Prokofiev's Diaries Await New Audience

Sergei Prokofiev is considered one of the greatest composers of the 20th century... and a bit of a cold fish. The composer's diaries, held by Soviet authorities for decades, will soon be published in English.

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Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev wrote some of the most enduring classical works of the 20th century - Peter and the Wolf, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella. He was also a devoted writer of words. For the first time, his diaries will be published in English. They're expected to reveal a much more vulnerable side to the notoriously difficult artist. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Sergei Prokofiev is said to have written some 200,000 words by the time he was 17. Anthony Phillips, who translated his diaries, believes his writing is as lyrical as his music.

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BLAIR: The book of diaries to be published in December covers Prokofiev's teenage years at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. At the time, he was already composing some of his first major works. Phillips says the secretive Soviet authorities held the diaries under lock and key for more than 30 years. During Perestroika, Prokofiev's eldest son was able to obtain them and make copies. They were published in Russian for the time in 2002. Phillips says Prokofiev was known to be arrogant and elusive. For Phillips, the most astonishing aspect of the diaries is his candor.

Mr. ANTHONY PHILLIPS (Translator): He's very, very hard on himself. He doesn't try in any way at all to sort of present his actions in a good light. He was extremely competitive. He really couldn't bear losing. He couldn't bear losing at chess, at bridge, getting a bad review. And he was deeply competitive as a pianist as well. He spent a whole year preparing for and eventually winning the equivalent of the Clayburn(ph) competition.

BLAIR: Prokofiev told his diary he was so excited by the victory he decided to wait to write about it. Quote: "The events were just as powerful emotionally as they had been on that day, and I lived once again the heat of battle." The work that gave him his victory? His own piano concerto number one. He was 21.

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BLAIR: This will be the first of three volumes of Prokofiev's diaries that cover his life up to 1933, published by Cornell University Press. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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