by NICOLAS NABOKOV
I SEE myself sitting in the hall of the St. Petersburg Conservatory (or was it in the Great Hall of Nobility?) at a concert to the memory of Scriabin. This was a concert given by Rachmaninoff for the benefit of Scriabin’s widow. It must have been in 1916. In the audience I see a young, medium-tall man with fleshy protruding lips and an extraordinarily large blond head precariously fitted to a long, thin stem. The man is seated in one of the front rows, surrounded by a group of melomanes, and ray tutor tells me that this is the young fauve, the composer Prokofiev. Much later Prokofiev told me an amusing story about this concert. Rachmaninoff at that time was the idol of Moscow, while Scriabin was ardently admired by a small group of aesthetes and music lovers, pseudo-mystics and pseudophilosophers, in St. Petersburg. This latter group regarded Rachmaninoff with a certain amount of disdain, and considered him the chief representative of that decadent salon romanticism of which the post-Tchaikovskian school of Moscow was the center. Thus Rachmaninoff’s appearance in St. Petersburg to play a whole concert of Scriabin’s music and to dedicate the concert to his memory was quite an outstanding and unexpected event. After Rachmaninoff had performed the esoteric pieces by Scriabin with his usual precision, thoroughness, and matter-of-factness, the little group of St. Petersburg melomanes fairly burst with scathing remarks and witty criticism of Rachmaninoff’s failure to grasp the meaning of Scriabin’s music. But Prokofiev, still a pupil at the Conservatory in St. Petersburg, thought that Rachmaninoff had done a good job in his performance. He went directly to the artist’s room, and in his usual straightforward and rough manner told the Moscow idol, the great and famous man, that his performance “was not bad at all.”
“What do you mean — ‘not bad’?” asked Rachmaninoff with just indignation, and turned his back on Prokofiev.
It took many years and their chance meeting over a chessboard on an ocean liner to patch up that early St. Petersburg incident.
I remember the same tall blond man sitting at one of the thirty tables in a chess club in St. Petersburg and winning one of the thirty games against the champion, Capablanca. Much later, in Paris in 1922 or 1923, I found myself sitting behind him in the Thèâtre du Vieux Colombier. He was trying to get a look at Nina Koshetz, who was singing his five lovely songs on the poems of Anna Akhmatova for the first time in Paris. The oversized head was wagging to the left and to the right in front of me, and I sat in awe and admiration, listening to that kind of tragic lyricism of the Russian twenties which only Akhmatova and Prokofiev could express so poignantly.
My real friendship with Prokofiev must have started around the years 1926 and 1927, when Diaghilev produced Prokofiev’s The Steel Leap, the first and only ballet of post-Revolutionary life in Russia produced abroad. This was the beginning of an intense relation between us on a level of mutual musical interest, the kind of friendship of which there were so many in Paris during the twenties, and which gradually died out under the impact of the changing world of the thirties. For two or three years in succession our relationship consisted in playing to one another our new music and that of others, and of bitterly criticizing and violently reacting to all the things we liked and disliked. There were long telephone conversations about nothing and everything, about the most recent concert and Meyerhold’s Inspector-General, about Stravinsky’s Apollon, and about the best restaurants in Paris, and all this was in the particular atmosphere of suspense and gayety of which the Ballet Russe at that time was a symbol. It is now considered good taste to make digs at the twenties, to blast and brand them as having been a period of intellectual morbidity, dissipation, superficiality, and decadence, but I believe that there will come a time when the hidden secrets of productive human relations in the twenties, so optimistic and so exuberant, will come to light, and the fruitfulness of this epoch will again be understood.
Sergei Prokofiev comes from a middleclass Russian family. His father was an employee of a rich landowner in southern Russia where he exercised very efficiently the office of overseer of the large estate. His mother belonged to the intelligentsia and was reared in the oppositional revolutionary ideals of the late nineteenth century. It was she, I believe, who taught him to play the piano, and I saw a photograph of Prokofiev as a boy sitting near an upright piano with the score of his first opera, The Giant, written at the age of eight or nine.
Two or three years later the boy wrote an overture called On the Desert Islands. S. I. Taneiev, the famous Moscow composer and teacher of counterpoint at the Moscow Conservatory, to whom he had had the chance of playing his overture, suggested that he take up the study of composition and theory with Pomerantzev and Glière, both teachers at the Moscow Conservatory. Glière was a friend of the Prokofiev family and had spent two summers (in 1902 and 1903) in Sontzovka, the estate of which Prokofiev’s father was the superintendent. Thus it is from Glière that Prokofiev received his first theoretical instruction. Later, in 1904, Prokofiev was taken to St. Petersburg and introduced to Glazunov. Glazunov, who became his protector and best defender in the years to come, suggested his entering the Conservatory in St. Petersburg. Prokofiev did so in the fall of that same year. There his teachers were Liadov, Vitol, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Tcherepnin in theory, composition, and conducting, and Winkler and Essipova in piano.
