Moussia 20: 1920: “Rescuing the Czar”

‘the peacherino from the Metropole’    ‘the dark-eyed Circe with the Greek nose’

In article 19, I have described the circumstances under which Moussia moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 1919 and shown how she made her stage debut in the Majestic theatre. With the help of Vladimir, she moved into a bungalow together with the Rumanov couple, Michal and his wife Ariadna, an accomplished concert pianist. The fact that  Moussia was moving in with the Rumanovs gave rise to occasional rumors that there might be a relationship between the two women and that they would live in a ‘ménage à trois’ with Michal. This rumor was still heard by Serge Prokofiev upon his first meeting with the two women in Los Angeles on December 29, 1920 (I shall come back to this meeting in a later article, see also article 3). He found out quickly that the rumor was untrue. Vladimir, upon his return in San Francisco, rented a room at 120, Ellis Street at San Francisco and, later that year, disappeared. It has become clear to me that his disappearance  had to do with the publication in July of that year of a book entitled “Rescuing the Czar”.

In July 1920, the California Printing Company (Director Henry Haskin), printed, bound and shipped to its authors, who called themselves ‘translators’,  a book titled Rescuing the Czar. This book, by James P. Smythe, Ph.D., presented separate on-the-spot accounts by two men, in a confusing manner, of how they had managed to rescue the Czar and his family in 1918, through an underground tunnel. They were: a British intelligence operator Charles James Fox and a Russian nobleman posing as a Bolshevik, by the name of Alexei Syvorotka. Towards the end of the operation, Alexei Syvorotka suffered from typhus, leaving the reader in some uncertainty as to whether he had survived or not.

Throughout the book, in the accounts of both Fox and Syvorotka, there is recurrent mention of a ‘femme fatale,’  “the Baroness B.”, alias “The girl  from the Metropole”, alias Lucie de Cleve, vaudeville actress.  My faithful readers, please read this book, you will have no problem in recognizing Moussia in this femme fatale. The Metropole is obviously inspired by the Majestic theatre in Los Angeles where she performed in November 1919. Syvorotka resembles Vladimir Baranovsky, with a touch of George Romanovsky. The “energetic dark-eyed Circe with the Greek nose” must be inspired by Ariadna Rumanov. “I wonder what is the connection between the two … there is certainly some sympathetic tie between the two girls… who is Syvorotka? Her lover? I wonder what the game is… Come to think about it, the titled performer at the Metropole looks like a twin sister of Marie Amelia, Countess of Chechany, a perfect composite of Juno and Venus and Hebe all rolled into one.” This resemblance makes us think immediately of the newspaper hoaxes of November 1918, see articles 12 and 13, when Moussia was thought to be Princess Tatiana in disguise.

An arbitrary choice of further quotes from this book, which had the purpose of ‘setting at rest the fable of the Romanoff Execution’: “All I ask is: if you find out whether that fellow ‘Fox’ grabs the peacherino from the Metropole or the one called ‘Maria’, you’ll send me an invitation.” (I suspect that the name Fox was chosen because it was the name of Fox Film Corporation). There are epithets of the Metropole girl which remind us of  “bad little, bold little siren” in the newspaper article shown in article 19: ‘veiled minx’, ‘that hissing vixen’. We learn that Syvorotka was married before to a certain Maroussia, who was regrettably shot. Which name does that remind us of? In Syvorotka’s more serious discussions with the Baroness B. there are details which make us think immediately of Moussia and Vladimir’s history and of the moment of their separation. There are a lot of details which we recognize, the most obvious one being the detailed address of Vladimir and his parents in Petrograd: “I was greatly surprised when I heard that Mr. Kerensky is living in the Rossia Insurance Company Apartments, Puskarskaya 59, Flat 10.” (see article 9 and following)

I believe that there is a good chance that this book was written by Michal Rumanov, the husband of Ariadna. He was a writer and journalist, probably still out of work. He must have been the ‘mystery man’ whom Henry Haskin saw correcting proofs in George Romanovsky’s office.The text was no doubt based on input by Vladimir Baranovsky and the two ‘translators.’

I am infinitely grateful to Shay McNeal, who in her meticulously researched book of 2001, The secret plot to save the Tsar (latest edition 2003, by Perennial, Harper Collins), has gone a long way to unravel the background of Rescuing the Tsar (1920). In her book, which I highly recommend to all my readers, she first deals with the general question if the Czar and his family were saved and dismisses in a well-reasoned manner the official notion that DNA would have proved that the remains found in 1991 near Ekaterinburg were those of the Imperial family. She then goes into the details of various rescue plans which have existed.  The book Rescuing the Czar is covered in the last Part of her book,  IV, chapters 14-16. She proves convincingly that this book, which has often been dismissed as a bizarre invention, should be taken more seriously because it contains an amazing number of facts, incidents and persons that no one except an insider, someone who was on the spot, could have known. So, her book leaves the possibility open that the Czar and his family were saved.

