Every Happy Family... 1 2 3 4

The Rayevsky family:

Yekaterina Grigoryevna Rayevskaya (née Zhitkova) Prokofiev’s aunt

Aleksandr Dmitriyevich Rayevsky, Yekaterina’s husband, Prokofiev’s uncle-in-law

Yekaterina Aleksandrovna Rayevskaya (Ignatyeva), Prokofiev’s cousin

Andrey Aleksandrovich Rayevsky, Prokofiev’s cousin

Tatyana Aleksandrovna Rayevskaya (née Katenina), Andrey’s wife, Prokofiev’s cousin-in-law

Aleksandr Andreyevich Rayevsky, son of Andrey and Tatyana, Prokofiev’s nephew

Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Rayevsky, Prokofiev’s cousin, whom he called “Shurik”

Nadezhda Feofilovna Rayevskaya (née Meyendorf), Shurik’s wife, Prokofiev’s cousin-in-law

Yelena Aleksandrovna Rayevskaya, daughter of Aleksandr and Nadezhda, Prokofiev’s niece

Yekaterinav Aleksandrovna Rayevskaya, daughter of Aleksandr and Nadezhda, Prokofiev’s niece

Sofiya Aleksandrovna Rayevskaya, daughter of Aleksandr and Nadezhda, Prokofiev’s niece




Serge Prokofiev, 1935

The first time the subject of this article was broached was during my conversation with Svyatoslav Sergeyevich Prokofiev in 1990.(2) Later on, Prokofiev’s older son wrote an article about his relatives, the Rayevsky family, for Three Oranges.(3) David Nice devoted considerable attention to the vicissitudes in their lives in his substantive Prokofiev biography.(4) My immersion in the documents of the London archive (5) revealed the subject to be one of the most tragic in Prokofiev’s legacy.

In 1917 the prosperous life of one of Russia’s most respected families was suddenly disrupted. In the off-quoted words of Mikhaíl Bulgakov, “history intruded, suddenly and menacingly.” Prokofiev’s relatives, like his friends, were forced to react in the years that followed. The archives, though, contain few traces of their experiences.

The new life had a different setting and routine. People were driven by other concerns. Of course they remem­bered the Italian word for “window” and chatted in French as easily and enjoyably as before, but the pleasure had to be kept in check. French served as the code of communication between those of “former” times. Its use was not to be advertised.

It was difficult to detect the transformation in the outward manners of the people in question. But sometimes when they spoke, reacted to something, or simply glanced around, the surface veneer was broken. Memories were stirred up in this fashion, in strong contrasts of light and dark.

Life was not merciful to these people. They lost their wealth and social status, suffering an array of misfortunes, repressions, and humiliations. They were scattered around Russia and the world. They nonetheless endured the hardships with uncommon dignity, expressing neither anger nor bitterness, continuing to care for each other in difficult, sometimes unbearable conditions. The notion of the family remained for them as sacrosanct as before.

Prokofiev’s parents created their own wealth, with their own hands. He was not spoiled in his childhood and appreciated the cost of things. Once he became independent, after a period of financial hardship, and once he began to care for a family of his own, Prokofiev began to keep fastidious financial records, carefully writing down in neat grids (boxes) all of his receipts and expenses in granary books.(6) His diary and correspondence with the Rayevsky family reveal another aspect of his money management. In the middle of the 1920s he began without fail and without needing reminders to support his relatives.

Family ties, like the friendships of his youth, were dear to the composer.

In his contacts with relatives and friends in the USSR, we see Prokofiev opening his wallet, writing checks, arranging for money transfers, delving into the details of customs circulars and the regulations governing international mail, mastering illicit means of getting items of clothing and medicine across the border. Many medicines, like many foods, were unavailable in the USSR, but to ship or transport them was not permitted.

With the revival at the Bolshoi Theater of his opera Love for Three Oranges (7) he tried to arrange regular payments to the Rayevsky family girls, including cousin Katya (8) in the town of Kadnikov. The cumbersome finance department of the Bol­shoi often failed to send money to Kadnikov, generally working slowly and often making mistakes. The composer repeatedly had to send urgent messages to the theater: “It seems that Moscow and Kadnikov are once again sitting without money. Apparently, Boris Gusman,(9) upon resigning, didn’t heed my instructions. So I scribbled letters to the Bolshoi Theater.”(10)

Going to the Bolshoi to collect Prokofiev’s honoraria became the responsibility of Anna Petrovna Uvarova.(11)

The composer keep close track of her.