These names are those of a pleiad of brilliant craftsmen, first-rate teachers in their particular fields, from under whose wings rose a whole generation of famous instrumentalists, composers, teachers, and critics. The Moscow and St. Petersburg Conservatories, founded by the two Rubinstein brothers, were always great centers of musical ideological activity, and also centers of cliques and aesthetically minded groups. An old traditional feud had ideologically separated the two conservatories since the days of Tchaikovsky and “the big five.” The “big five” (Balakirev, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Cui) represented the nationalistic tradition of St. Petersburg, while Tchaikovsky followed the Western European leanings of progressively minded Moscow. To us this ideological war now seems like a storm in a teacup, but in Prokofiev’s youth the antagonism between the two institutions and their followers was still acute. Moscow was then permeated with a salon style of late post-Chopin-Tchaikovskian emotionalism, of which Rachmaninoff, as a composer, is such a good example. This decadent salon romanticism was not being redeemed by the earnest scholastic efforts of Taneiev nor by the drab formalism of Medtner. St. Petersburg, on the other hand, after having gone through the big hullaballoo of the musical nationalism of “the big five,” had settled down to a dusty renaissance of academic technique under the leadership of the iron-handed RimskyKorsakov. Quite apart from all this stood the lone figure of Scriabin plowing heavily, with the help of all the nineteenth century’s technical paraphernalia, through the esoteric clouds of a decadent and confused mysticism. Around Scriabin was a flock of faithful admirers who regarded him as something between a prophet and a messiah.
This was the atmosphere into which young Prokofiev was suddenly projected. I can well imagine him, with his open, healthy, peasant grin,—Prokofiev for whom all such things as the esoteric, aesthetic dreams of Scriabin were sheer nonsense, laughing to his heart’s delight at the St. Petersburg of 1904 to 1908. Fortunately for Prokofiev, besides all the dust and mysteries, there were those excellent craftsmen, those great technicians and teachers, and foremost among them was Rimsky-Korsakov himself, the greatest teacher in orchestration since the time of Berlioz. It was from them that young Prokofiev would soon learn his admirable instrumental skill, his impeccable technique of writing, and his imaginative and flawless style in orchestration.
St. Petersburg just before and during the Great War was in many ways a congealed city. Everybody knew that the old world of Imperial Russia was coming to an end. Everybody was aware that the end would bring with it a turmoil of immeasurable changes. The air was full of frozen neuroses, frozen hysteria; and after the Revolution of 1905 a kind of frozen hopelessness settled over St. Petersburg. At the same time there was a great deal of intense expectation among the intelligentsia of the city, but again it was that kind of rigid, passive expectation which comes from disillusionment and the recognition of the inevitability of the approaching storm.
However, in order to produce this storm a generation of hardheaded, realistic, necessarily ruthless and ultimately optimistic men had to appear and take over the responsibility for the future. In a certain sense Prokofiev was one of those young men destined to play a part in that future, and his presence in the aesthetic society of St. Petersburg around 1910 was one of those frequent amusing and significant contrasts which always precede revolutions.
By his enemies (and in his early years he had many) he was soon called “the football composer.” He was accused of breaking all the sacred conventions of nineteenth century tradition, and of writing “stupid, square, marching music that does not signify a single thing,” as a vitriolic critic expressed it at that time. Among his elder contemporaries, Prokofiev was a sore thumb. His simple-minded sarcasm, his jokes, his hearty laugh, the square, frank, savage, blunt orderliness of his music, did not fit into the mists of St. Petersburg. For St. Petersburg was then about to change its name. In the years to come that name changed twice. St. Petersburg was about to become the center of the greatest cataclysm of many centuries. The old, somehow always unreal Imperial City was to be no more, and the big marshy moon that was rising over it was red.