In her book, Vladimir and Maria Baranovsky are only briefly mentioned, as acquaintances of the Russian Acting Consul George Romanovsky who were close to Kerensky.  But, through lack of information, Shay McNeal fails to establish a further connection between them and the book Rescuing the Czar and she tries to associate the book’s protagonists with others.  I quote in summary the essence of Shay McNeals magnificent research work on what happened in 1920 with the book, which is an adventure by itself:

  • 10 March 1920: William Rutledge McGarry, a narrator of British war films, and the Russian Acting Consul in San Francisco George Romanovsky agreed to ‘arrange and prepare for the publication of a book called “The Prisoners of Tobolsk”’. The book, retitled Rescuing the Czar, after printing and binding by the California Printing Company, was delivered to its “translators” on 21 July 1920.
  • Complicated links between the Americans, British, Czechs, French, Germans, Japanese and Bolsheviks included events and people in San Francisco in 1920, who themselves had been involved in the Russian situation in 1918. For example, George Romanovsky was involved in moving large arms shipments and in attempts to bring a substantial portion of the Tsarist gold reserve to America, a subject about which he corresponded with McGarry already in 1919.
  • Rescuing the Czar immediately attracted a lot of attention. A second and third edition followed rapidly. The possibility of a film deal came up already in August 1920 when McGarry requested Major Samuel White, Office of the Judge Advocate, War Department in San Francisco, to contact for him Willam G. McAdoo, the former Secretary of the Treasury to which reported the US Secret Service in 1918. McGarry visited McAdoo in Washington in September, but the result of the meeting was very different from what he had in mind. After the meeting, the book was taken off the market and all offers for sale of the book’s rights for serialisation and film were withdrawn. The book died an instant death. Today, the book in its original first edition costs about 900 dollars, a second or third edition a few hundred less. However, the book was reprinted a few years ago and is now available at low cost.
  • Shay McNeal concludes that the book must have been constructed by someone with so much detailed inside knowledge of the events surrounding the Imperial family, that Governments forced its disappearance and she even goes as far as adding: “Down through the decades, rumours have floated among members of various intelligence communities that the brief life of Rescuing the Czar may have cost the lives of some British, American and other Allied nations’ agents. That assertion has never been confirmed.”
  • Only around 1926 did it become public knowledge that McGarry and Romanovsky were the ‘translators’ of the book.

Against this background, it is very clear why Vladimir Baranovsky disappeared in 1920. He feared for his life. He continued to live in the United States under an assumed name, as I will  elucidate in the following paragraphs and articles. But not before I have added one more very interesting quote from Shay McNeal’s book:

  • “President Roosevelt piqued my interest, when I learned that in the 1930s he had told to an aide that he had a mystery story whose ending he could not solve and that he had wanted to write for years but had never had time to undertake the task. His aide responded that if the President would share his storyline with him he would engage six writers to work out the ending for the President./…/ Roosevelt provided them with the beginnings of a tale about a Russian man who was wealthy, well-known and wanted to disappear with enough of his fortune to live on, but be perceived as dead.” Shay McNeal continues: “His story’s character seemed to mirror that of the Tsar.”

I think that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s story was not about the Tsar but about Vladimir Baranovsky, who in 1920 went to Chicago and later to New York, under the name of Vladimir Barstow. He became a successful bridge designer and a very proud citizen of the United States.

This is by no means the end of this story. In the following article I am going to discuss the well-written thriller by Gretchen Haskin, the daughter-in-law of the printer of Rescuing the Czar: An Imperial Affair (The Dial Press, New York, 1980) in which Moussia and Vladimir also appear. She uses Rescuing the Czar as a basis but with George Romanovsky in the role of Syvorotka. Little did she know… Or did she know?

And, of course, I owe you an account of what really happened to Vladimir. Only this very morning I received definite proof that indeed he did go back to Siberia during the Russian Civil War, with a mission. I am in contact with the Hoover Institute in Stanford University, California, in search of the exact timing. I owe, again, to Shay Mc Neal the knowledge that Pavel Bulygin, appointed by the Russian Dowager Empress to investigate the death or or otherwise of the Russian Imperial family, was forced to abandon his plans to publish a book on the subject in the early 1920s. When finally, in 1935, he published “The murder of the Romanovs”, there was no mention anymore of Vladimir Baranovsky which he had planned to do, as is known from his original outline of the book.  That outline and his notes on Baranovsky are still in the Shinkarenko Collection in the Hoover Institute.

(to be continued)


Moussia 21: “An Imperial Affair”

Sikorsky Russky Vityaz (Le Grand)

In 1980, Gretchen Haskin, daughter-in-law of Henry Haskin, the printer of Rescuing the Czar, published a book under the title An Imperial Affair. It is a very well written novel, a real thriller. The main protagonist is George S. Romanovsky, the Russian Vice Consul in San Francisco from December 1918 until 1924, we know him already from earlier articles.

