Letter from Natalia Savkina
"During the lifetime of Serge Prokofiev, one could always expect a miracle", wrote Sviatoslav Richter. But miracles created by Prokofiev still keep happening now, long after his death. The composer succeeded in developing a trivial statement that a Genius is always unique and unfathomable, into an external action, he succeeded in embodying this statement in a long train of big and small sensational events. The composer's hidden vaults proved to be enormous and keep growing, and all drawers in them have a double bottom. Prokofiev, who always preferred to be the master of his destiny, succeeded in directing even his posthumous destiny.
Prokofiev's "Diary" (1907 - 1933), prepared for publication by the composer's son Sviatoslav Prokofiev and grandson Serge Prokofiev Jr., is a unique event that has no precedents in history. It compels one to revise many existing ideas concerning the 20th century classical author, and more than that.
I am convinced that Prokofiev's literary gift was equal to his talent as a musician. As a result, we obtain a book in which Prokofiev the writer is challenging Prokofiev the musician.
This work is unprecedented in many regards. Take, for example, its genre. The composer's life "Diary" often turns into a lyrical confession. At the same time, "Diary" is a historical chronicle of a whole quarter of the 20th century. In addition to that, it is an extensive treatise about music, in which the great musician sets forth his ideas. It is also a work in history of arts, an encyclopedia of a kind, in which one can find a great number of facts concerning musicians, painters, writers, chess-players. And finally, it is an account of the great man's Life Philosophy.
During almost all his life, the composer kept moving between different worlds each of which could have become his home. There is the "Silver Age" Russia he lost ("The past keeps holding me", he confessed once during his Paris period). But he had to return to "Bolshevisia" (Bolshevik Russia): there are wonderful musicians there, they understand his music well, and Bolsheviks do not seem so frightening as it looked in the beginning. The stormy life of the young composer in America, the country that Prokofiev will love. The beautiful and tender France. The splendid Paris, which attracts all talents of the world, but which becomes so indifferent at times.
In the composer's field of vision appears an immense panorama of impressions, a kind of an epic chronicle of the world's culture over a quarter of a century. Instant snapshots, stories told by someone, anecdotes, practical facts. But in the background, History is always present; and sometimes it moves to the foreground, to show its ruthlessness.
Having heard the shots, in a Petersburg street in 1917, Prokofiev and Meyerhold hide behind a jut of a house. As it must be in slapstick movies, the source of shots was the exhaust pipe of one of the first cars in Russia. Nina Koshits writes fairly good romances "that were dictated by a spiritualistic table rapping". The Roehrich father and son (this is Chicago, 1921) are keen on spiritualism; Prokofiev, too, wanted to try that pastime, so popular in pre-revolutionary Petersburg. But Roehrich "asked the spirits if I could, and their question was answered 'No alien can be admitted', which hurt me a lot".
... A previously unknown quotation from Rachmaninoff (unjust, but this does no make it less interesting and less valuable): "Prokofiev shows talent while he is being insolent, but as soon as he wishes to get serious he becomes no better than the others". Or: how awful was the end of a wonderful ballet dancer, the man who had first played the part of the Jester, Tadeusz Slawinski! Or: the noble fashion in which Prokofiev, in summer of 1926, on a dacha in Samoreau, was striving to defend a nest full of nestlings against a jumpy cat! We seem to vaguely recognize something well known in this fight of his...
Contrasts of very different kinds keep colliding in "Diary". There are so many characters there, which means so many different manners of speech. "To each, his own step and his own tune", wrote Asafiev about "Love for Three Oranges". At times, Prokofiev's style starts sounding solemn à la Derzhavin - for instance when he describes with fascination the splendor of Petersburg. A journey to the land of one's youth is always a sentimental journey...
Prokofiev marks with precision the fluctuations of the exchange rates during historical cataclysms, and presents historical characters from most unusual sides. His "Diary" is a Babel full of various people. All of them seem to exist halfway between the reality and some Prokofiev's show or film. One of his sketches could be called "a forest scene" (May 1922): "A spring day. I drove to the Meudon forest. It rained from time to time, but this made the forest even more full of fragrance. Having opened the windows, I sat in the car and read: 1) Chr<instian> Sc<ience>, 2) "The Capital" of Karl Marx, a brief digest in French." Maybe here Prokofiev is choosing between two approaches, maybe he is trying to combine them. What a wonderful movie frame! Actually, it seems to me the composer's "Diary" should provoke a frenzied activity of a good cinema director more than that of commentators or publishers.
One of the main charms of "Diary" narration is the absence of a predefined scale of values, of splitting facts and events into fore- and background, a special attention to details and trifles. The way in which he relishes transient things is one of the characteristics of the full-bloodiness of Prokofiev's nature, open towards most diverse impressions.
He is permanently dazzled, his eyes look in different directions, and he can communicate all they catch. The acuity of his sense of life in all its details and paradoxes can almost be compared to that of Nabokov's. We feel the heat radiated by studio lights during the shooting of a film (where is this film now?) and we understand how unpleasant it is to play in the presence of the crowd of spectators who came running up to the stage and scrutinize your hands and feet. The composer remembers the taste of the coffee in a café near the railway station, and he faithfully relates the exorbitant price asked by the hotel servant for ironing trousers.
Prokofiev is not at all interested by the "significance" of a person that is so important to the General in "The Gambler". Not a shadow of the respect of the authority, even less that of the rank. Only the impression created by a person here and now plays a role. Later, some things will change, and the composer will certainly mark that, as he marks the transformation of one lady writer's hair from gray into black in the span of several days, or as he faithfully relates the sad life story of one of his friends, Boris Bachkirov, who, starting as a man of culture, a Petersburg gentleman, a poet, turned into an unlucky refugee, a degraded casino haunter, a man who could not keep any job.
We meet a wonderful theater director Alexei Dikyi at a table; he keeps knocking back one glass after the other. Stalin is represented by the outline of his moustache, by his hypnotic stare that so frightened Lina Prokofiev in a concert, and by his words related by someone: "Our Prokofiev".
In the center of the narration is the composer Serge Prokofiev. Over one and a half thousand pages, he fearlessly represents himself, all the roughness and complexity of his character. What fascinate most are the caliber and the singularity of his personality. A cocky boy - Conservatory student; a world-renowned artist; a witty and merry fellow; a thinker taking interest in philosophy; a person inclined to deep spiritual quests; an introvert person; an extrovert person; what was, finally, Serge Prokofiev?
The fearless frankness of the author is amazing; it reveals the roughness and complexity of the famous "complicated" nature of Prokofiev. There are many things we could never think of. He is reserved, but often writes about most intimate things, he is not afraid to admit his weaknesses, his defenselessness, simple human vulnerability of his, and this impresses us no less than his wonderful revelations, sharp thoughts and aphorisms, of which is full the book of his life.
Can one say anything about this publication that would seem exaggerated? I don't think so.