Prokofiev’s studies at the Conservatory took up some thirteen years. This seems an incredibly long time to us who are accustomed to one year or even six weeks of courses including harmony, counterpoint, composition, orchestration, some “appreciation,” and perhaps even a bit of that unimaginative training in musical inventory, otherwise called musicology. This does not mean that Prokofiev spent all of his thirteen years in the Conservatory. He did not. He took his regular classical undergraduate training at the same time that he was studying the above-mentioned musical subjects at the Conservatory. Long before his graduation he became fairly well known among a group of advanced music lovers and in the circles around the Conservatory. As early as 1911, Jurgenson in Moscow started publishing his music, and at that time Prokofiev had already a dozen orchestral pieces, one opera, and about one hundred piano pieces to his credit. It was in 1909 that the unconConsequently he has a passion for such games of systematic calculation as chess and bridge. He used to play chess by correspondence with his Parisian publisher during the summer months. As for bridge, I still remember two May weeks in Paris during the thirties when a group of twelve of us would sit down and play every day from throe in the afternoon until two in the morning in Prokofiev’s crowded and smoky apartment near Les Invalides. Prokofiev had devised a system of graphs for this tournament. Those graphs showed the relative position of every player at every phase of the game. Even so, he does not go as far as Hindemith in his love for practical devices and systems, for the latter knows by heart the timetable of most of the trains of the United States.
In the purely grammatical writing of his musical scores, Prokofiev is more meticulous than any other composer I know. The calligraphy of the manuscript is not as astonishing in its perfection as that of Stravinsky (Stravinsky’s scores look like illuminated manuscripts), but when his score is finally printed, it is one of the few which have no mistakes at all. He is very precise about his metronome markings, the opus number, and the dates of his compositions. All the little systems which he devises are generated by the same kind of practical-mindedness which one finds in his music. The Russian alphabet used to have two i’s, one which is like the Latin i, and one derived from the Church Slavonic, which resembles the Latin u. Long before the reform of the Russian alphabet went into effect, Prokofiev had dropped the old Slavonic ?, employing only the Latin i, which is chiefly used in the Ukrainian dialect, and which gave a Ukraininn appearance to Prokofiev’s Russian script. Strangely enough, when the alphabet reform went into effect, it was the Slavonic i which was retained. However, Prokofiev continues to write with his Ukrainian i. When he writes postal cards, he often adopts a spacesaving device. He drops all vowels, and thus his Russian begins to look like one of the many consonant-ridden Balkan dialects. A postal card of his would start “Dr frnd,” and would end, “Yrs SRG PRKFV.”
Prokofiev is a hard-working composer. He works mostly at the piano, and his hours are always carefully scheduled. On this subject there is a story about Tchaikovsky which Prokofiev tells everyone. Tchaikovksy once was asked by a lady the usual question about how he composes — does he wait for inspiration to come or does he force it down? Tchaikovsky answered, “Madam, I sit down to the piano regularly at nine o’clock in the morning and Mesdames les Muses have learned to be on time for that rendezvous.” To my knowledge, the only piece Prokofiev has not composed at the piano is his famous Classical Symphony. He used to laugh at all the complicated discussions among critics about his “neo-classical style” of which the Classical Symphony was supposed to be such a striking example. He told me, and I believe it has never been noted in this country, that the reasons for writing that kind of symphony were of a purely practical nature; he wanted to prove to himself the extent of self-control he could exorcise over his hearing. He therefore decided to write a piece without the help of any instrument, but in order to hear the harmonies well and to be sure of what he was doing, he adopted a simplified, conventional, so-called classical style! Thus he limited himself to the use of conventional chords. The rest of Prokofiev’s music is, of course, far from being neoclassical; if has grown too organically out of our time to be so.
Prokofiev has an excellent musical memory. I recall him quoting themes of other composers themes he had only heard once or twice sometimes years before. He could sit down at the piano and play uninterruptedly for hours on end all kinds of music, Russian and Western European, some of which is little known or pretty well forgotten by the average musician. He remembers such things as early operas of Tchaikovsky, whole scenes from Moussorgsky’s Marriage; he knows measure for measure all the harmonic and orchestral secrets of Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring. He has an excellent memory also in another sense. I remember once making a few disparaging remarks about a piece of his called Chose en Soi. Years later, when I had completely forgotten the piece and the incident, he played it to me again without mentioning what it was and asked me how I liked it. I said I liked it quite well, whereupon he laughed sarcastically and gave me an appropriate scolding.