She devised a story which builds on Rescuing the Czar. In Haskin’s book it is Romanovsky who is sent from San Francisco to Ekaterinburg in Siberia, to rescue the Imperial family. He travels under the false name of  Konstantin Petrovich Syvarotka, a slight spelling variation of the Syvorotka we know already. He leaves San Francisco in June, 1918, on the Japanese ship Nippon Maru. After an eventful train ride from Vladivostok during which Syvorotka contracts typhus, he reaches Ekaterinburg. He manages, ill as he is, to rescue the Czar and his family from Ipatiev House via an underground tunnel and brings them to a lake from where they are picked up by a four-engined Sikorsky bi-plane which takes them to Archangel. From there, the party, the sick Romanovsky included, is taken to England by warship. Finally, when he returns to San Francisco, Romanovsky realises that he has lost his wife to someone else.

It is clear from Part I of the book, Revolution, that Haskin has had access to personal details of George Romanovsky, including his friendship with Moussia and Vladimir Baranovsky. They must have told George everything about society life in Petrograd before the Revolution (Romanovsky had left there in 1910) and about the events of 1917. In the book they figure as Vladimir Illyitch Baronovsky and his wife Natalia Petrovna Baronovsky, the second a of Baranovsky having been changed to o which makes me think of the Baroness B.. In the novel, the wife of the real George Romanovsky, Goldie, is called Daisy. Poor Daisy is pictured as a rather dumb and helpless creature, who gets worked up when the parrot which she got from Natalia as a present, refuses to talk.

In the book, there are some details which have a ring of authenticity:

“The end of the month saw the arrival of another couple, old friends who had fled Russia through the east. Natalia Petrovna Baronovsky bore a striking resemblance to the Czar’s eldest daughter, and she had learned to make the most of this, moving swiftly and easily into good society. For reasons uncertain to Romanovsky, she took to Daisy immediately. She taught her how to dress and give parties, helped her with her French, and then paraded her around town like a pet poodle. Vladimir Illyitch went to work at the consulate as chancellor and through connections in Siberia provided Washington with a steady flow of political and military information.”

I would very much like to be in contact with both Gretchen Haskin and Shay NcNeal (see previous article). We could compare notes. It looks as if together we have the information to solve various puzzles.

It is now time to return to the real Vladimir. Did he go back to Russia soon after his escape from there? Why? And when? Could the adventures of “George Romanovsky” in An Imperial Affair be inspired by a trip made by Vladimir Baranovsky?

(to be continued)

Moussia 22: Vladimir Baranovsky back in Siberia, 1919

In article 20, I have presented my reasons for believing that the writer of Rescuing the Czar (1920) knew Maria Baranovsky very well. Moussia must have been his inspiration for “The Baroness B.”, alias “The girl from the Metropole”, alias “Lucie de Cleve, vaudeville actress.

Interesting as that may be,  it does not  shed much light on the origin, the sources of the book. I refer again to Shay McNeal’s detailed investigations and her “The Secret Plot to save the Tsar”.  In her book, McNeal demonstrates convincingly that Rescuing the Tsar contains many details, even the names of obscure Bolshevik officials, which in 1920 were totally unknown in the West. Reports of officially appointed investigators such as Nicolaï Sokolov and Pavel Bulygin had not yet been published in 1920. She writes: “Also, Rescuing the Czar mirrors many events that we now know had really taken place but which, in 1920, could only have been known to someone who was on the ground at the time. If not, then only someone who had been thoroughly briefed as to the actual details, which were unknown in the West in May or June 1920, could have concocted the book.”

Indeed. There was someone who had been thoroughly briefed. I think he was Vladimir Baranovsky, Moussia’s husband and, during the two years before the book was written, the friend of George Romanovsky and Michal Rumanov. In 1919, he returned to Russia, to Siberia, and was back in San Francisco before the year was out. Years later, he spoke about his trip to his second wife, an accomplished American pianist whom he married in Chicago in 1924. In very simple terms, without details. In 1990, when she was ninety years old and Vladimir had been dead fourteen years, she passed on the following story to her niece who recorded it on tape.

She said that according to Vladimir, George Romanovsky had come to dinner one evening, in Vallejo Street. George said that if Vladimir would want to go back to his estate to fetch some of his valuable belongings, he’d better go now while the White Army was still in power in the area.

Vladimir agreed and he went to Russia. His wife: “He never reached his estate and got the last train out from Russia with permission of the  White Army. But he became ill, “so they put him off the train, it was in a Siberian peasant village and being a nobleman, they immediately acquiesced to whatever he asked and she said she would give him a room but she wouldn’t enter the room so she’d open the door a crack and  give him a bowl of soup and  he thinks he had typhoid fever at the time, because he said ‘that’s when I lost all my hair’.”

Being very ill, he had to leave behind two heavy alligator suitcases. When they arrived in Chicago a few years later, sent by “his man”, they only contained the two golden vodka cups he got for his fifth birthday, his white tie and tails, a tuxedo, a smashed down silk hat and his pearl studs.

