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Prokofiev: On revolution, colleagues and the geisha


by Olin Chism 8 Apr 2008

The composer Sergei Prokofiev was a great diarist, but his writings were hidden away for decades by the Soviet government. The archives are open now, and his son and grandson have deciphered his coded entries. A British firm, Faber and Faber, is about to publish an English translation of a key volume devoted to the […]

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The composer Sergei Prokofiev was a great diarist, but his writings were hidden away for decades by the Soviet government. The archives are open now, and his son and grandson have deciphered his coded entries. A British firm, Faber and Faber, is about to publish an English translation of a key volume devoted to the eventful years 1915 to 1923, when Prokofiev witnessed the Bolshevik revolution and fled west.

The Independent, a British newspaper, has published excerpts on its web site. Judging by them, the diaries are going to be an interesting read, especially for music lovers. Prokofiev was in Leningrad during the revolution and witnessed some of the action. He was lucky to escape with his life.

He writes of encounters with other composers, including Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky and Ravel. He seems to have gotten along reasonably well with them, though he did like to get a rise out of Stravinsky with teasing comments.

Once, he writes, he said to the composer of The Rite of Spring, “How can you possibly presume to show me the way when I am nine years younger than you, and therefore nine years ahead of you! My path forward is the true one, and yours is the path of the past generation!” They almost came to blows, though later they were pals again.

The diaries are not all about world politics and music. In one amusing entry, Prokofiev describes going to a teahouse in Japan. A pretty geisha came and sat down on his lap. The composer was pleased — until he discovered that she was lifting a piece of his jewelry.

For more, go to The Independent’s web site.

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