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.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

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.

(Soundbite of music)

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.

(Soundbite of music)

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.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.