from his father's diaries.
Serge Prokofiev left Petrograd for America in 1918 on the last Trans Siberian express. The journey to Vladivostok across Siberia took eighteen days. After a “stop” of a few months in Japan, he finally reached San Francisco on 21 August 1918.
He spent two years in the USA. In financial straits, he gave concerts at times under unfavourable conditions and continued to compose works including Old Grandmother’s Tales and the opera Love for Three Oranges which he had not managed to see produced in Chicago – in spite of an existing contract. Here Prokofiev began to write a new opera based on Briusov’s Fiery Angel. Coming up against the Americans’ extremely cool reception to his music and a lack of understanding of it, Prokofiev turned his attention to Europe. He was also encouraged to do so by letters from friends in London and Paris (Albert Coates and Mikhail Larionov), who persuaded him of the possibility of productions of Three Oranges at Covent Garden and of Chout in London and Paris by the Diaghilev ballet company. Larionov informed him that he had already done scenery and costumes for the ballet. The pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch, arriving from London, said that people there were very interested in Prokofiev, and that his agent would help in arranging concerts. In the end he was swayed by Arthur Rubinstein who considered that in Paris and London artistic life was in full swing. There, he said, were other people with other opinions – he had to go to Europe!
The fact that his mother Maria Grigorievna, whom he loved dearly, was due to arrive in Marseilles, was an important factor in his coming to Europe and, in particular, France. She had fled Russia by way of Novorossisk and Prokofiev had finally learned that she was in a refugee camp on the Prince Islands in Turkey, where she had spent four months in difficult conditions and had almost lost her sight.
Prokofiev made serious preparations for his journey: he prepared several programmes for recitals, including such works as Medtner’s Op. 8 Skazka, which he had already performed, Miaskovsky’s difficult Second Sonata and his own Second Sonata, as well as his Sarcasms. He noted out that, while one had to play familiar works in America, Paris required new ones.
He tried to persuade Lina Codina, with whom he was in love, to accompany him or to come to Paris later. Difficulties with visas forced him to change the sailing date more than once, but Prokofiev finally left New York for France on 27 April, a grey, rainy day. Life on board was monotonous and to entertain the passengers a chess tournament was arranged. Prokofiev beat everyone and became champion. What also occupied the champion’s thoughts was that when he arrived in Paris he would have completed his round-the-world tour, begun two-and-a-half years earlier, and that in Paris he would meet again the great Diaghilev.
Diaghilev met him in fine style: “Seriozha Prokofiev has arrived!” he exclaimed and they embraced. There was also a warm greeting from Stravinsky, who declared that Prokofiev was the only Russian composer whose music he liked. Prokofiev felt comfortable with Diaghilev and Stravinsky “although that didn’t prevent [me] from having very different views from them and becoming absolutely furious when they would only acknowledge the most obviously nationalistic music and repudiated Scriabin as a composer, and opera as a form”.
On the evening of 8 May Prokofiev and Stravinsky attended the Paris opening night of the Ballets Russes – Les Femmes de bonne humeur to music by Scarlatti, “presented with great talent by Massine”. At a private musical soirťe Stravinsky introduced Prokofiev to Maurice Ravel who was embarrassed when Prokofiev addressed him as “maÓtre”, and exclaimed “Oh no, no! Let’s say colleague”.
Prokofiev’s meetings with Stravinsky in 1920, in spite of a certain amount of unavoidable mutual criticism, were very friendly. They saw a lot of each other, showed each other their compositions, playing them to each other and exchanging scores. On May 17 Prokofiev played Stravinsky all his twenty Visions fugitives, five of which Stravinsky liked very much. Prokofiev wrote on this: “It’s difficult guessing what he likes”. In turn Stravinsky played his “Rag-time”. Prokofiev found it interesting but was afraid that Americans would not understand it. Prokofiev was interested in the orchestration of the ballet that Stravinsky had made from The Nightingale and on 22 May enjoyed hearing Pribaoutki and Stravinsky’s new songs. Reaction: “I didn’t expect that it would be so good, very Russian!”
Stravinsky even asked Prokofiev to proof-read the overture to his new ballet Pulcinella. Prokofiev, “picking up” two mistakes, remarked: “The ballet is written in the old style. This is an amazing coincidence: three years ago I wrote a ‘Classical’ Symphony and Stravinsky, who knew nothing about this, has written a classical ballet”. (What would he have thought of Stravinsky’s neo-classical period!)
After the premiŤre of Pulcinella, Prokofiev wrote the following comment: “Polished in the extreme, it still gave me great pleasure”. Next