We have seen in Article 19 that Vladimir moved Moussia and the Rumanov couple to Los Angeles on December 31, 1919. They had abandoned the posh house in Vallejo Street, San Francisco after having lived there for only just over a year. In the 1920 Census  on January 5, Vladimir was listed as a lodger at 120 Ellis Street, San Francisco. After McGarry, George Romanovsky and Michal Rumanov had concocted a book from his adventures in Siberia but the book had been taken off the market ‘by order’ less than 3 months after its publication, Vladimir disappeared.

He may have feared for his life, see article 20. He went back to Los Angeles one more time and from there left California for Chicago. On arrival he went to a judge and changed his name in Barstow, the name of a place he had seen from the train after leaving Los Angeles. In Chicago, he met his future wife, divorced Moussia in 1921, and got married in 1924. He became a successful bridge designer and a proud American, as will be described in future articles. Was he the mystery man whom President Roosevelt wanted to write a book about?

The story as told by Vladimir’s wife, while true, is not, of course, enough to make us believe that Vladimir was the source of the information in Rescuing the Czar.

However, let us look at his background. He was not just a brilliant Engineer of Roads and Traffic from the Petrograd Polytechnic who had completed the five-year study in three years, as a bronze plaque in Petrograd shows. He was also a Russian nobleman (potomstvenniy dvoryanin), see articles 9, 10 and 11.

Vladimir was born in Omsk. The family lived there for a long time. Later, the family lived in  Kazan, from 1902 until the end of 1907. It was the place where Vladimir obtained a copy of his birth certificate and where the picture of his parents was taken, see article 10. It was also where Vladimir’s mother Lydia was born, the daughter of Professor Vasiliev who taught Chinese  there for many years. It was in Kazan that his parents stayed in 1918, during their flight from Petrograd to the South, with Elena and her baby daughter and where they were reunited with Vera (see article 18).  So, the family estate was most probably in the Kazan area. Vladimir told his wife that his estate included ownership of two villages.

Let us recap for a moment. Vladimir’s father became Military Attorney in Omsk in 1888, one year before Vladimir was born. He became Prosecutor in the same court, being promoted regularly thereafter and from 1894 until 1902 he was Military Investigator Omsk and Turkestan. In 1902, when Vladimir was 13, he was transferred to Kazan and in 1907 become Military Judge in Moscow and thereafter in Odessa. He then went to Finland where he became Senator in 1914, having attained the rank of General. He retired in 1916.

When, in 1919, the Red Army advanced towards Kazan, the family fled further South. They ended up in Constantinople where, after a stay in the transit camps on the Princes’ Islands, Vsevolod took on the responsibility for an organisation caring for Russian war invalids abroad until he died, unexpectedly, in 1921. He was buried in the Orthodox Cemetery in Constantinople. The family continued their travels and finally reached Paris.

When Vladimir passed through Omsk he must have heard that he could not reach Kazan anymore, see the map at the end of this article. He knew the town and may have heard about the arrival of Nikolaï Sokalov, “Criminal Investigator for Cases of Exceptional Importance”, whom Admiral Kolchak had appointed to investigate what happened to the Czar and his family. Vladimir’s father Vsevolod, who had just been Russia’s most senior Military Judge, must have known him personally. Maybe Vladimir knew him, too. From his office in Omsk and most of the time on site in Ekaterinburg, Sokolov carried out a thorough investigation. He was assisted by Captain Pavel Bulygin and a large team.

I propose that the on-the-spot knowledge of Rescuing the Czar came from  Vladimir, because he took part in Sokolov’s investigation. In that position he could  well have heard all the details which ended up in Rescuing the Czar. Maybe Vladimir’s father was involved in his appointment, maybe Vladimir participated in the team as a civil engineer. The investigations included inspection of mines which had to be pumped dry to look for the bodies of the murder victims.

Paul Bulygin wanted to write a book about this investigation in the early 1920s. He had to abandon the idea under pressure from high circles, including Kerensky. The original outline of his book is in the Archives of the Hoover Institute in Stanford University. I have received from them  a scan of the document. I quote one sentence from this outline:

« (9) Reihengel. Markoff II. Baranovsky and others. Their examination by Sokoloff.” Sokoloff’s departure. »

In his book, which finally came out in 1935, The Murder of the Romanovs – The authentic account, which includes a separate account by Kerensky, there is no mention of Baranovsky, notwithstanding the mention of his name in the original outline. Like Shay McNeal in her Epilogue, I am disappointed about that. But it may be that Bulygin left a trace of Vladimir in his book: at a certain moment Sokolov asked Bulygin to accompany a contingent of prisoners on a train from Omsk to Chita.  On their way, at two o’clock in the morning, the train suddenly crashed into eight empty carriages which had been released by saboteurs. The train was being fired upon but the attackers were silenced by the accompanying machine gunners. “When the line was cleared, I detailed one of my officers, a former Transport Engineering student, to look after our unreliable train driver, who had failed to notice the danger in time and then jumped off instead of applying the brakes. With this precaution, we were able to proceed, and safely reached Chita …”. A former Transport Engineering student? An officer? Wasn’t Syvarotka, the rescuer of the Czar, an officer of the 7th Hussars?