5, rue Valentin Haüy Paris XV, France
November 11, 1930
A.P. Uvarova, Moscow
Most esteemed Anna Petrovna,
A week ago I received a letter from the director of the finance office of the Bolshoi Theater to the effect that, in agreement with my request, he transferred 400 rubles to you on October 26. Since I have not received confirmation from you about this, I am concerned that you did not receive my letter in which I asked you to send 200 rubles of this amount to Katya Ignatyeva, and that she is left without any money whatsoever.
I send you heartfelt greetings, likewise Katyusha (12) and the children.
Respectfully yours.(13)

He constantly wrote letters like this. The transfer of money seems to have involved everyone: Lev Tseytlin,(14) Niko­lay Myaskovsky, Vladimir Derzhanovsky,(15) Konstantin Saradzhev,(16) and several other people who happened to be in touch with Prokofiev and Myaskovsky: “Might MODPiK (17) be able to send 150 rubles to my aunt straightaway? If not, could some of my new fees from Muzsektor (18) be extracted?” His thoughts about the Rayevsky family in his diaries and letters, written in his calm, business-like manner, bear one and the same leitmotif: reminders about sending funds. Repeated again and again, it lends the composer’s personal documents a special character, a powerful semantic ostinato. Amid all of the expressions of gratitude addressed to Sergey Sergeyevich, the words of Tanya Rayevskaya linger in the memory: “You, kind Seryozha, will be rewarded by the Lord God for the help you have provided to everyone!”(19)




2 Svyatoslav Sergeyevich Prokof’yev, “O moikh roditelyakh: Beseda sïna kompozitora s Nataliyey Savkinoy,” in Sergey Prokof’yev 1891-1991: Dnevnik, pis’ma, besedï, vospominaniya, ed. M. E. Tarakanov (Moscow: Sovetskiy kompozitor, 1991), 212-32.

3 Sviatoslav Prokofiev, “Little-Known Facts about People Close to Prokofiev,” Three Oranges Journal, vol. 1 (January 2001): 20-21.

4 David Nice, Prokofiev: From Russia to the West, 1891-1935 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003).

5 The Serge Prokofiev Archive of Goldsmiths College, University of London—henceforth SPA.






6 These were used on old Russian farms and probably kept by Prokofiev’s father, an agronomist, in Sontsovka, Ukraine.



7 On November 13, 1929. There was hope of a commission for Le Pas d’Acier, but activists in the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians ensured that the ballet did not reach the Bolshoi Theater stage.

8 Yekaterina Aleksandrovna Ignatyeva, née Rayevskaya—Prokofiev’s cousin.

9 Boris Yevseyevich Gusman (1892-1944) was a Soviet musical official. For two years, 1929-1930, he ran the repertoire office of the Bolshoi Theater and served as assistant director.

10 Sergey Prokof’yev, Dnevnik 1907-1933, ed. Svyatoslav Prokof’yev, 2 vols. (Paris: sprkfv, 2002), 2: 762-63 (entry of March 16, 1930).

11 Countess Anna Petrovna Uvarova (1869-1951)—cousin of the Rayevskys.

12 Anna Petrovna’s daughter.

13 November 11, 1930, letter from Prokofiev to A. P. Uvarova, SPA XXIV 283.

14 Lev Moíseyevich Tseytlin (1881-1952)—violinist, educator, and founder of the conductor-less orchestral ensemble Persimfans.

15 Vladimir Vladimirovich Derzhanovsky (1881-1942)—musicologist, critic, founder of the Association of Contemporary Music, editor and publisher of the journal Muzïka.

16 Konstantin Solomonovich Saradzhev (1877-1954)—conductor.

17 Russian acronym of the Moscow Society of Dramatic Writers and Composers, which existed from 1904-1930.

18 Letter of March 7, 1929, from Prokofiev to Myaskovsky, in S. S. Prokof’yev i N. Ya. Myaskovskiy: Perepiska, ed. M. G. Kozlova and

N. Ya. Yatsenko (Moscow: Sovetskiy kompozitor, 1977), 301.

19 May 4, 1930, letter from T. A. Rayevskaya to Prokofiev, SPA XXIV 104-107.