Boris Romanov and
the Russian romantic theatre
Prokofiev at work
Romanov at work
The Ballet: Scenario and Music
The Ballet: Performances
10 Document from The Serge Prokofiev Archive.
11 Prokofiev’s diary: 28 June 1924.
12 Letter to Romanov, 28 August 1922, unpublished, The Serge Prokofiev Archive.
Soon after his meeting with Romanov, Prokofiev left Paris for his usual summer break, this year in St.Gilles-sur-Vie, in the French Vendée region on the Atlantic coast. The year 1924 had been fairly good. His wife Lina had given birth to a son, Sviatoslav, in February; in March he had performed his Fifth Piano Sonata for the first time; and May had seen the world premières of his Second Piano Concerto (in its revised form) and of the Incantation Seven they are Seven. These, however, were old works from his days in Russia, with the exception of the Fifth Sonata. Prokofiev therefore welcomed Romanov’s commission which, according to his Diary, had come as a surprise. “To all appearances the one among all my projects that will most likely materialise is the most unexpected: the ballet for Romanov.” (10 June 1924). After completing the Romanov ballet, he had planned to compose his Second Symphony, a very recent commission from the conductor and publisher Serge Koussevitzky.
No sooner had the family arrived in St. Gilles on 21 June, Prokofiev settled into a working routine: “We rise at 7:00 (or rather we start moving at 7:00), have coffee at 8:00 and at 8:30 I set to work at the ballet for Romanov; I finally decided to write it for five instruments as a ballet and at the same time as a concert Quintet”.(11) From 28 June to 15 August 1924, Prokofiev’s Diary entries follow his daily involvement with Trapèze, providing a vivid picture of the composer at work.
28 June: “I composed the first theme before I left Paris, as I was walking in the street, and I notated it down under a street lamp. Now I have developed it.”
14 July: “I decided to leave out temporarily part 6, as I am lacking ideas for it; instead I shall polish up the first 5. In any case this will take me at least as long as it took me to compose them.”
Having completed the piano score on 25 July, Prokofiev starts orchestrating the following day.
26 July: “I started work on the full score. A sheer delight, since I had already thought everything through. I experience the same pleasure as a child putting colour to his drawing. I completed four pages.”
His daily routine was now twofold, orchestrating in the morning and writing a piano reduction in the afternoon. Prokofiev intensely disliked piano reductions as they often presented technical problems while removing one of the most essential elements of his music, instrumental colouring and combinations. On 28 July, he complains: “Today I orchestrated a lot and at once started the piano reduction. Whereas the former was absorbing, the latter often caused me problems: a piano reduction inevitably kills the idea of the full score.” A difficulty soon arose regarding the third movement. “I did not orchestrate today, and instead spent my time transcribing. The third part is impossible to transcribe. It’s so hard that I need to write another variant of the movement, a more manageable one.” Which he did as he explains to Romanov: “You will receive two piano reductions: a difficult one that contains practically the whole music, and a simplified version to allow the pianist to keep up with the tempo.”(12)
Then on 14 August “Everything is finished!” he writes in his Diary. The following day he remembers having told people in Paris that the music would be complete by 15 August, and on that very day, punctilious as ever, he sends the score to the copyist, thus signalling that the work had reached its final form. Unlike his previous ballets Ala and Lolly and Chout (both composed under Diaghilev’s vigilant scrutiny) the new chamber ballet – still without a name – had been entirely written from a sketchy synopsis and without the choreographer’s involvement. Clearly Prokofiev’s early decision that this work would have an independent life as a concert piece, influenced his attitude towards the ballet, which in turn would have serious implications many months later when Romanov finally set to work. Next Back