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A Precious Species of Wood


Alexei Remizov


K. Petrov-Vodkin


K. Balmont


Serge Koussevitzky


Borislav Strulev and Sergei Dreznin


Prokofiev’s “Chess in Nines”


Performance by students of the Central Music School


Bilboard on Moscow street

The first autograph was signed by Boris Demchinsky on 9 March 1916, the last by Evsei Belousov on 8 March 1921. Over those five years, the Wood Book was filled with the autographs of the luminaries Prokofiev met on his creative journey. The 48 contributors, responding to the question “What do you think about the sun?”, include leading representatives from nearly all branches of the arts in the early 20th century: the writers and poets Alexei Remizov, Mikhail Prishvin, Konstantin Balmont, Vladimir Maiakovsky, David Burliuk, and Nadezhda Teffi; the musicians Igor Stravinsky, Nikolai Miaskovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Reinhold Glière, Fedor Shaliapin; the chess champions Alexander Alekhine and José-Raúl Capablanca; the painters Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, Alexander Yakovlev; and many others.

The autographs in the Wood Book reflect the singular brilliance of each of their authors. Some entries are striking for their content, others for their unexpected calligraphy or form. Though each is of its own particular interest, as a group they transform the Wood Book into a real treasure.

Since the composer’s passing, the Wood Book has been housed at the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Few scholars have consulted it, because their primary focus of attention has for obvious reasons either been Prokofiev’s rich correspondence or his musical manuscripts. Brief quotations have appeared now and then in print, but the Wood Book had never before been published in full. But the idea of issuing it as a self-standing volume persisted. It had to be done for the sake of the natural beauty and unique historical value of the original. Publishing a facsimile edition was also considered important for posterity and preservation.

History of the Publication of the Wood Book

And so, 87 years after the final entry, preparation of the Wood Book for publication began. We decided to issue a facsimile edition of 300 copies and a standard edition of 1700. Both versions contain as their essential, integral feature a transcription of the entries and their translation into four languages, together with an author index. The work was carried out with care and diligence by the staff of RGALI; the translations were done by invited translators.

To produce a facsimile edition was not an easy task. In the case of the Wood Book we desired, as mentioned, to underscore its historical significance and uniqueness. Thus we decided to present the publication in a special box and encasing, which would at once protect it while also giving it the kind of stylish look afforded a valued jewel. The artist Andrei Bisti conceived the box. The design is contemporary, ingeniously using elements of the Wood Book (its name, the question, and the sun) in the packaging to intrigue and prepare the reader for unexpected encounters.

The most complicated part of the work was done by the St Petersburg publisher “Vita Nova”, without which the project would not have succeeded. The publisher specialises in the printing of rare books and special editions of high quality, both in content and realisation. Vita Nova does not pursue high-volume sales; instead, the main thing — irrespective of the challenges — is a flawless product. In the case of the Wood Book the challenges were obvious and the problems to be solved considerable. But the difficulties were the magnet that drew Vita Nova to the Wood Book in the first place. The 2009 result bears witness to the firm’s excellence and enthusiasm.

Presentation of the Wood Book

Preparation of the Wood Book for publication took several months. Scanning the original, painstakingly retouching and refining the scanned images with an aim to publication within a year, resolving typesetting issues, fashioning the metal and wood cover, choosing the wood — the questions were interesting to settle, of course, but also taxing. At last the triumphant day came when an exemplar of the Wood Book, literally bound and printed by hand, was done.

For such a book simply to be distributed to stores or marketed on the internet did not seem appropriate. The very existence of the Wood Book made it valuable, and now, given the opportunity to introduce it to the countless devotees of Sergei Prokofiev’s art, it required a suitably impressive unveiling. The thought arose of a modest public presentation, and then a more elaborate public presentation, including an exhibition and a concert. The company “New Cultural Technologies” took the lead role and provided invaluable assistance in organising these events.

The company’s director, Vitaly Rozenberg, has considerable experience preparing and organising cultural events in Russia, including events for rock and jazz musicians as well as tours for ballet and theatrical ensembles. From the start, Rozenberg was captivated by the Wood Book, the novelty of its existence and, most importantly, the nature of its contents. To be the impresario of the unveiling by no means daunted him; on the contrary, it motivated him to make imaginative choices. There gradually arose the contours of a small exhibition entirely devoted to the Wood Book, featuring displays from Moscow archives and museums to illustrate specific pages — likewise the idea of a concert of chamber music and a showing of the latest (and in my opinion best) film about Serge Prokofiev, Yosif Feyginberg’s "Prokofiev: The Unfinished Diary".