I know very well that I have not proved yet what the background is of Rescuing the Czar. However,  I believe that I have brought enough to the surface to warrant a review by the real experts, I am thinking in particular of Shay McNeal and Gretchen Haskin.

The pictures in this article have all been taken from the superb historical site of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, . Their “B” Squadron was in the Omsk region in 1919. I strongly recommend my readers to visit that website . The exploits of the Squadron are described in six Parts, illustrated with many unique pictures, like the following:

Czechslovak machine gunners on a train on the Trans-Siberian , 1919


(to be continued)

Moussia 23: 1919-1920: Siberian opportunities turn into pipedreams

Ariadna Rumanov (left) and Maria “Moussia” Baranovsky at the home of the Rumanovs in Los Angeles (1920)

Since writing my previous three articles, I have had the good fortune to find out more about the background of “Rescuing the Czar”.

With respect to its printer, Henry Haskin: The Angel Island Immigrant Station Foundation of San Francisco recently published online an excellent article on Henry and Miriam Haskin  and how they came to San Francisco from Russia in 1916. Together with a business partner, Henry started the California Printing Company in 1919.

Through the good offices of the archives of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, California, who had already helped me read all of Pavel Bulygin’s notes (article 22), I now have been able to read all 223 pages of a scholarly monograph, dated 1991, by Gretchen Haskin entitled “Rescuing the Czar, A story for two revolutions”. Gretchen Haskin, daughter-in-law of Henry,  has a degree in Russian History (see also article 21).

I have to admit that I started to read it with some trepidation, having a slight concern that my reconstruction of events would prove to be flawed. I am happy to say that I did not find any cause for concern. In fact, one could merge her work and mine into one.

Gretchen Haskin has been able to delve deeply into the background of William Rutledge McGarry and George S. Romanovsky, as I have been doing for Vladimir and Maria Baranovsky. Moreover, she had the opportunity to bring to the surface the role of her father-in-law, the printer of Rescuing the Czar, who never spoke a word to anyone about the book until 50 years after its publication. Her monograph is subject to copyright restrictions but accessible for research purposes. I will add a modest selection of her findings to my own final comments below.

She  demonstrates very clearly that the book is a pure fabrication, written for the most part by William McGarry, supplemented at a later stage by George Romanovsky, the writer of or inspiration for Part II.  In recent articles I have proposed the possibility that Michal Rumanov had a major role in writing the book and that Vladimir Baranovsky was its major source of on-the-spot information which, later,  Shay McNeal proved to be based on fact.

After his arrival in San Francisco, Vladimir Baranovsky worked in the Russian Consulate for a while, keeping Romanovsky up-to-date on events in Russia, in Siberia in particular. Haskin writes that Michal Rumanov worked in the consulate as well, as ‘commercial attaché’.  A journalist by profession, he helped Romanovsky launch a magazine, “Siberian Opportunities”, with good articles, advertisements and artwork by a certain Ossip Perelma. The first issue came out in May 1919. All this activity was planned and started in the course of 1918. Then, in the course of 1919, as we have seen in previous articles, the tide turned in Russia and the Red Army pushed the Whites back in Siberia. It became clear that there would be no business with Siberia, certainly none involving the Tsar’s gold which was being moved eastwards by Admiral Kolchak by train and about which McGarry and Romanovsky had been corresponding. Could it be that  Vladimir Baranovsky was sent to Omsk to discuss business with Admiral Kolchak?

Advertisement on back cover of Siberian Opportunities, Vol. II, No.7

According to Haskin, Michael Rumanov was sent to Los Angeles ‘as a consular representative, a  polite term for a salesman’ to sollicit advertising for Siberian Opportunities. Knowing that the couples Rumanov and Baranovsky made the house move to Los Angeles together, after having lived under one roof at 2600 Vallejo Street for only a year; knowing of Moussia’s stage and film ambitions; knowing even better than before (having read Haskin’s monograph) that the Romanovsky/McGarry team dreamed of turning Rescuing the Czar into a movie, I think that the two couples were sent to LA to prepare the ground for just such a venture, with “the girl from the Majestic” in the role of Tatiana. An old plan had been resurrected and amplified  (articles 12-14). I will go one step further: I suspect that it was one of the three, McGarry, Romanovsky or Rumanov, who wrote the glowing theatre review of Moussia’s debut in Los Angeles in November 1919 (article 19). There are remarkable similarities in style and terminology between that review and parts of Rescuing the Czar.

The Russian artist Ossip Perelma, graduated from the Imperial Academy in Petrograd, who called himself at times Count Ossip di Perelma, was a good portrait painter who liked to hobnob in high circles with politicians and generals. I was quite amused to find that, in an exhibition in Detroit in November 1919, the portrait of President Woodrow Wilson was joined by portraits of ‘Hon. George Romanovsky, Russian Consul to San Francisco’, ‘His Excellency, Boris Bakhmetieff (sic),  Russian Ambassador to the United States’, ‘Mrs. Ariandne Romanovv (sic)’. All members of the team that we have come to know.

