The People's Artist: Prokofiev's Soviet Years

The People's Artist: Prokofiev's Soviet Years

The People's Artist: Prokofiev's Soviet Years

The People's Artist: Prokofiev's Soviet Years

Synopsis

Sergey Prokofiev was one of the twentieth century's greatest composers--and one of its greatest mysteries. Until now. In The People's Artist, Simon Morrison draws on groundbreaking research to illuminate the life of this major composer, deftly analyzing Prokofiev's music in light of new archival discoveries. Indeed, Morrison was the first scholar to gain access to the composer's sealed files in the Russian State Archives, where he uncovered a wealth of previously unknown scores, writings, correspondence, and unopened journals and diaries. The story he found in these documents is one of lofty hopes and disillusionment, of personal and creative upheavals. Morrison shows that Prokofiev seemed to thrive on uncertainty during his Paris years, stashing scores in suitcases, and ultimately stunning his fellow emigr's by returning to Stalin's Russia. At first, Stalin's regime treated him as a celebrity, but Morrison details how the bureaucratic machine ground him down with corrections and censorship (forcing rewrites of such major works as Romeo and Juliet), until it finally censured him in 1948, ending his career and breaking his health.

Excerpt

According to those who knew him best, Sergey Prokofiev led an impulsive, impetuous life in the moment. He was smitten with the technological advances of the modern age and took full advantage of high-speed communication and intercontinental travel. In 1918, after completing the rigorous program of studies at St. Petersburg Conservatory, he departed revolutionary Russia for an extended tour in the United States and, after a two-year stay, settled in France, where, like other leading artists of the period, he made Paris his home. From the perspective of the Kremlin, Prokofiev was not an exile but an ambassador at large of Russian (Soviet) culture, a trustworthy fellow traveler. During these years he composed three ballets and three operas, fulfilled recording contracts, and played recitals of his own tempestuous piano music. Scores were packed in suitcases, scenarios and librettos hectically drafted on hotel letterhead. The transience tired him, but he prided himself on being an optimistic, progressive person of action—the embodiment of a new metaphysics.

For the ballet critic Vadim Gayevsky, the first half of Prokofiev’s career suggests a story about a great escape artist: “When something threatened him, when there was a whiff of danger in the air, he would board a train, a steam liner, an airplane or, as [the writer Nina] Berberova narrates, get in a car and leave without explanation while he was still in one piece.” In 1936, Prokofiev left Paris, an often inhospitable place for foreigners, to take up permanent residence in the Soviet Union, specifically the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR). He began visiting his transformed . . .

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