Prokofiev arrived in Munich on 25 March and was met at the station by Bashkirov who disappointed him. He had gone to Germany earlier than Prokofiev to look for a suitable residence and had been given a not inconsiderable sum of money. He had already spent some of the money, was living in a smart hotel and had not even started looking for a dacha.
“I had to take the matter into my own hands, buy a map and start to search the area properly. [...] We were sent to Ettal, a quiet little place near a large monastery with a valley hemmed in by mountains, four kilometres from Oberammergau, famous for the Passion Plays given every ten year – and as it happens, to be given this year – scenes from the Bible commemorating deliverance from the plague in the times of the Decameron. We arrived in Ettal at about seven one evening, when it was already dark and thick snow was falling (it’s at about 900 metres). The first thing that struck me in the villa they showed us, was a Futurist painting. And it was all perfect: a spacious chalet, elegantly furnished, comfortable, with excellent stoves, a library, a portrait of Schopenhauer and astronomical charts. We were overjoyed when it was rented to us for a year for 40,000 marks (more or less what we had in mind when we were in New York). The owner [Frau] Ripert, German, married to a Frenchman and her co-owner brother, the painter of the picture, turned out to be extremely sophisticated people. In short, what we’d found was better than anything we could have imagined.”
All this combined with the local prices in relation to the money earned in America, comments Prokofiev, “will allow us to live here for some time.”
Consequently on 1 April Prokofiev and Bashkirov moved into the Villa Christophorus, followed shortly by Maria Grigorievna. They were all pleased that it was so quiet and spacious. The only thing missing was a piano and, in preparation for the London and Paris concerts, Prokofiev practised at a neighbouring shopkeeper’s. The concerts with Koussevitzky in Paris on 15 April and with Coates in London went very well. Contrary to expectation, the Third Piano Concerto was more successful in London than in Paris. The composer was called out numerous times and contrary to normal practice, Coates compelled him to play an encore.
It was already spring, which occurs late in this area, when Prokofiev returned to Ettal on 1 May and he happily recalled the opening lines of The Ugly Duckling “How marvellous it was in the country!” Amongst the mail which had piled up, were letters from Linette in Milan, where she was to make her debut in October. There was a possibility of her visiting Ettal in July, which delighted Prokofiev in advance as he found it dull when she was not there. The evening chess matches were invariably won by Prokofiev. For a change, they made up a competition for the best translation into Russian of complex and demanding sonnets by the French nineteenth-century poet Heredia. The judges were the “real poets” Konstantin Balmont and Igor Severianin. The translations were typewritten so their authors were unknown, and sent to the “Grand Jury”, which gave marks. The one who received the highest scores, won the competition. In the end Prokofiev won with a score of 58 – 49. He was exceedingly proud that he had won against a “born poet”. In his diary is the comment: “If I hadn’t been a composer, I would probably have been a writer or a poet. One thing is for sure – I write better verse than Tchaikovsky.”
Apart from such diversions, neither the trips to the neighbouring town of Murnau, home of Vera Miller, an old friend and admirer of Prokofiev’s, (she was translating into German some of his songs and Three Oranges) nor looking after his mother prevented Prokofiev from working six or seven hours almost every day on the piano score of Three Oranges, which Koussevitzky’s firm had promised to publish by July 1922. Much time went on making the piano reduction and as much again on corrections, because according to the composer “he did his proof-reading carefully and conscientiously”.
Having completed the corrections, there was the composition of the third and fourth acts of Fiery Angel, including the famous scene of Mephistopheles and Faust, which he composed “with great enjoyment”.
With the arrival of Linette on 7 August, things became livelier in the villa: “The three of us [Linette, Prokofiev and Bashkirov] went sightseeing, climbed mountains, saw the Oberammergau Passion play, eight hours long, but still very impressive.”
The Fiery Angel unexpectedly came to a halt because of lack of a libretto and a synopsis for the whole of the fifth act. In order to get away from The Fiery Angel, Prokofiev started the suite from the ballet Chout, which had already been roughed out in advance. “Now the endings have already been copied out and different fragments patched together. The suite is very long: twelve movements, lasting more than thirty minutes in all. But I wanted to use the best of the ballet, and if it is too long for the conductor, it doesn't have to be performed in its entirety.”
Composing did not prevent Prokofiev from reading a great deal. He writes: “Before September I was much taken with Andrei Bely’s First Meeting. I ordered the book and liked it very much, even if it seemed to be over convoluted. A month later I picked it up again and was aware of one beautiful thing after another. [...] First Meeting never left the table and quotations from it were everywhere. Even Linette knew the first page by heart. Within a month Bashkirov knew the whole poem by heart.”
In October when Prokofiev was once again in Berlin, he and Souvchinsky called on Andrei Bely. “Bely was touched but complained about Berlin (‘it’s as though I’m under asphalt’) and appeared to be delighted when I invited him to stay in Ettal. He promised to come in a couple of weeks’ time, but he didn’t keep to his word.”
As well as Souvchinsky, Prokofiev met Stravinsky and Diaghilev, with whom there were stormy arguments as to whether opera as a genre was finished. Prokofiev violently disagreed, while Stravinsky “attempted to convince us that he had discovered the true path in art and that other paths were false”. Present at these discussions was Maiakovsky, who mainly liked to argue with Diaghilev about modern artists – “Naturally Maiakovsky won’t recognise anyone except his Futurists; he’s only just come from Russia and announces that the world is lagging behind and that the centre and future is in the hands of the Moscow artists. But here he has a dangerous opponent in Diaghilev, as Diaghilev has been involved in modern art all his life and knows that recently it’s all happening abroad. It was curious to listen to their arguments, […] Maiakovsky is not sufficiently well equipped for arguing. Yet he was the real victor with his verse, which he read in typical Maiakovsky fashion, roughly but with expression, a cigarette between his lips. It sent Stravinsky, Souvchinsky and Diaghilev into raptures and I liked them as well. They all band together and in a chorus berate me for setting Balmont and Briusov. To tease Maiakovsky, I added quietly: I've set Akhmatova as well.”