Preparing the various elements of the presentation involved artists, architects, designers, graphic artists, and photographers of appropriate levels of experience. The Alexander Pushkin State Museum kindly provided space for the array of events. The artist Alexander Vasin, well-known for his posters, booklets, magazine covers, and related publishing ventures in the arts, created the poster and booklet for the exhibition along with an outdoor billboard advertisement that appeared in various Moscow streets and squares.

The opening of the exhibition was preceded by a short concert featuring the famous Russian pianist Nikolai Petrov (performing Tales of an Old Grandmother), the talented composer and pianist Sergei Dreznin (performing Prokofiev’s First Piano Sonata), and then, together with the wonderful cellist Borislav Strulev, a transcription of the Waltz from the ballet The Stone Flower and a transcription (tastefully done by Mstislav Rostropovich) of the March from the opera Love for Three Oranges. The concert concluded with a sympathetic performance by students of the Central Music School of the Overture on Jewish Themes. Following the concert an extremely satisfied public was invited to peruse the exhibition dedicated to the Wood Book.

The exhibition naturally featured the original Wood Book together with Prokofiev’s diary notebook opened to the page with the entry describing the creation of the unique album of autographs. The core of the exhibition comprised 20 light boxes, representing 20 of the 48 authors in the Wood Book. Also on view were the famous portrait of Prokofiev by Piotr Konchalovsky, paintings by David Burliuk, Boris Anisfeld, Mikhail Larionov, and Natalia Goncharova, and the wonderful sculpture of Prokofiev realised by Gleb Deriuzhinsky. One unexpected and highly interesting display involved the so-called “Chess in Nines” — a variation of an ancient game devised by Prokofiev and first shown to the public in the guise of a 24 x 24-spaced chess board with nine sets of figures arranged on it. The subject merits a separate article in one of the future issues of Three Oranges.

The last exhibition room featured the facsimile exemplar of the Wood Book, several other unique books published by Vita Nova, as well as a display of photographs by Lina Prokofieff, the composer’s great-granddaughter, bearing the name “Fugitive Visions.”

The entire exhibition was of interest in the finest details, had a very organic appearance, and received good reviews from the press and the public. That the older son of the composer, Sviatoslav Prokofiev, attended along with his grandson and great-granddaughters, numerous prominent representatives of musical and artistic life in Russia, and likewise foreign guests added to the festiveness of the evening and attested to its special historical significance.

Prokofiev often mentioned the Wood Book in his diaries. The relationship between the two can be further demonstrated by those excerpts from the diaries that concern the authors of the entries in the Wood Book. These extracts became the basis of an additional publication, A Propos, which was shown for the first time during the presentation. Reading the extracts outside the framework of the diaries by no means diminishes the significance of the latter. They do not represent a conspectus of the diaries, but a supplement to the Wood Book.

Thanks to Everyone!

I want to express my sincere admiration for all of the participants in the activities bearing the name Sergei Prokofiev’s Wood Book. Owing to them this marvellous book has become known to a great number of people and, in turn, has attracted renewed interest in the multifaceted life and still innovative work of Prokofiev.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the preparation of the Wood Book for publication;

to all those who scanned, transcribed, assembled, translated, set and corrected the text;

to those who separated the colours, set the presses, and chose the paper, leather, and wood for the facsimile edition;

to those who assembled 300 facsimile exemplars of the Wood Book by hand;

to those who conceived, marked up, folded, and pasted the cardboard box;

to those who shipped the print run, protecting from harm like treasure;

to those who kept the book under wraps until the time its birth was announced;

to those who worked in the archives and museums, gathering photographs, letters and other illustrations for the exhibition;

to those who expressed interest in the undertaking and provided items from their collections for the exhibition;

to those who, during the entire long period of work, discussed the project with numerous other people who in turn showed interest and met with us;

to those who worried and fretted over the Wood Book;

to those who, hearing for the first time about the existence of the Wood Book, did not turn away, indifferently shrugging their shoulders;

to those who supported and helped us to realise the initiative.

