Boris Romanov and
the Russian romantic theatre
Prokofiev at work
Romanov at work
The Ballet: Scenario and Music
The Ballet: Performances
13 Kelsey, 47.
14 Letter to Prokofiev, 16 October 1924, unpublished, The Serge Prokofiev Archive.
15 Prokofiev’s Diary reveals that both were composed and orchestrated in July 1925, therefore one year after he had composed the quintet, which would explain the stylistic difference between these two movements and the original six.
16 Letter to Romanov, 7 August 1925, unpublished, The Serge Prokofiev Archive.
17 Letter to Prokofiev, 2 September 1925, unpublished, The Serge Prokofiev Archive.
Meanwhile, Romanov was struggling to save his ballet company which was close to collapse after a disastrous tour in London, followed by an even more ruinous one in Spain in June, just after he and Prokofiev had agreed on the new ballet. After the Spanish debacle Gutchoff decided to cut the company down from fifty to thirty.(13) Braunsweg left the company, leaving most of the responsibilities with Krüger and Romanov. In October 1924 Romanov wrote to Prokofiev that he is sending him some payment for the ballet, but not the full amount as he has had to “invest a ridiculous amount of energy to save the Theatre. […] True, I had to perform for two months in small German towns, but thanks to this, I supported the whole troop, who in turn supported me in this difficult financial period.”(14) But Prokofiev, showing little concern about payment, wrote repeatedly wanting to know when and how often the work would be performed. Because of his numerous and lengthy touring engagements, he feared having to miss the première. In November, Romanov tells him that rehearsals cannot start before March 1925 since they have to go on touring until mid February in order to survive. Soon after, to add to his financial problems, his wife and lead ballerina, Elena Smirnova, fell dangerously ill, remaining between life and death after a major operation. Nevertheless, in February 1925 Romanov began working at the choreography. Progress was slow; and Romanov’s ideas must have continued to evolve since in July 1925, he asked for an Overture and soon after for a new section entitled Matelote.(15) Romanov was also working at the Schubert Waltzes which he wished to pair with the quintet ballet. Prokofiev had already transcribed the original work for two pianos, as Romanov, perhaps inspired by Stravinsky’s 1923 ballet Les Noces, wanted to use on-stage pianos as part of the décor. But in August 1925 he asked Prokofiev to orchestrate them, arguing that the stages of German provincial theatres would be too small to accommodate two pianos on-stage. Prokofiev declined: “I advise you all the same to do the waltzes with two grand pianos and, if the stage is too small, to move the pianos underneath the stage with the orchestra. After all this was your initial plan. I promise you they will sound far more piquant with the two pianos than with a small orchestra.”(16)
In truth, already busy with a new work for Diaghilev, Le Pas d’Acier, Prokofiev had no more time to respond to Romanov’s constant requests. He was however anxious to find an appropriate title for what he still called “the quintet ballet”. “Surely not Acrobats” he exclaims, rejecting the title suggested by the choreographer. But Romanov reassured him: “The Acrobats will now be called Trapèze. I think you’ll agree to this title because you’ve mentioned it previously.”(17) In the same letter Romanov informs Prokofiev that the company had performed the Schubert Waltzes to great applause in Evian (France) “as a sort of dress rehearsal”, and that he would start rehearsing Trapèze the next day. Their correspondence increases during September, when Romanov is rehearsing the ballets. But as from mid October 1925, no more mention of Trapèze is to be found, not even that of its expected première. Next Back