In keeping with all his love for systems and practical organization, Prokofiev is painfully and uncompromisingly punctual. This is another way in which he is particularly hard on his associates. I have personally felt the wrath he can bestow on one who keeps him waiting, however short the time. We were motoring together in a leisurely fashion through France. His wife, Lina Ivanovna, was with us and she and I, looking over old coins in the Basilica of Domremy, forgot our rendezvous with Prokofiev until we were twenty minutes late. Only my threat to leave them and to board a train was able to break the ominous and hostile silence which reigned because we had held up the trip for a few minutes. Prokofiev laughed at my threat and all was over. He has always teased me about that incident in Domremy, which most people would hardly have remembered.
Prokofiev is as authentically Russian as a man can be. His physical appearance and his character belong inseparably to the native soil of South Russia. He is tremendously proud of being a Russian (an attitude not too common among Russians), and he considers his people superior in gifts, particularly as far as music is concerned, to many other peoples of Europe. He is proud of Russian history, Russian literature, Russian art, and there never has been a doubt in his mind about the great destiny and future of his country. When the Revolution occurred and most of the intelligentsia and bourgeoisie fled from Russia, Prokofiev did a very rare thing for those days. He went to the Soviet government, took out a passport, and left Russia in a perfectly legal manner. He saw that it would not be wise to become an outlaw. Later, in Paris, when people were doubting and worrying over Russia’s future, he was continuously repeating in words and acts that the Revolution for him was an inescapable, positive event of Russia’s national history, and he did not see in it, as so many of his compatriots did at that time, a desperate and fatal calamity. He believed that Russia’s Revolution was teaching a lesson to the West and would ultimately lead to a regeneration of European society.
But let us turn back to the year 1917 when Prokofiev finally graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory. He was at that time fairly well known in the musical circles of both St. Petersburg and Moscow, and not completely unknown abroad. Diaghilev had commissioned him in 1914 to write a ballet, but when it was finally written it was not produced. The story of the ballet and, in many ways, its music were too closely akin to Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring which Diaghilev had just produced in Paris. However, Prokofiev made a symphonic suite out of the music for this ballet and called it Scythian Suite. This was finally performed in St. Petersburg in 1916 with tremendous success. In 1915 he went to Italy to discuss with Diaghilev another ballet, Chout (The Buffoon), which was produced in 1921. When he left Russia in 1918, he had already started an opera on the subject of Gozzi’s The Love for Three Oranges, suggested to him by Meyerhold, and this opera was produced in Chicago in 1921.
From 1922 until 1926 Prokofiev lived in France and traveled only for his annual concert tours. In Paris he found himself surrounded by a seething international artistic life in which the Russian element played a great part, thanks mainly to Diaghilev and his Ballet. Most of these people were expatriates, in various degrees opposed to the new regime in their motherland. Prokofiev had too close and too profound a relation with Russia to lose himself in this atmosphere. He kept up his friendships with those who stayed in Russia and those who were abroad by simply putting himself, in a certain sense, outside of the whole problem. It was interesting to watch how cleverly he succeeded in this position. There was nothing strained or unnatural about it. He earned the esteem of both camps and the confidence of everyone. From a production in the Ballet Russe of his latest ballet, Prokofiev would go to the Soviet Embassy where a party would be given in his honor, and at his home you would find the intellectuals arriving from Russia, among them his great friend, Meyerhold, Soviet writers, and poets.
In 1927 he dug out his old Soviet passport and returned for a short while to Russia. As a result of this first trip came his ballet, The Steel Leap. This was Prokofiev’s greatest success in Paris. It coincided with a turn in French public opinion toward Russia, with the beginning of the Five-Year Plan, and the increasing interest in Russian affairs among the intelligentsia of Western Europe. For several years to come Prokofiev kept up the dual life of going to Russia for several months and spending the rest of the time in Paris, until finally the demands of his country inwardly and outwardly became so strong that he decided definitely to return and settle in Moscow. Since then Prokofiev has left Russia only for very short concert tours. He has become the leading composer of the old guard in his country, and occupies a highly privileged position among the intelligentsia of the Soviet Union. He is regarded with great favor by the Soviet government.
The strange thing about Prokofiev’s music is that it almost never changes. This fact was well explained by a Russian critic, Sabaniev, some fifteen years ago: “Impressionism, futurism have been succeeded by atonality, polytonality, and other tendencies, yet Prokofiev remains exactly as we found him at the beginning of his career: unresponsive to movements, his art is as naïve as that of Schubert, Chopin, or even Mozart.” Leaving out the question of naïveté in the music of those three composers, I believe Sabaniev has caught something about the nature of Prokofiev’s music which is intrinsically true. It is a kind of music which since 1914 and 1915 has undergone very little change. Prokofiev has much music of variable quality and dimensions, but if one were to listen to his early and late pieces and to try to find some development, try to construct some form of chronology into the changes of style and fashion, I feel sure one would be quite at a loss. Since the publication of his three pieces, Sarcasmes, First Violin Concerto, and Visions Fugitives, little has changed in either the style or the technique of Prokofiev’s music.
