Maria Grigorievna, Prokofiev's mother.
Prokofiev rented a spacious and “even elegant” villa at Mantes-sur-Seine, a pleasant spot on the river an hour from Paris and, having installed a piano, on 6 July he moved in with his mother. He found an excellent singing teacher - Felia Litvinne - for Linette, who remained in Paris and he also suggested that she translate Three Oranges into English for Covent Garden. Linette got on easily with Maria Grigorievna and even started to teach her English.
“Once I had moved to Mantes, I settled down to Chout; quite quickly and with pleasure I reworked the first four scenes, inserting two new dances in a major key (Diaghilev complained that the whole ballet was in the minor): the dance of the buffoons’ wives in the second scene (before the fugue) and the dance of the buffoons’ daughters in the fourth scene (before the bridegroom appears); then I did the first entr’acte and worked on the full score, which went along pleasantly though not very quickly; three to five pages a day. I played the piano for one to two hours a day, or more often in the evening, in preparation for my programme in America.”
In this context he has some interesting observations on his piano playing: “I tried to make my playing as accurate as possible, so that not a single note was left to chance”. It was on hearing Rakhmaninov play, that he had the idea of this sort of accuracy and in it he saw a means of perfecting his piano playing for the future, although he was aware of the dangers that his “playing might become dry”.
At the villa Maria Grigorievna recovered from her experiences and her sight improved so that, although the doctor shook his head, she walked around the garden unaided. Prokofiev usually went for long walks in the neighbourhood and was entranced by the beauty of the French countryside, made famous by the Impressionists.
On 29 July, invited to a dinner by the sister of his long-standing friend, Fatma Khanum Samoilenko, he met the Russian writer Alexei Tolstoi, whom he had known in Moscow; he also met Kuprin and Bunin, and greatly enjoyed playing to them. The writers were “enraptured”. Tolstoi even said: “The new composers struggle like flies against the window pane in their attempts to find new paths but you’ve simply thrown the window open – it’s new and yet accessible!” And the stern, not to say jaundiced Bunin, said to Prokofiev: “You’re a very pleasant fellow”.
August “passed in Mantes well and peacefully”. Linette settled at the villa for good, only going to Paris three times a week for singing lessons. Prokofiev mentions that that month he had orchestrated only 87 pages of Chout. The financial situation, unfortunately, was still pressing. He was therefore alarmed when Diaghilev withheld part of the fee due for Chout and went off to Venice. His season in London had ended in a quarrel with Beecham who had paid only a quarter of what Diaghilev should have received. Boris Samoilenko, “like a real gentleman”, offered a loan of 3,000 francs as a friendly gesture.
This peaceful and happy existence in Mantes “was only disturbed by the pebbles which were thrown up by the Russian tornado”. They managed to find out that the Prokofiev flat in Petrograd had been plundered and papers burned – everything had been destroyed apart from the manuscripts brought out by his mother and a suitcase left to Koussevitzky (and later transferred to Miaskovsky – “it’s in one piece and unharmed and in a safe place”). Balmont, Koussevitzky and N.P. Ruzsky had arrived from Russia, as well as the violinist Kokhansky, who had brought the score of the Concerto, excellently prepared by him and which he hoped to play in London.
There was an unexpected meeting in Paris with H. Johns, the temporary director of the Chicago Opera. He gave encouragement by saying that the question of the Three Oranges production was in “a satisfactory state”. This was reassuring as it seemed as though Three Oranges was dogged by a malicious fate. Beecham’s financial affairs “had crashed” and the Covent Garden production of the opera had “gone to the devil”, according to Prokofiev.Neither Prokofiev nor Linette wanted to leave the quiet and comfortable house at Mantes. “Summer was wonderful but then there were storms, although during the day it was fine and sunny and the trees wore their variegated, autumn finery.” They stayed at Mantes till 1 October, when it was time to “return to the hurly burly”. In all, Prokofiev was satisfied with the work on Chout: he had composed five more entr’actes, altered the fifth and sixth scenes, written a completely new final dance and scored 174 pages in all their complexity.
At the beginning of October, after moving back to Paris, the first thing to be done was an operation on Maria’s eyes. Her son was pleased that his departure for America had been postponed and on the day of the operation he was able to be at his mother’s side. This made his mother happy, too. After he had left for America, Linette stayed with her.
The liner Savoie was not very large but “elegant and comfortable”. However, the journey did not begin well – one of his two trunks was lost – it contained his dinner jacket, a suit and shoes, and, most important, Larionov’s sketches: a portrait of Prokofiev in different poses, a caricature on an imaginary performance of Chout, as performed by Prokofiev, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, Goncharova, Massine and Linette. Also lost, a pencil portrait of Prokofiev by Goncharova.
Nevertheless, arriving on 25 October in New York, which “on arrival from the sea is always beautiful”, and in spite of the lost trunk and the seven-day rough crossing (the barometer registered “storm”), he was in a good mood. While aboard, Prokofiev managed to make a piano reduction of Chout for Diaghilev and ahead lay the première of Three Oranges at the Chicago Opera. Back
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