Together we did it!
In the name of art, in the name of music, in the name of talent.

Reflections

We, Sergei Prokofiev’s descendants, the publisher “Vita Nova,” RGALI, and the company “New Cultural Technologies” (without mentioning everyone by name), worked tirelessly for the last half year and awaited this evening, 14 November 2009 ... with impatience, fear, and hope. The reactions of the invitees on the day of the presentation and those of later visitors to the exhibition were the greatest honour for us. Thank you.
Below, select reviews of the exhibition dedicated to the Wood Book:


The Wood Book exhibition is extremely elegant and delightful.

I recently visited this remarkable exhibition. Unusual. Surprising, even. The entries in the book are answers to one and the same question: “What, to you, is the sun?” The responses and the arrangement of the displays were both striking. There were incredible paintings and photographs, and an elusive fragrance from the gathering of dreaminess and introspection.

Congratulations on this magnificent achievement. We thought we were visiting the Museum, which has the happiest and saddest of memories in every nook, when we found ourselves at the exhibition among enthusiasts of the Wood Book! Splendid to see Sviatoslav looking so pleased.

In my view, you’ve done the impossible: everything at the highest level : ) : ) Nothing “ordinary,” everything appearing to be touched from on high…
What a thrill! And that book, WHAT a book!!! : ) : ) : )

The evening turned out to be truly memorable, executed in good taste and having sweet “filling”: the charming, erudite gathering and the overall atmosphere made a strong impression.

We wanted to express our gratitude to you for a wonderful evening, magical music, and intriguing exhibition.

Unexpectedly, I met a lot of old friends.

Thank you for a great evening!!! We’re just thrilled! You created such a splendid mood. Your sun-filled book illuminates the gloomy Moscow weather. Well done!

I’m completely enthralled by the book project: both the beauty of its conception and wonderful realisation. But most of all, in truth, I’m enthralled by PROKOFIEV himself, who at such a young age dreamed up this small and very beautiful testament to the times, as offered by the most prominent representatives of the era.

I very much enjoyed the exhibition: it was academic (like the project itself) in the best sense of the word with a fine, contemporary look. The concert was splendid: I was struck by the care Nikolai Petrov took in his performance of Tales of an Old Grandmother. The children (musicians!) from the Central Music School were wonderful.

I admired the stamina of Sviatoslav Sergeevich, who chatted with the invitees and provided autographs the entire evening.

The exhibition was perfectly assembled. Its style and taste worthy of the book itself, those who autographed it, and the composer himself.

Thank you for bringing this idea to fruition.

Our profound gratitude to the Prokofiev heirs for the exhibition, reception, and concert that they organised in the Pushkin Museum courtyard in Moscow in honour of the great composer Sergei Prokofiev!

Such events are rare, thank you!

Pleasant atmosphere... Refined, without excess glamour, done with great taste: such is the exhibition of Sergei Prokofiev’s Wood Book.

 

The names and surnames of the authors of these remarks have been withheld — their words are what matter. To all of them, here is grateful recognition of their attention and the time they took to visit the exhibition and share their impressions on their blogs or by e-mail.

 

BACK TO SUMMARY

Wood Book (details)

Wood Book

Album by Sergei Prokofiev / facsimile edition
with texts in parallel Russian, English, French, and German.

Sankt-Peterburg: Vita Nova, 2009, 224 pp.

ISBN 978-5-93898-226-0

The publisher presents its facsimile edition of the Wood Book, a notebook for autographs with wood board covers belonging to the composer Sergei Sergeevich Prokofiev (1891-1953). The book contains an appendix in four languages (Russian, English, French, and German), a history of the creation of the Wood Book, a transcription of the entries, and an annotated index of names.

Distribution of the book in Russia: Publisher “Vita Nova”

Publisher “Vita Nova”
198099, St Petersburg,
P.B. 114
Tel/Fax: (812) 747-26-35
Tel: (812) 747-26-41
E-mail: spb@vitanova.ru
Website: www.vitanova.ru

The book is on sale in select stores in Moscow and St Petersburg. A detailed list of store addresses is available on the “Vita Nova” website under the heading “Where to purchase.”