- Sergey Prokofiev and His World, and: The People’s Artist: Prokofiev’s Soviet Years
Prokofiev scholarship has received a boost from the belated publication (in 2002) of the composer’s diaries (Dnevnik: 1907–1933 [Paris: SPRKFV, 2002]), and the launch of the journal Three Oranges by the Serge Prokofiev Foundation in London in 2001. Despite the popularity of Prokofiev’s music, musicology outside Russia has long tended to neglect the composer somewhat in favor of either Igor Stravinsky or Dmitry Shostakovich. Prokofiev, who left Russia in 1918 after the Revolution, but always kept in touch with his homeland and finally, after extended visits, returned for good in 1936, defies the clichés, usually considered mutually exclusive, of either émigré or Soviet citizen. The very fact of his decision to return to Moscow, right at the time when Shostakovich suffered his first significant official assault with the Pravda article “Sumbur vmesto muzïki” (Muddle instead of Music), has always baffled scholars—in the United States probably even more so than in Europe.
The two large volumes reviewed here—one authored by Simon Morrison, the other edited by him—were published within a few months of each other. The slightly earlier is the collection Sergey Prokofiev and His World. In his preface, Morrison credits the idea of the volume to Leon Botstein and a “series of events dedicated to Prokofiev” held at Bard College in 2008 (p. xi); it appears as if the book were sort of a proceedings volume. The other publication, The People’s Artist: Prokofiev’s Soviet Years is a monograph on precisely what its subtitle promises.
Sergey Prokofiev and His World assembles leading Prokofiev scholars from the United [End Page 303] States, Russia, and the post-Soviet Russian émigré community. It is divided in two parts. The first is titled “documents,” the second “essays,” but the distinction is blurred; the “documents” are, with one exception, either preceded by or embedded in substantive essays.
The “documents” section comprises four contributions. Pamela Davidson’s “ ‘Look After Your Son’s Talents’: The Literary Notebook of Mariya Prokofieva” presents, in bilingual two-column layout, the entries of a notebook in the handwriting of Pro - kofiev’s mother, begun (as Davidson suggests) in 1913 and completed in late 1917. The document had long been known, but it had been erroneously assumed that the handwriting was Prokofiev’s, which only applies to two single entries. The notebook contains excerpts from reference books, philosophical writings, and poems set by Prokofiev. Apparently, Prokofiev’s mother simply copied out what her son had marked up in his copies of these books. The notebook’s purpose remains unclear.
More interesting, and less enigmatic, is the second contribution, “The Krzhizhanovsky-Prokofiev Collaboration on Eugene Onegin, 1936 (A Lesser-Known Casualty of the Pushkin Death Jubilee),” by Caryl Emerson. Sigizmund Dominikovich Krzhizhanovsky (1887–1950) was a Ukrainian-born writer of Polish parentage (the Polish spelling of his last name would be Krzyźanowski) who wrote in Russian. Because of his surrealist inclinations, he had already had difficulties in finding publishers well before the Stalinist period. He made his living giving lectures and as a consultant of Alexander Tairov’s Chamber Theater in Moscow, where he adapted prose works for the stage. Instead of wrestling with authorities, he chose to remain largely unpublished. He evaded persecution but succumbed to alcoholism. In anticipation of the one hundredth anniversary of Alexander Pushkin’s death, Krzhizhanovsky created, with Tairov and Prokofiev, a staged version of Pushkin’s novel in verse, Yevgeny Onegin. The result is a play that, for once, can be wholeheartedly described as “formalist,” as art about art. If one adds to this fact that tampering with Pushkin’s enshrined texts had already been considered offensive in Tsarist Russia—as Modest Mussorgsky had to learn when adapting Boris Godunov...