At the outset Prokofiev himself and his music symbolized a reaction against an aestheticism burdened with philosophy, literature, and mysticism. His task was to bring music back to the world of pure sound. Hence the cutting, direct, square, cheerful style in contrast to the “arpeggio-ridden” music of his contemporaries; hence the preference for simplified harmonic texture, a clear-cut melody, and the major character of the whole structure; hence, also, the sectional, sometimes almost mechanical, form of his music.
Certain particularities of his melodic line and certain harmonic relations used over and over again make his music unmistakably personal. Prokofiev loves, for instance,— or at least did love until his recent works, — to play a little game of melodic construction which could easily be discovered in any one of his pieces. The game consists of taking a conventional rhythmical figure, tying it up with a conventional melodic pattern so obvious as to border sometimes on triviality, and then afterwards forcing this melodic line into a harmonic frame which seems disconnected, surprisingly arbitrary, and produces the feeling that the melody has been refreshed by having been harmonically mishandled. Another little game in Prokofiev’s thematic structure is the abruptness and unexpectedness of his leaps. A melody will start in a very stereotyped manner, and then suddenly will leap to an absolutely unexpected tone over seemingly unconnected intervals. These characteristics contribute a great deal to the joking, sarcastic nature of much of his music. The intentional breaking up of conventional patterns produces a series of audible surprises, and it is this quality of successive shocks which in turn creates the feeling of irony. In a certain sense, a similar game is carried on within his harmonic texture. Chords, generally very simple chords, are related in such an entirely unexpected fashion that the ear has always a new element of harmonic surprise to cope with. Of course, the arbitrariness of these relations is only superficial, for at the back of them there is an organic logic of relations which Prokofiev discovers and establishes in his music.
What is somewhat perplexing is the mechanical form of his music. However, Prokofiev is traditionally Russian in that; for, with a few exceptions, the Russian composers fitted their music into an existing form and did not let the form grow out of the nature of their musical invention. Another puzzling thing about Prokofiev’s music is that, despite all the squareness, conciseness of his rhythm, his actual rhythmical inventiveness is not very far-reaching. That is, Prokofiev is not preoccupied, as are many contemporary composers, with rhythmical problems, and in that sense again he is closer to the contemporary music of Russia and Germany than to that of France, England, and the United States. Prokofiev always says that his chief preoccupation lies in the invention of good themes, and by good themes he means those melodies that one would recognize as indubitably his own. Formless and amorphous melodies are what he despises most in music. To realize this emphasis upon melodic invention is most significant for the comprehension of Prokofiev’s music.
It has often been said that the modern pianistic style owes much to Prokofiev, and that it is Prokofiev who for the first time discovered the percussive use of the piano. I am in no position to judge how true that statement is, but that Prokofiev is one of the major contemporary composers for the piano and one of the best technicians of this instrument is absolutely clear. Such works as his second and third piano sonatas and his third piano concerto are by now piano classics, and his Visions Fugitives, Sarcasmes, and Suggestion Diabolique are regular parts of piano recitals. In his piano style Prokofiev does not shun the traditions of the nineteenth century. He is not unduly afraid of the Liszt-Chopin-Schumann heritage. Probably one of his greatest achievements is the creation of a perfectly unified contemporary style of piano music which forms a synthesis of eighteenth and nineteenth century traditions with modern technical inventions. In addition to this, his piano style has the great quality of being alive and remaining personal. Prokofiev avoids certain technical gags and fads to which many of his contemporaries were addicted (jazz rhythms, neo-Bachism, and others), and thus escapes being both archaic and banal. He is certainly the best piano composer since Debussy.
Personally, I think that the best music Prokofiev ever wrote is not the sarcastic, joking music which is so well known in this country, but rather those infrequent pages composed in a more lyrical mood: for instance, the nostalgic and melodically beautiful last pages of The Prodigal Son (the ballet produced in the last year of Diaghilev’s reign in Paris in 1929), the second movement of his third piano concerto, his songs on the poems of Akhmatova, even the Lieutenant Kije suite, and the somewhat overprovincial yet tender and moving songs from his last opera, Semyon Kotko. Another Prokofiev whom I like particularly is the noisy, boisterous, straightforward, and yet very earnest Prokofiev of The Steel Leap and the Third Symphony. To me it seems strange that only the sarcastic side of his talent has become so well known in this country. This is probably because few composers have the gift of being sarcastic in music without being eclectic. Sarcasm and irony are among the most difficult things to express originally in music. I believe that the success of Peter and the Wolf in its magnificent English rendition results mainly from the fact that composers here have not preoccupied themselves with children’s literature and children’s art as Soviet Russian composers have done so successfully. In itself, the piece is of course banal and trivial, but its charm comes from the fact that the composer knew he was writing very slight music.