Things turned sour in 1919 and 1920. Therefore, one of the aims the friends had with “Rescuing the Czar”, was to make the millions of dollars which had eluded them Siberia. However, in September,  the book was taken off the market and invitations to bid for film rights were canceled under pressure from high government levels, as we have seen. By the end of the year, Romanovsky was in serious financial trouble. In Los Angeles, Michael Rumanov asked for ever increasing amounts of money, ostensibly to finance his publicity campaign in Hollywood, but probably to be able to continue, in Los Angeles, his posh lifestyle in San Francisco of the year before. The last issue of Siberian Opportunities came out in January 1921.  The ambassador, Boris Bakhmeteff came all the way from Washington to San Francisco to put the Consulate’s house in order. Romanovsky’s pleas to Rumanov to return part of the money he had lent him fell on deaf ears.


Haskin writes that at the end of 1924, the consulate was closed and George Romanovsky and his wife went to New York. Some years later they moved to Chicago. In 1929, Romanovsky moved to Los Angeles and took up painting. His wife had divorced him. He died of cancer in September 1933, at the age of fifty.

In Moussia’s archive I have found two beautiful photos of her and Alexander Borovsky’s three-year old daughter Natasha, taken in 1927. Moussia has written on one of them, in green ink, in Russian: “To my American  dearest uncle Yurik [diminutive of George) from Natasha” and on the other one: “Do not cry, dearest auntie, I’ll come to New York, Natasha.” I think that these photos were sent to George and Goldie Romanovsky in New York and that Moussia got them back “address unknown”.  I will publish the photos, green handwriting and all,  in a later article.

We are now ready, having been well prepared during a long detour,  to get back to that December evening in 1921, when Sergei Prokofiev first met Moussia and Ariadna… (see article 3)

An example of a portrait by Ossip Perelma (1917)

 (to be continued)

Moussia 24: 1920-1921, Moussia and Sergey Prokofiev

“… and then a new face appeared, Baranovskaya, a former student of Meyerhold, a beautiful young woman who suffered not at all by comparison with Ariadna…”
Picture from Moussia’s collection; the enigmatic inscription in Russian reads:
‘In memory of Moscow, 1920/ 26. IV’

Note: In this article and some of the following ones,  I shall sometimes quote from the Diaries of Sergey Prokofiev, translated and annotated by Anthony Phillips, Volumes 1-3, published by Faber and Faber, London, between 2006 and 2012. In all instances, I shall put these quotes in italics and between marks of quotation.

Let us recap for a moment. On New Year’s Eve, 1919, Vladimir Baranovsky helped his wife Moussia and the couple Michal and Ariadna Rumanov move from the luxurious apartment house in San Francisco which the four had inhabited since the summer of 1918, to an apartment in Los Angeles (articles 17 and 19). After the move, Vladimir rented a room in San Francisco and then disappeared without a trace, although he and Moussia  had not separated legally. She did not know where he was for at least a year, nor did she know that he had surfaced in Chicago in October 1920 and, in front of a judge, assumed the name of Vladimir Barstow. In Chicago, he met the pianist Fern Scull, whom he would marry a few years later, in 1924. It was a happy marriage which lasted until his death in 1976 (both Vladimir and Fern will reappear in later articles).  He said to Fern  that he had chosen the name Barstow after passing through a train station of that name on his way to Chicago. Barstow is on the line from Los Angeles to Chicago.  He had probably made a last attempt to recover some of his money from Moussia and the Rumanovs in LA.

According to Fern (Scull) Barstow, during her 1990 interview, Vladimir had left an amount of ‘one hundred thousand dollars’ in a bank account for Moussia in the spring of 1919, when he left for Siberia. I believe that Fern did not exaggerate too much when she mentioned that amount. As we will see in this article and more to come, Moussia continued a luxurious lifestyle in Los Angeles, often traveled huge distances in the United States while staying in expensive hotels, and went to Europe in 1922. In 1922 and the following year,  she was even able to finance, on a rather grand scale, the beginning of her next marriage, to the famous but still impecunious pianist Alexander Borovsky . Moreover, throughout that period, both in the United States and in Europe, she was in and out of expensive spas and private clinics for treatment of her tubercular kidney. So Vladimir’s money, whatever the exact amount, was enough to support that level of feverish activity for about four years.

1920. The “Rescuing the Czar” film project had not come about. Waiting for a role in the theatre or in a film, Moussia gave lessons and presentations on acting, making good use of her training in the Moscow Art Theatre and with Meyerhold in Petrograd. Together with Ariadna and Michal Rumanov, she continued the high life she was used to.  In order to keep pace with her, Michal Rumanov continued to ask for money from the Russian Vice Consul George Romanovsky in San Francisco, to finance his ‘publicity activities’ (see previous article). This was the ambiance around Moussia and her companions when, on the 29th of December 1920, they met Sergey Prokofiev, as has already been described in some detail in article 3.

