Lina Prokofiev(part 3)


Carnegie Hall cover

Serge and Lina. Staten Island, 1919
Lina and Serge in Staten Island, 1919.

Lina and Serge

“What I have to say is something that I have lived through. It’s like talking about my life because I was very young when I met him and from the very beginning he spoke to me about his work, about himself, about his mother. Later on, when we got married his mother used to tell me about his childhood. I also met his French governess – she was not really a governess but I’ll speak in detail about that later on. And so what I say cannot help being authentic because one cannot invent such things. And it’s... well it’s authentic, it’s not hearsay.
     The first time I heard Sergei Sergeevich was at the end of 1918 when he was playing his First Piano Concerto under the baton of Altschuler at Carnegie Hall in New York. I grew up in a family of musicians. I studied singing, heard a lot of music, went to concerts and could not pass by such an event. But at that time it was not an event, on the contrary they called him the decadent Bolshevik or God knows what! Some people in the musical world spoke of him as a futurist, a decadent who had just arrived from this puzzling Russia; others as an interesting musician; the third as a phenomenal virtuoso and so forth. Prokofiev’s playing and the originality of his music made a deep impression on me. His outward appearance was unusual. He was unusually thin. One could think that he would break in half when he bowed. His movements were very abrupt, almost automatic. Soon after this concert, there was another concert given by him, after which I was introduced to him. Some friends of mine phoned me and they said they wanted to invite me to a concert. ‘A concert’ I said, ‘who’s giving it?’ They mentioned Prokofiev and I said: ‘Oh, I’ve heard him and I will go with pleasure to the concert.’ I think it was the Aeolian Hall. So we went to the concert and they said: ‘Well, we’re going now to see the artist and you come along.’ I said ‘No, I’ll wait until you come out.’ But they stayed so long, I thought I had missed them. So I went towards the artist’s door and I just peeped in. At that moment, I saw they were talking to him and he looked up. He caught my eyes and he smiled. And he said something to them and they saw me and I thought it would be ridiculous for me to walk back. And then they saw that he was... fascinated by my appearance, as I was by his music. And I was terribly shy!”

     Lina’s friends were the Brazilian singer Vera Janacopoulos and her Russian husband, Alexei Staal. The couple, who had invited Prokofiev to stay with them over the following weekend, invited her, Lina recalls, to join them on the Sunday:

     “They had rented a house in Staten Island. She was a Brazilian singer, called Janacopoulos. She had great success at the time and her husband was Russian, and a very well known man in Russia. He was a member of the Duma, you see. So, I’ve never mentioned his name before. I remember there was a creek in Staten Island or a river there. There were flat boats and we went out on those boats. And he [Prokofiev] was so nasty to me! I was studying some romance with my mother, I think it was by Rubinstein, who was still very much in vogue. I was studying the song and I knew every word by heart; but he started to argue: ‘You’re not saying it right... It should be so and so’. We argued and he made me so furious I said: ‘You are simply very badly mannered’. So when they invited me the next Sunday and said: ‘Prokofiev will be there, he’d like very much to see you’, I said, ‘That one? He’s badly brought up, he’s insolent, I don’t want to see him’. But this time he was very nice to me. And he offered to take a walk, and we walked for miles and miles.”

     As mentioned before, Lina relied on photos to refresh her memory about distant events. This photo was taken during one of their many visits to Staten Island.

     “Another time we gathered leaves, and made a bonfire and he stood at the back with the rake. There was a lot of smoke going up; it made like a cloud, and I stood like that, and he stood like this... like the knight in the Valkyrie who saved me from the funeral pyre.”

     Lina commented surprisingly often on Prokofiev’s lack of social grace at the time of their courtship, and one event in particular remained vivid in her memory:

     “Once we went out to the theatre and afterwards, he took me to the subway. So I said: ‘Where are you taking me?’, and he replied, ‘You take the subway, don’t you?’ So I said: ‘Do you know what time it is? My mother would have a stroke if she knew! And besides it’s very bad mannered you know. I can’t imagine what kind of women you’ve been going out with.’ ‘OK, I’ll look for a taxi then.’ He saw a taxi. I was already going down the subway steps, I was so furious. He came back, dragged me into the taxi, he embraced me, and said: ‘Yes I’m such a fool!’”

     With time, though, Lina had become accustomed to Prokofiev’s abrupt ways and, when Harvey Sachs asked her if she had been hurt by his sarcasm at their first visit in Staten Island, she declared:

     “That was his usual way with women, when he wanted to chat them up. He didn’t know how to treat women, you know. He never flirted, had no time, couldn’t be bothered. It’s a very funny thing, but it was so!”

     As the relationship evolved, Prokofiev invited Lina to lunch, dinner and to all sorts of public venues, including a fashionable Bohemian club to which he belonged, particularly popular among Russians. Lina finally introduced him to her parents who, while they enjoyed his company, were wary of his attentions towards her.

     “When my mother saw that he liked me, she said, ‘Don’t take him seriously. Musicians, you know, you mustn’t take them seriously. I know them too well!’ And my father said, ‘You must make him understand that you are brought up as a young girl should be brought up’.”   Next   Previous

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