sprkfv.net

III

Archival materials, like supposedly long-lost manuscripts, emerge from oblivion when they themselves desire it. Thus within another archival folder from the Prokofiev collection is a document that continues our theme of miscellany without place or date. This is a pamphlet published in Kislovodsk in 1937, “Manual on contemporary dance for dance-hall pupils at KMV [Mineral Water Spas of the Caucasus], with drawings and diagrams.” (14) Describing “Western dances” widespread in the 30s—the Viennese waltz, pas de patineur, quickstep, fox-blues—the authors of the handbook, V. N. Krylov and G. I. Beliaev, set a goal of “eliminating all elements of movement that are organically alien to our dance and which create a decadent ‘cabaret’ style in dance (e.g., wiggling the hips, abrupt countermotions, vertical rocking of the shoulders, bends and breaks of the body.” Making sure to mention in its first lines “the constant concern of the party and government for the workers of our country,” the preface states: “The State Philharmonic of KMV has set a goal of regulating the organization of dancing affairs at the resorts.” For this purpose, a large ballroom (dance hall) was provided in Kislovodsk, where vacationers took lessons. In and of itself the pamphlet is of interest to the historian, and it is a bibliographic rarity; however, its value does not end there. What we have before us is a unique document; from this booklet, Prokofiev learned to dance the foxtrot, Boston waltz and, naturally, the tango. The pages describing this then-blockbuster dance, and the schemata for it, are covered with pencil marks made by the composer. Doubtless this is Prokofiev’s hand; we know that he attended dance classes from numerous sources, including his own letters. A logical question might be: could the marks have been made by Mira Mendelson? Unlikely, since the description of the various dance patterns and the marks concern the “male” partner.

Pencil marks tend not to have precise dates, but judging by the year of the pamphlet’s publication, and the facts of Prokofiev’s biography, we are talking about the summer of 1938. Another document in the archive contains Prokofiev’s dance notes. On an advertisement for a trilogy of Depression-era books by James T. Farrell, Studs Lonigan, he notated the fox-blues. This information is nicely complemented by a remark made by Prokofiev in his notebook from 1937-1938: “foxtrot sheet music for [cousin] Shurik,” (16) and by Vladimir Dukelsky’s account of Prokofiev’s “strange foxtrot steps in lieu of a greeting”. (17) Prokofiev danced poorly, Dukelsky added, blaming an “inherent lack of plasticity” for his “fairly abrupt” movements.” (18) Then a racist afterthought: “Prokofiev’s dancing was not that of a white Negro, but more like an elated Swedish pastor.” (19) Let malicious tongues be silent! Prokofiev was not trying to please others when he danced; it was sufficient that he enjoyed himself. As in all aspects of his life, he did not want to stay in place, hoped to remain in motion. So in the amusing line drawings that delineate his “steps,” we are confronted with the capricious Prokofiev familiar to us from his brilliant compositions.

In the resort of Kislovodsk—familiar to the composer from his youth—the romantic relationship between Prokofiev and Mira Mendelson began in August 1938. The meeting between the young student from the Gorky Literary Institute and the famous composer was momentous, somehow akin to the tango that had taken the world by storm. The “tall man with an unusual gait and a very serious expression” dazzled the girl. (20) She, in turn, made a significant impression on Prokofiev. Devoid of the qualities that defined beauty at the time (she was thin, with a dark complexion and sharp irregular features), Mira, I think, did not quite understand why Prokofiev was smitten with her. But photos of the women with whom the composer had been smitten earlier in his life—the young Nina Meshcherskaia and the fatal diva, Ida Rubinstein—explain his attraction to Mira. In a sense, his meeting with her in Kislovodsk was déjà vu.

The final documents under examination here, again unknown to researchers of Prokofiev’s legacy, are directly linked to Mira. These are notes in the composer’s hand. (21) Four of them, concerning the writing of her memoirs, have been “disco-vered”. In what sense? On the cover containing the materials the notorious “n.p., n.d.” is found once again, and the header reads “S. Prokofiev. Miscellaneous notes. Drafts. Autograph.” The contents are remarkable insofar as they find Prokofiev correcting Mira’s typewritten reminiscences.

While Mira was preparing a fragment of her reminiscences for publication, (22) Prokofiev acquainted himself with her text and left his comments and notes. For example, in the margins of the memoirs for 1944-1945, (23) the composer inserted modifications that were later incorporated by Mira during her revisions. It remains difficult, however, to assess the extent of the composer’s participation in the writing of her reminiscences. Prokofiev’s marginalia are rare and found in only one of four notebooks of diary entries in Mira’s hand. Compared to those inscriptions, Prokofiev’s comments on these four sheets are detailed and systematic.