Prokofiev was no stranger to Ariadna Rumanov. He already had his eye on her and had written her humorous letters since 1909, when as a young girl she was a student in the St. Petersburg Conservatory and he had followed her progress and exams there with interest. When passing through Tokyo in 1918, he had heard that she was on her way to the United States via Japan, like he, and had married a man called Rumanov. A Russian Embassy official had said to him “with a hint of venom” that, once in America, the couple would probably exploit the similarity between the Rumanov and Romanov names. In Los Angeles, he was eager to visit the Rumanovs, to see what had become of Ariadna, not having seen her for many years. He had been invited by Michal Rumanov, who had come to see him. Prokoviev was disappointed by the man, finding him “small, pale and puffy.”(see photo in article 19, the man to the right of the Willys-Knight car).

(left) Sergey Prokofiev, (right) Ariadna Rumanov (née Nikolskaya). The second picture was found in Moussia’s collection

As Prokofiev entered their house, he was in for a surprise. “This was no ordinary social call, it was a major event… Ariadna herself opened the door to me with a smile of welcome. ‘Would you have recognised me?’she asked. ‘After all, we were never properly introduced.’”  No sooner had he renewed the acquaintance with Ariadna than his eye fell on Moussia, whom he properly calls Baranovskaya. She swept him off his feet.

He has vividly described his frequent encounters with Moussia and the Rumanovs in his Diaries (pages 563-581 of Volume 2). In the company of a jolly group around Moussia and the Rumanovs, he continues to wine and dine and party on New Years’s Eve 1920, New Year’s Day 1921,  on 4, 6, 9, 10, 14 and 16 of January, so twenty days in succession, until he left for Chicago on the the 17th.

On New Year’s Eve, in the house of one Mr. Becker, Prokofiev reports: “Rumanova and Baranovskaya, glamourous and décolletées, were looking extremely beautiful, and did their best to stay near me…”. Baranovskaya teaches him the American dances and how to kiss hands properly. During the days which followed, their conversations became more serious. About his music, which he played for her on the piano; about her views on acting. He attended one of her lectures  which she gave “in impeccable French”.

She tells him about her past and about her husband “who has disappeared into the blue yonder”, about her serious kidney ailment which often confines her to her bed and about her friendship with Kerensky, who during his time in power had divorced one, in order to marry another, of her cousins. At the piano, he takes her through the score of his opera “Love for three Oranges” which is about to be given its stage premiere in Chicago. He is very impressed with her personality and her informed views.  On 12 January, Moussia’s 26th birthday is celebrated and on 13th January (New Style) the Russian New Year. Obviously, Moussia had advanced the date of her birthday, 25 January (New Style) by thirteen days to “Old Style”, so that it would fit in with the general party schedule and Prokofiev would be able to attend.

I note as a point of interest that at midnight on Russian New Year’s Eve, all lights were doused and someone sang “God save the Tsar”, immediately followed by “The Marseillaise”. In contrast to the Bolsheviks, who always sang the Internationale, Kerensky adherents often sang the Marseillaise.

On January 17, 1921, Moussia and the Rumanovs had promised to come to the station to see him off when he left for Chicago. That morning, “Baranovskaya telephoned and said: ‘You must excuse me, I probably should not come to the station. I have been crying all morning. I have had some bad news’.  However, the first one I met at the station was Baranovskaya. ‘I had another telephone call, a much better one,’ she said,  ‘and everything is much better now’. Then the Rumanovs arrived and the train pulled out to the extravagant waving of Ariadna’s hat.”

I believe that on that morning, Moussia had the first news about Vladimir since the beginning of 1920. First from someone who pronounced him dead, then from Vladimir himself who said not to worry, he had only changed his name but wished to be perceived as dead under his former name.

Prokoviev left for Chicago and then for France. When he was back in the United States in October of that year, he met up with Moussia, whom he lovingly calls Frou-Frou, at the Biltmore Hotel in New York. They saw each other frequently over a three-day period; they dined, they went to the Philharmonic together, they went to see a movie. He writes: “Being with Frou-Frou was the greatest possible pleasure for me, and she also revelled in our meeting, ‘like being resurrected.’”

He saw her back in Chicago on December 24 (where she had already been since the 17th without calling him, to his annoyance –- I wonder if she went there early to look for Vladimir –).  During the final rehearsals and the grand premiere on the 30th of December of “The Love for three Oranges”, she stayed at Prokofiev’s side giving him her comments and professional advice. On 1 January 1922 he took her to a concert by Chaliapin, on the 2nd she left for New York. She had felt unwell for weeks, her kidney was giving her much trouble. When he arrived in New York himself, two weeks later, she had just checked into a private hospital. But she did not get any better and in the beginning of February she “had to be taken back to California and the sunshine.” Prokofiev had already left for Europe, on the Dutch ship Noordam.