Another peculiarity about Prokofiev’s music is that its style lacks any consistent polyphonic development. Prokofiev has a particular dislike for the usual imitative counterpoint, and always casts aspersions on certain of his contemporaries for writing imitation fugues and fugatos. He contends that this makes the style necessarily derivative of and like eighteenth century polyphonic music. This sounds somewhat paradoxical for someone who has made free use of the rather mechanical standards of eighteenth century musical form and applied it to the very structure of his themes.
With all its individual characteristics, the music of Prokofiev, particularly in its melismatic nature, is deeply rooted in the Russian past. Sometimes it reflects Moussorgsky, sometimes Tchaikovsky, and thus it does not, like so much modern music, hang in the air, rootless and without an affiliation with the past . This is enhanced by a masterful orchestrational technique, a technique born of the study of such Russian works as the ballets of Tchaikovsky, the operas of Glinka, and the late operas of Rimsky-Korsakov. His orchestration is much more conventional than that of Stravinsky. It is rougher, less polished, and it sometimes lacks the audible and wonderful transparence of Stravinsky’s scores. But Prokofiev’s music is always full of substance and of imagination. Sometimes, as particularly in the Kije suite, the third piano concerto, and the last page of The Prodigal Son, the quality of his craftsmanship is of the highest order.
Since Prokofiev returned to Russia, a process of simplification has taken place in his music. I will not venture to say whether this process was a genuine one within Prokofiev or was forced upon the composer by that particular ideological constellation now prevailing in the U.S.S.R. Unfortunately, many scores of the late years are not available here, and his latest opera (Semyon Kotko), produced with tremendous success last year in Moscow, of which all Russian magazines and newspapers were writing for months, cannot be secured. One would have to look through much more music by Prokofiev to judge how real this simplification is in him. There are, however, a few disconcerting signs which appear with every new composition of Prokofiev that comes to us. They all point in the same direction: the melody of Prokofiev begins to lose its individuality in a frame of not very well digested and often old-fashioned folk material. At other times, as in his second violin concerto, there are certain sections which, luscious as they seem to the ears of the concert public, conductors, and performers, are in essence trivial and terribly old-fashioned. However, his sixth piano sonata, written a year or so ago, does not show these defects. It is full of the same quality which Prokofiev so amply demonstrated in his past music.
When people go back to Russia one feels an irretrievable loss. The cleavage between Russia and the rest of the world is complete. In a certain sense the person who returns to Russia really dissolves in the perplexing new atmosphere. From everyone who has emerged one hears the same story: the rediscovery of the motherland is a hard thing. Later, once one is adjusted to the new life and the new ideas, there seems to be no way back, and all those relations which were established abroad fade away, disappear in the dark recesses of one’s memory.
Recently I saw a photograph of Prokofiev in the uniform of a fire fighter of the Moscow Conservatory. There he was, the good Sergei Sergeievitch, with his open Russian grin scarcely concealed by huge eyeglasses and the blur of the newspaper photograph, dressed in his awkward, medieval-looking uniform and peering at me through the space of continents and the timelessness of memory. How his heart must suffer now; how it must beat as one with the millions of Russian hearts defending the new country they have built at the cost of untold sacrifices! What deep anger and earthy hate he must feel toward the ruthless enemy who has so brutally shattered the realization of his people’s dreams, and destroyed the work of several generations of Russian peasants, workers, and intellectuals! Prokofiev, who always believed in them when others doubted, must share their deep conviction that now is the gravest and noblest hour of their history, now is their Thermopylae and their Verdun.
- NICOLAS NABOKOV is a Russian composer who was born in St. Petersburg in 1903. Much of his early music was written in Paris where his first ballet-oratorio was produced by Diaghilev in 1928. His symphonic suites and his two symphonies have been played by the leading orchestras here and abroad. He first visited this country in 1933 and a year later wrote Union Pacific, a ballet based on text by Archibald MacLeish. He is today the Director of Music at St. John’s College, Annapolis.↩