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Prokofiev's early Diaries now available in English


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#1 bart

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Posted 27 June 2008 - 07:46 PM

The first 2 volumes of Sergei Prokofiev's Diaries have been published in English translation and are now available on Amazon (click above). Volume One covers 1907-1914; Volume Two covers 1915-1923.

Although Prokofiev had not yet composed his major ballet scores, the third volume (up to 1936) is already in preparation by translator and annotator, Anthony Phillips.

G.S. Smith, reviewing these volumes in the Times Literary Supplement, gives a bit of their history:

Deposited by the author in the United States after he was surprised to get them back during his first return visit to Russia in 1927, they ere sequestered after his death by the Soviet government and consigned to what was meant to be an impenetrable archive. Developments after 1991 facilitated access to the diaries by the composer's family by his first marriage, and then came the formidable chore of producing a printable text from the manuscript, which, after 1914, the composer habitually coded by deleting vowels. This labour was accomplished by Prokofiev's elder son Svyatoslav with the help of his son Serge and the latter's wife, Irina.

[ ... ] Prokofiev's diaries offer carefully wrought, polished narrative prose, put together with a sense of pitch and timing reminiscent of his best music. And on the whole they bustle along with the same cocky gait. ... Pruning would have damaged the integrity of what the author left. Anthony Phillips rises to all the demands made by Prokofiev's lucid but delicately nuanced Russian. His translation is accurate almost without a lapse, his tone is consistently faithful to the original, and from time to time he pulls out something truly brilliant.



#2 bart

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Posted 28 June 2008 - 07:56 AM

On another thread, canbelto has linked to a YouTube documentary about Diaghilev.
http://ballettalk.in...p...c=27549&hl=

There you'll find Balanchine talking about Prokofiev's famously negative reaction to the choreography and staging of Prodigal Son. The composer, Balanchine said, had wanted something very traditional -- very "old style opera, like Rigoletto" -- and detested what Balanchine, Roualt, and Diaghilev had made of it. Diaghilev told Prokofiev that he knew nothing and should shut up or leave. (See Part 2 of 7.)

#3 dirac

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Posted 29 June 2008 - 02:22 PM

Thanks for posting this, bart. Tell us what you think if you dip into them.

#4 Davidsbündlertänze

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Posted 29 June 2008 - 03:38 PM

On a related note: The "unpleasant episode" over money between Balanchine and Prokofiev (p.112, Taper's Balanchine) is also mentioned in David Nice's Prokofiev: from Russia to the West. Prokofiev denied that the incident happened, and Nice implies that Balanchine was exaggerrating (or possibly made it all up? I have a hard time believing Balanchine would do that.) I returned the book to the library (so I can't quote it exactly), but that's what I remember.

Needless to say, Prokofiev comes off as a real jerkface in Taper's book. I still love his music, though.

#5 Quiggin

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Posted 08 July 2008 - 12:54 AM

The "unpleasant episode" over money between Balanchine and Prokofiev (p.112, Taper's Balanchine) is also mentioned in David Nice's Prokofiev: from Russia to the West. Prokofiev denied that the incident happened


I've been reading bits of the delightful Diaries and, yes, Prokofiev was a bit of a pill regarding "Prodigal Son" choreography. The diary entries of those dates have yet to be published but "Prokofiev's Ballet's for Diaghilev" by Stephen Press gives a fair account of the difficulties of producing PS.

Something like this was happening: Balanchine was choreographing two ballets at once; Prokofiev had given B. six pages of music that he didn't know what to do with--until he finally filled it with crawling and the all the business with the staff; and Diaghilev was being distracted by the arrival of Igor Markevich on the scene.

However, Prokofiev did write the great score and did conduct the music. Stravinsky said dryly to Prokofiev, regarding P's reservations about the choreography, something to the effect that perhaps he should avoid bible stories in the future. And "in the future" Stravinsky seems to have cooled on his friendship with Prokofiev and says this about him "I do no wish to criticize Prokofiev, and should be silent if I can say nothing good about him...I used to think that his depths were really engaged in playing chess..." (Memories & Commentaries). Balanchine who could be a bit cutting himself (in a particularly Georgian way according to Danilova) follows Stravinsky's lead on this.

Prokofiev, on the other hand, is so generous to Stravinsky (though not uncritically--his comments always have some bite) and to Diaghilev. "Stravinsky and I had adjoining rooms," P says about a trip to Milan in 1915, "so we unlocked the communicating door and had long conversations in the mornings. When he heard my Second Piano Concerto, Toccata and Second Sonata, Stravinsky was seized by the wildest enthusiasm declaring I was a real Russian composer, the only one to be found in Russia. For my part I was genuinely enthralled by his new Priaboutki which he preformed in a highly amusing style."

The diaries themselves are written in an amusing and touching style; in them P's life has the texture of a Russian novel, like Turgenev or Tolstoy Boyhood. There are the stories of the demanding friendships of his youth with Boris and (dear) Max, his continual flirtations (in the twenties with Stella Adler), his travels (there are descriptions of getting up early to watch snow falling from the backs of trains while troops are moving off to war on the other tracks) and his immersion in his music. Slightly selfish; both worldly and inwardly.

"Dressed in my new suit, which gave me a uniquely elegant 'English' air, I went to Pavlovsk...The conductor was Glazunov, and my God how boring, how featureless and amateurishly contrived his Third Symphony appeared after the new things I had been listening to in London. Basically Diaghilev's tastes and the outrageous liberties Stravinsky had taken in his "Nightingale" had already left their mark on me, and I no longer had patience with the bland and predictable flavor of Glazunov's neatly logical progressions. By comparison with my earlier compositions I intend my ballet to be a great modernistic leap forward; I have begun to cool towards the lyricism of my Violin Concerto, which I loved so tenderly before my departure for London. What I need to do now is create a ballet that will make people gasp and stretch their eyes, and after that I can settle back to the benign peace of my Violin Concerto." 15 July 1914

#6 dirac

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Posted 08 July 2008 - 09:33 AM

Thanks, Quiggin.

#7 bart

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Posted 08 July 2008 - 06:22 PM

I'm really grateful, Quiggin, for your insights. I really enjoy artistic clashes and rivalries -- especially when geniuses are involved. But it's always good to get the story straight. Thanks.

The diaries themselves are written in an amusing and touching style; in them P's life has the texture of a Russian novel, like Turgenev or Tolstoy Boyhood.

The review(s) I've read have also mentioned the remarkable lliterary quality of these diaries. I wonder how many other major composers have also been accomplished stylists and story-tellers in words.

Basically Diaghilev's tastes and the outrageous liberties Stravinsky had taken in his "Nightingale" had already left their mark on me, and I no longer had patience with the bland and predictable flavor of Glazunov's neatly logical progressions. By comparison with my earlier compositions I intend my ballet to be a great modernistic leap forward; I have begun to cool towards the lyricism of my Violin Concerto, which I loved so tenderly before my departure for London. What I need to do now is create a ballet that will make people gasp and stretch their eyes, and after that I can settle back to the benign peace of my Violin Concerto." 15 July 1914

It's interesting to see how Prokofiev's contact with the Diaghilev operation stimulated and changed his view of the music he wanted to create. I was also struck by Prokofiev's elevated expectations for "my ballet." Perhaps he forgot that the choreographer might also think of the work as "my ballet."


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