A private publication from the Serge Prokofiev Estate, this amazing document (in Russian) spans 26 years of Prokofiev’s daily life (1907 – 1933), opening up the composer’s experiences and private thoughts during some of the most critical years of his life. Prokofiev is one of the twentieth-century composers who has most suffered from factual inaccuracy in Western literature. The Diary, which often includes daily entries, will become an invaluable source of reliable information for future research and publications. It also makes fascinating and entertaining reading!
Introduced by Sviatoslav Prokofiev
It is well know that my father was an indefatigable writer who kept a considerable correspondence with numerous personalities of his times. The author of a remarkable autobiography, he also wrote some short stories during his travels in his early years. Yet another side of his genius has remained in the shadow, that of an attentive, objective and critical writer with a good sense of humour, who fixed vividly his daily life, time and contemporaries in a diary that covers a great many years (1907-1933). This is of special interest since Prokofiev’s life spans a period particularly rich in political and cultural events throughout the whole world.
The Diary has its own literary style – Prokofiev often uses dialogue. The first pages still lack maturity (he was then only 16), with commentaries at times disdainful and ironic. But quite soon he develops a "Prokofievian" style which remains so to the last page.
A great amateur of nature he describes the landscapes and places he visits. He provides the exact characteristics of the people he meets, sometimes with merciless criticism but also with compliments when the person is worthy of it. A significant part of the Diary is given to Prokofiev’s thoughts as musician and composer. These relate to his own works in the course of their composition, the analysis of their performance by various musicians, as well as the critical analysis of other composers’ works. The description of the 1914 World Chess Tournament in St. Petersburg as well as the portrayal of the players (Aliokhin, Capablanca, Lasker and others) are of real interest. He was a competent player and his game with Raoul Capablanca was the beginning of their friendship. Another of Prokofiev’s interests was philosophy. He spent much time discussing the works of Schopenhauer or Kant with his friend Max Schmidthoff. Later, in the USA in 1918, he became interested in Christian Science as a source of advice in self-analysis and self-control, qualities so necessary for an artist. This is often mentioned during the period he spent in the West (1918-1933). The Diary also provides an answer to the question which puzzles so many biographers and amateurs – why did he return to the USSR in 1936, in so dangerous and inauspicious times?
On the whole Prokofiev kept up his Diary regularly. When travelling, he would jot down notes in his stenographic style without vowels, not as a desire to keep his thoughts secret but as a time-saving device. Later he would reconstitute his whereabouts in detail. Some sections are written with great detail and precision while others are more succinct. Nevertheless, Prokofiev’s Diary is far from being just a chronology of facts and dates and it reads as a fascinating novel.
The Diary is divided into two parts:
1. 1907 - 1918 – youth, studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, journey to the USA through Siberia and Japan.
2. 1918 - 1933 – first steps in the West, first concerts in the USA and Europe, work with Diaghilev in Paris, family and life in France.
Unfortunately the Diary practically comes to an end after 1933 – a few pages with short notes are not enough to reconstruct events. After 1936 Prokofiev gave it up entirely. But what is written represents an invaluable document that catches a whole epoch in great detail. It shows Prokofiev as an incredibly hard-working, intelligent and lucid man, at times acerbic and shy, but always reasonable and fair. The Diary is yet another work by Prokofiev and as such, it would deserve an opus number in his catalogue.
This publication offers an invaluable tool for research and can be further enriched with commentaries and translation, which in turn would give rise to numerous publications. The Serge Prokofiev Diary is a true witness of its author’s times and will be of interest as much to Prokofiev’s fans as to musicologists, biographers and historians.
In the original Russian, it comes as a three-volume publication. The two volumes of text amount to 1500 pages and include a listing of people mentioned in the text. The third volume, a photograph album, includes some hitherto unpublished pictures from the private collection of the composer’s family.