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Selected Correspondence of Sergei Prokofiev [Hardcover]

Harlow Robinson
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Book Description

Jan. 1 1998
One of the most important and influential composers of the twentieth century, Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) was also a prolific and gifted writer. Besides producing diaries, short stories, dramas, reviews, and the libretti for his own operas, Prokofiev conducted lively and frequent correspondence with family friends, classmates, and notable cultural figures in the Soviet Union and abroad.

This engaging volume collects for the first time in English the most representative and enlightening of Prokofiev's letters, including some previously suppressed missives that have never before been published. Expertly translated and annotated by Harlow Robinson, the correspondence presented here covers Prokofiev's earliest years at St. Petersburg Conservatory, his extensive worldwide travels, and his return to Moscow. Among the correspondents are childhood friend Vera Alpers, harpist Eleonora Damskaya, ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, theatrical director Vsevolod Meyerhold, Soviet critic Boris Asafiev, composers Vernon Duke and Nikolai Miaskovsky, soprano Nina Koshetz, musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky, violinist Jascha Heifetz, conductor Serge Koussevitsky, and film director Sergei Eisenstein.

Prokofiev vividly describes, often with dramatic flair and a quirky sense of humor, concerts, performances, his compositions, political events, and meetings with other musicians and composers. His observations are peppered with musical gossip as well as eccentric, original, and disarmingly apolitical insights. Like his music, the writing style is laconic, brisk and tart, full of energy.

Taken together, the letters provide a cultural and musical history unequaled in the correspondence of any other modern composer. This indispensable edition will shed new light on Prokofiev's misunderstood life and career, illuminate his creative processes and aesthetic principles, and introduce his exceptional literary talents to those already captivated by his musical genius.


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From Kirkus Reviews

An entertaining and useful selection of Prokofiev's correspondence with prominent figures in Soviet and migr art, dance, and music circles that brims with the composer's personality and literary style. After reading but a few of Prokofiev's letters (appearing in English for the first time), one can easily agree with Robinson's suggestion that, had he not become a composer, Prokofiev might have turned to writing. He did write opera librettos, but the letters in this collection are especially revealing of the private mana witty and ironic, though harsh, friend, a tireless worker, and an energetic man of business. Among those included in this selection of business letters (many about artistic collaborations), travel reports, and friendly notes are figures in the music world (Serge Koussevitsky, Nikolai Miaskovsky), the director Sergei Eisenstein, Ballets Russes director Sergei Diaghilev, and theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold. The list is a virtual who's who of the Soviet artistic elite, and many letters shed light on the nature of Prokofiev's artistry and his personality. Robinson, the author of a 1987 biography of the composer, also provides useful introductions to each chapter. His comments are unsentimental and even brutally candid. Describing the composer's egotism and his mocking manner, he writes: Empathy and compassion were never strong traits in Prokofiev's character. Robinson has published these letters in an effort to help save Prokofiev's reputation from those (especially postCold War Russians) who condemn his collaboration with the Soviets. The letters, he argues, provide proof for his earlier claim that Prokofiev lacked political views. While they confirm that music was his raison d'tre, they also indicate that, while Prokofiev chose to distance himself from politics, he was not ignorant of them. A valuable and accessible resource for musicologists, Soviet specialists, and those seeking greater insight into Prokofiev's life and art. Readers should, however, make up their own minds about his politics. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Harlow Robinson is Chair of the Department of Modern Languages at Northeastern University. An accomplished pianist, violinist, and singer, he is the author of Sergei Prokofiev: A Biography and The Last Impresario: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Sol Hurok. He is a regular contributor to The New York Times, Opera News, Dance Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, and National Public Radio's Performance Today. He lives in Boston.

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