The house in which  Romeo

Sviatoslav PROKOFIEV


First letter

Polenovo, 13 July 1935

Dear Ptashka,


Please forgive me for not having written for so long: here the days are so like one another, that you don’t notice the passage of time. I received your telegram and letters of 29 June and 7 July […]. Of course Polenovo is a marvellous spot. They have cleaned the bath-house, furnished anew and glassed-in the verandah. Conditions are ideal for work: absolute peace and quiet, and if you want company, there are crowds of people within easy walking distance. However there is a “but”, and one that you will feel more keenly than I do. First, the food isn’t as good as I had expected, i.e. it just isn’t like they used to feed us in the past, though I don’t know why, as there is no shortage of “first-class produce” to feed this mob. In the morning they serve ersatz coffee, butter, two eggs or an omelette, then ham or sausage or fish. For lunch, soup, meat and something extra – compote or berries. The soup and meat are sometimes good, sometimes so-so. In the “afternoon” [in English in the original] there is tea and a roll – poor quality, but many people make strawberry jam and buy honey. In the evening a small supper – a piece of pie and a glass of milk, sometimes fish. Just like everywhere else in Russia, little salad or vegetables. However they sell a lot of wild strawberries, of which I eat several glasses a day, and am brought excellent milk by the litre from the village. Next, the female children’s superintendent, who was so lauded, isn’t here this year; there are lots of children, but without any overall supervision.

I spoke to the Polenovs: as suggested in our previous conversations the grandmother is prepared to take care of our sons and look after them, to take them for walks and work at their Russian. So, when we are away, we can hand them over to her.

I want to spend September here, or at any rate, the first half of it. Polenov’s grandmother can take them for October, if we can’t find anything better. [Some families came here with their own nurses, the majority of them women of modest origin – Author’s note.] There are two accompanists staying here and they seem anxious to work with you in August. Nobody will hear you, the bath-house is out of the way, and there are hardly any passers-by – only every so often, peasants from the neighbouring village.

This is how I spend my time: I get up at 7.30, put on my trunks and go swimming in the Oka: there are different places for the men and women; on the men’s raft there is a whole crowd of naked men of different ages, soaping themselves. Whenever I dive, it’s strange to find that it’s not salt water. At 9 o’clock there is tea, then I play tennis or volley-ball, and at 10 or 10.30 I work till lunch which is at 1.30. After lunch I read indoors, or work and sleep: this is the “dead hour” when the whole of Polenovo is asleep. There is tea at 4.30, after which I again play tennis or volley-ball, or go for a walk, and then I work for an hour and a half. Supper is at 7.30. In the evening I sometimes play chess or complete what was not finished during the day. Sometimes people get together in someone’s house or go for a walk in a group and light a bonfire, or go boating. (I haven’t been.) We arranged a game of catch in the field but our ballet people are such fast runners that my legs ached for a couple of days after. Among the celebrities and friends are Mutnykh, Malinovskaia, Sobinov’s widow and daughter, Messerer and his wife (a film actress), Shostakovich, the bass Reizen, the tenor Zhadan, the soprano Maksakova, Nebolsin, Darsky etc.

My work is going very well and I think I shall soon finish the second act; what’s more, the third and fourth acts are in reasonable order as well. I have written the March for the Physiculture Parade, as well as a cycle of pieces for children [Music for Children, Op.65 – Ed.]. I received a letter from Valm [Marcel de Valmalète, Prokofiev’s agent – Ed.] about Morocco (1)  and am sending a telegram of acceptance, but you must confirm this with him by phone. I have a written agreement from Soëtens that two thirds of the fee is mine. I have also replied to Haensel by telegram.

I shall write to the tax inspector myself; I have the address, but give me the letter’s reference. The bill from the garage ought to be from October 1934; I didn’t use the car on my last visit. Bring a few Turkish towels and three or four tennis balls. Bring one of the Gottlieb shirts. Landing by plane in Amsterdam sounds very interesting – it’s a pity the children didn’t see you getting out of a plane!

I have just been discussing with Malinovskaia our doubts about bringing the children. She was very enthusiastic about the Polenovs, and was all for bringing them; she said that there is a chance that the children’s superintendent will be here. I hug and kiss you. Please kiss Mémé and the children for me; I was touched by Sviatoslav’s long letter, I shall be writing in a day or two […].   NEXT

Your S.

(1) This concerns arrangements for the tour of North Africa Prokofiev would undertake with Soëtens in the Winter of 1935-36.