The People's Artist: Prokofiev's Soviet Years

Oxford University Press
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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 emigrés 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.
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About the author

Simon Morrison is Professor of Music at Princeton University. He restored the original, uncensored version of Romeo and Juliet for the Mark Morris Dance Group, who performed its world premier in 2008.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Oxford University Press
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Published on
Nov 25, 2008
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Pages
512
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ISBN
9780199720514
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Russia & the Former Soviet Union
Music / Genres & Styles / Classical
Music / History & Criticism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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This account of the renowned composer’s neglected wife—including her years in a Soviet prison—is “a story both riveting and wrenching” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

Serge Prokofiev was one of the twentieth century’s most brilliant composers yet is an enigma to historians and his fans. Why did he leave the West and move to the Soviet Union despite Stalin’s crimes? Why did his astonishing creativity in the 1930s soon dissolve into a far less inspiring output in his later years? The answers can finally be revealed, thanks to Simon Morrison’s unique and unfettered access to the family’s voluminous papers and his ability to reconstruct the tragic, riveting life of the composer’s wife, Lina.
 
Morrison’s portrait of the marriage of Lina and Serge Prokofiev is the story of a remarkable woman who fought for survival in the face of unbearable betrayal and despair and of the irresistibly talented but heartlessly self-absorbed musician she married. Born to a Spanish father and Russian mother in Madrid at the end of the nineteenth century and raised in Brooklyn, Lina fell in love with a rising-star composer—and defied convention to be with him, courting public censure. She devoted her life to Serge and art, training to be an operatic soprano and following her brilliant husband to Stalin’s Russia. Just as Serge found initial acclaim—before becoming constricted by the harsh doctrine of socialist-realist music—Lina was at first accepted and later scorned, ending her singing career. Serge abandoned her and took up with another woman. Finally, Lina was arrested and shipped off to the gulag in 1948. She would be held in captivity for eight awful years. Meanwhile, Serge found himself the tool of an evil regime to which he was forced to accommodate himself.
 
The contrast between Lina and Serge is one of strength and perseverance versus utter self-absorption, a remarkable human drama that draws on the forces of art, sacrifice, and the struggle against oppression. Readers will never forget the tragic drama of Lina’s life, and never listen to Serge’s music in quite the same way again.
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Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953), arguably the most popular composer of the twentieth century, led a life of triumph and tragedy. The story of his prodigious childhood in tsarist Russia, maturation in the West, and rise and fall as a Stalinist-era composer is filled with unresolved questions. Sergey Prokofiev and His World probes beneath the surface of his career and contextualizes his contributions to music on both sides of the nascent Cold War divide.

The book contains previously unknown documents from the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art in Moscow and the Prokofiev Estate in Paris. The literary notebook of the composer's mother, Mariya Grigoryevna, illuminates her involvement in his education and is translated in full, as are ninety-eight letters between the composer and his business partner, Levon Atovmyan. The collection also includes a translation of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's unperformed stage adaptation of Eugene Onegin, for which Prokofiev composed incidental music in 1936.


The essays in the book range in focus from musical sketches to Kremlin decrees. The contributors explore Prokofiev's time in America; evaluate his working methods in the mid-1930s; document the creation of his score for the film Lieutenant Kizhe; tackle how and why Prokofiev rewrote his 1930 Fourth Symphony in 1947; detail his immortalization by Soviet bureaucrats, composers, and scholars; and examine Prokofiev's interest in Christian Science and the paths it opened for his music.


The contributors are Mark Aranovsky, Kevin Bartig, Elizabeth Bergman, Leon Botstein, Pamela Davidson, Caryl Emerson, Marina Frolova-Walker, Nelly Kravetz, Leonid Maximenkov, Stephen Press, and Peter Schmelz.

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