maria Korchinska practised three hours a day until her death in 1979.
What this Wiki article did not mention but was confirmed in the booklet, was that the family settled at the Lime Kiln in Claydon!  It quite makes sense, then, that there was a strong bond between Maria and Benjamin Britten, both being Suffolk-based.

There you are folks.  A little historical romance, adventure, intrigue and scandal!  Hope you enjoyed these insights as much as I did looking deeper at them myself.


  1. Odd you posting that today as I just went round a cemetery which had crosses like that in

  2. What an extraordinary woman. Reading about her life is fascinating. Thank you for researching and sharing this with us.

  3. Interesting woman! I have never heard of her, but I am not an harpist specialist either !

  4. Hari OM
    Bill - ah you see, a confluence...

    SQ - welcome! it was just too fascinating to pass up!

    Gattina - thanks for dropping by. I have a strong musical background and interest - but this was not a name I knew either!


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