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Reviewed by:
  • Sergey Prokofiev Diaries, 1924–1933: Behind the Mask, and: Sergey Prokofiev Diaries, 1924–1933: Prodigal Son
  • Terry Dean
Sergey Prokofiev Diaries, 1924–1933: Behind the Mask. Translated and annotated by Anthony Phillips. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008. [xxiii, 775 p. ISBN 978-0-80-144702-0. $20.00]
Sergey Prokofiev Diaries, 1924–1933: Prodigal Son. Translated and annotated by Anthony Phillips. London: Faber and Faber, 2012. [xxii, 1,725 p. ISBN 978-0-57-123405-9. $27.50]

In recent years, enthusiasts and scholars of Sergey Prokofiev’s music have enjoyed an increase in the availability of primary resources related to the composer’s life and works. In 2003, documents in Russian archives were made accessible for the first time, in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of Prokofiev’s death. Prior to the release of these predominantly Soviet-era documents, items predating the revolution and from the years he lived abroad, were made available by the composer’s widow via the Serge Prokofiev Archive. No less significant, however, was the printing of Prokofiev’s diaries by the composer’s estate in 2002, which were transcribed by the composer’s son and grandson from the composer’s idiosyncratic vowel-less Russian script. Thanks to Anthony Phillips, who took on the monumental challenge of translating 1,600 pages of entries, the diaries are now available for the first time in English. The first of three volumes, subtitled “Prodigious Youth”, was printed in 2006 and focused on the years Prokofiev spent as a student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Volumes 2 and 3, in turn, chronicle his early years as an emerging composer of international renown and commencing shortly before Prokofiev’s return to Russia.

When Prokofiev began his diary in 1907, the act of recording the details of his life assumed an important role for the composer, who preserved on a near-daily basis his thoughts and experiences. Through his activity as a diarist, we are now privy not only to details of Prokofiev’s daily affairs but also have an invaluable glimpse into the mind of the composer. A cursory review of the diaries reveals that it was not uncommon for Prokofiev’s entries to be quite extensive. The result is a richly detailed cultural history of Europe and the United States during the early decades of the twentieth century. So important to Prokofiev was his diary that news of losing one of his notebooks caused him great distress, more so than the prospect of lost manuscripts. Cognizant of his own imminent historical significance, Prokofiev carefully preserved documents related to his life and compositions. Although he entrusted the care of such documents to his colleagues while he was abroad, he learned that his apartment was robbed and his papers destroyed. He recorded the discovery in his diary, writing, “This is very bad news indeed, it means that the score of the Second Piano Concerto is lost (thank heavens Mama brought the piano score with her), and it is a tragedy for me that one of the volumes of my diary has gone for ever, the one covering the period from September 1916 until February 1917” (p. 536). Two years later, he recounted the lost diary again: “But the loss of the Diary is a tragedy, as there was so much of interest in it” (p. 692). Fortunately, Prokofiev was reunited with a trunk that he had earlier deposited in the vault of Koussevitsky’s publishing house, which contained a large cache of letters and manuscripts as well as the diary that he had presumed to have been destroyed.

Volume 2 covers the years 1915 to 1923. In this volume, we first encounter Prokofiev as a young conservatory graduate eager to leave a mark on the world, but by its end he is an established professional confident in his abilities. In part, this confidence is linked to the events Prokofiev witnessed during the period in question, namely the February and October Revolutions. Phillips points out in his Introduction that impressions of Prokofiev as “concerned only for his career and his art, ignorant of and indifferent to the reality of the momentous events unfolding around him” (p. xv) are all...