On the first of the sheets, titled “Part I” by Prokofiev, page numbers of Mira’s draft are on the left. These refer to Mira’s account of the events of August 1938. (24) Prokofiev’s first observation concerns the name of the academician Aleksandr Fersman (25) who had vacationed in Kislovodsk at the same time as Prokofiev and the Mendelson family. Matching up his observation to her available handwritten text (26) shows a discrepancy. The content of the remarks indicates that they do not corres-pond to the version of the memoir in the archive. For example, Prokofiev’s note about Mikhail Morozov (27) in the draft has already been taken into account by Mira. Furthermore, Prokofiev writes: “Before the invitation to the concert, there was a meeting at the Moscow Hotel.” (28) In Mira’s account of 1938, we read: “After having met in Moscow for the first time near the TsUM store, we walked along the banks of the Moscow River...” (29) There are other examples. It turns out that yet another version of the reminiscences or journal entries existed prior to this account, one that has presumably not been preserved.

Mira seems to have relied on notes to create a handwritten draft of her reminiscences. The typewritten, “literary” version that begins with the meeting with Prokofiev on the platform of the Moscow railway station in March 1941 came later. (30) A remark by Prokofiev concerning his stay with Mira in evacuation in Tbilisi might pinpoint the date work on the typewritten variant of the reminiscences began: “It would be nice to retype this page.” (31) The couple was in evacuation in Tbilisi from 25 November 1941 until 29 May 1942. Consequently, work on the reminiscences of the Tbilisi period began no earlier than 1943-1944. The word “retype” as opposed to “recopy” obviously points to work on the typescript of the memoirs. Chances are this work was begun after Prokofiev’s return from evacuation and resettlement in Moscow. We know from Mira’s letters that, in 1950, her mother was involved in the retyping. A new typewriter was purchased for her specifically for this purpose.

The scenario for the writing of the reminiscences was as follows: Mira noted down events in a draft; Prokofiev reviewed and corrected it; Mira rewrote and redacted the draft, taking his comments into consideration; then it was typed, subsequently edited, and retyped. From 1945-1946, and no earlier, Prokofiev participa-ted in writing the reminiscences as a work of literature. Comparing the typewritten version of the reminiscences (i.e., the final version) with Mira’s handwritten diaries and Prokofiev’s detailed comments suggests that the memoirs that were written by hand by Mira—in four common exercise books, reflecting the life of the composer from 1938 to 1944—are an intermediate stage of work on the typewritten reminiscences (the delimiting dates of which are 1941 to 1950). Their authorship can rightly be divided between Prokofiev and his second wife. Such was the transformation of Prokofiev’s own famous diaries from 1907-1933: the times were different, and so was he. Needing to preserve all of his energies for composition, his interest of the type of “literary narcissism” evident in his diaries disappeared.

Returning to the question of the practical use of the materials discussed above, the “without place, without date” hol-dings in the Prokofiev collection in the Glinka Museum, I reiterate that as supplementary, subsidiary sources they provide valuable information, helping to address longstanding biographical questions. These documents and others of mysterious provenance have both general and specific application in Prokofiev studies.

(PART 2)   (PART 1)

BACK TO SUMMARY

14 GTsMMK f. 33, no. 1280 (V. N. Krylov and G. I. Beliaev, Pamiatka po sovremennomu tantsu [Kislovodsk: Gosfilarmoniia na KMV, 1937]).

15 GTsMMK f. 33, no. 1246. Prokofiev annotated this document in January-February of 1938 in New York City.

16 RGALI f. 1929, op. 1, ed. khr. 332, l. 1.

17 V. Dukel’sky, “Ob odnoi prervannoi druzhbe,” in G. Andreiev, ed., Mosty: Literaturno-khudozhestvennyi i obshchestvenno-politicheskii al’manakh, vols. 13-14 (Munich: TsOPE, 1968), 277.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 GTsMMK f. 33, no. 1132.

21 GTsMMK f. 33, no. 1119.

22 See M. A. Mendel’son-Prokof’eva, “Vospominaniia o Sergee Prokof’eve. Fragment: 1946-1950 gody”, in E. Krivtsova and M. Rakhmanova, eds., Sergei Prokof’ev: Vospominaniia. Pis’ma. Stat’i (Moskva: Deka-VS, 2004).

23 GTsMMK f. 33, no. 1126.

24 GTsMMK f.33, no. 1132.

25 Aleksandr Evgen’evich Fersman (1883-1945) was a geochemist and mineral scientist with the USSR Academy of Sciences.

26 GTsMMK f. 33, no. 1132, l. 3.

27 Ibid., l. 8 (verso). Mikhail Mikhailovich Morozov (1897-1952) was a Shakespeare scholar and translator who taught at the Gorky Literary Institute. Mira Mendelson, a student at the Institute from 1935-39, studied the theory and practice of translation with him.

28 GTsMMK f. 33, no. 1119, l. 1.

29 GTsMMK f. 33, no. 1132, l. 9.

30 GTsMMK f. 33, no. 1413.

31 GTsMMK f. 33, no. 119, l. 4.