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I heard about a certain “Wooden Book”, which belonged to my grandfather, the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, back in my childhood. I did not assign any special attention to that fact, as other books interested me then, and the adults’ conversations about that book were not so clear to me. Quite some time had passed, when in the late 1990s we, Prokofiev’s descendants, decided to publish the diaries of our great predecessor: the situation in Russia was changing, while interest in the personality of Sergei Prokofiev did not abate, with long-standing errors and deliberately distorted facts about his life and works still tossed about from one book to another. The World Wide Web made its own contribution to this deplorable process. It is indeed impossible to correct each author individually as so many authors, including those of dictionary and encyclopaedia entries, flatly refuse to make any corrections to their articles, believing themselves to be the only true specialists in their fields and excluding the composer’s family from the list of the competent.

The only real way to change the situation would be to publish the rather voluminous and extremely interesting diaries of Sergei Prokofiev, in which he himself gave the answers to many questions, which in numerous other cases have been either erroneously or ambiguously interpreted.

In the “Diary of 1907-1933” published in 2002, the Wooden Book is mentioned many times, and the history of this book’s publication is related by the author in detail in the entry made on March 2, 1916.

The first entry was made in the book by Boris Demchinsky on March 9, 1916, while the last was made on March 8, 1921 by Yevsey Belousov. And so, the Wooden Book got filled with the autographs of the prominent people Prokofiev encountered during his life over a period of five years, and the forty-eight people who answered the Wooden Book’s question, “What do you think about the Sun?” are in fact the most outstanding representatives of all the arts which existed at the turn of the century.

After the composer’s death, the Wooden Book was kept in the Russian State Archives of Literature and Arts; few researchers, however, had addressed the book, as they were mostly interested either in musical documents or in the rich correspondences Sergei Prokofiev had maintained. Short quotations have been published in different books and periodicals at various times but never had the book been fully published. The idea of publishing the volume as such was obvious. It was to be done to preserve the original’s natural beauty and supreme historical value, as well as to preserve at least a facsimile edition of the book in case something unforeseen should happen.

Eighty-seven years after the last entry was made in the Wooden Book, it was published by the joint efforts of the descendants of Sergei Prokofiev, Vita Nova Publishing House and the Russian State Archives of Literature and Arts in facsimile and regular editions. The book’s presentation was organized with participation of New Cultural Technologies in partnership with the State Pushkin Museum.

The fact that the Wooden Book was so frequently mentioned in the diaries of Sergei Prokofiev suggests their evident correlation, which may be proved by a number of the fragments from the diary dealing with the authors of the entries made in the Wooden Book. These records became the basis for a supplemental edition, called A Propos, unveiled exclusively at the presentation. Reading such excerpts outside the diary’s context does not diminish the diary’s value.

These, after all, are not an abstract of the diary but simply serve as a supplement for the Wooden Book.

 

(English version: Alexander Bondarev)

27 FEBRUARY 2010