While in New York, Prokoviev visited Moussia at the hospital every day and they talked and they talked.

“Frou-frou’s conversations gradually took an increasingly candid and specific direction. Our intercourse was conducted urbanely, with taste and a surface veneer of half-joking irony, but the underlying meaning was undoubtedly serious. Her idea was that I should marry her. Apparently the husband from whom she had separated two years ago had died in Mexico and she had the documents to prove it.  “I am good-looking, quite presentable, why should I not be your wife?” And certainly, if one was looking for one it would be a hard task to find a better wife than Baranovskaya, but those very qualities of refinement and delicacy and aesthetic discrimination I so valued in her seemed to have suppressed the woman in her. As such she aroused no feelings in me whatsoever…. Accordingly, I imparted to Frou-frou in the bantering tone we habitually adopted just how misconceived such a step would prove to be, and the subject was not raised again even though I continued to see her every day.”

With the benefit of hindsight and with my knowledge of what some of her other loving and admiring men had to say about Moussia in later years, my explanation of Prokofiev’s observations is at follows:

Firstly, at that time, men were intimidated and unsure of themselves in front of an articulate, knowledgeable whirlwind of a woman who felt in no way inferior to a man. But there was more. Prokoviev feared that his career as a composer and as a performer would be at risk if he married the outgoing Moussia, woman of the world, because she would not have much patience with the daily grind, the long hours of hard work, which goes with a professional musician’s existence. He probably thought that his girl friend since 1918, Lina Codina, a professional singer, would understand this much better and would adapt more easily to his way of life. As will become evident from future articles, I think that he continued to be in two minds about his decision, even after he had married Lina in 1923, and that he remained so until his return to Russia in 1936. Until then, Moussia and he stayed close friends, in the sense that they often shared their personal thoughts and concerns with each other in long private conversations whenever they could.

(to be continued)

Moussia 25: 1922, Moussia meets Alexander Borovsky, a great Russian pianist

Alexander Borovsky, about 1920. Photo from the personal collection of Moussia

We have already become acquainted with Alexander Borovsky in article 2. Born in Mitau, Latvia in 1889, he received his first piano lessons when he was 7 years old from his mother, Vera Vilhelmovna Vengerova (1862-1926), an accomplished pianist. He made astonishing progress but his mother, concerned that he should not grow up as a wunderkind, made sure that school lessons had first priority. In 1907, when he was eighteen years old, the family moved to St. Petersburg. There, he entered the Law Faculty and the Conservatoire at the same time, having earned full scholarships at both Institutions by having graduated from Libau High School with a Gold Medal. He completed both career studies, because his mother thought he should have one more arrow in his professional quiver; in case a musical career did not work out, he could  become a lawyer, like his father.

At the Conservatoire, his teacher was the famous Annette Essipova and one of his contempories was Sergei Prokofiev. They became friends and Prokofiev often visited the Borovsky family in whose apartment Madame Borovsky had her private piano school. There, Borovsky heard Prokofiev play his  early compositions like Visions Fugitives as they were in the process of being created. Prokofiev was full of praise for Borovsky and remained so for many years thereafter, when both men toured the concert halls of the world. Having already earned an Honorable Mention as a young pupil, in the  International 1910 Anton Rubinstein 5-yearly Piano Competition, Borovsky graduated in 1912 with a Gold Medal and the Anton Rubinstein Prize, which consisted of a grand piano, the same prize which Prokoviev would win the year thereafter as pianist-composer, with his First Piano Concerto.

Borovsky started his concert career in Russia, touring the immense country with enthusiasm. Then, the First World War broke out and just as he was worrying about how this might affect his career and the possibilities for travel abroad, he was appointed Professor at the Moscow Conservatoire, giving Master Classes to advanced pupils. Concurrently, he continued to give recitals. He was able to continue these activities during and after the Revolution, but by 1920, during the Civil War, he felt that it would be better to leave Russia. Without a clear plan how this could be done, he arranged with the Director of the Moscow Conservatoire to go on an inspection tour to music schools in regions in the South of Russia which had come under Red Army control. Once there, he managed to cross into Georgia, an independent state since the Revolution but already under threat to be invaded by the Red Army. In Tiflis, he gave concerts together with the Russian cellist Evsei Belousov, whom he had met during his journey. Together, they managed to leave Russia and by way of Constantinople and Italy, they arrived in Paris at the beginning of 1921, after having given various concerts on the way.

Borovsky and Belousov started to give recitals in Paris in April 1921. These were a success and they were soon  invited to play in  London, Berlin and Vienna. The real breakthrough for Borovsky came when the  Russian conductor Sergei Koussevitzky invited him to participate in the “Trois Festivals de Musique Russe” in Paris. On April 29, 1921, he played the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Tchaikovsky and on May 6, 1921 the piano scores of Le Poème du Feu (Promethée) of Scriabin. Reviews were enthusiastic and this resulted in many invitations to give recitals and concerts.

In 1921, Russian émigré colonies around the world were settling in as it became clear that the Civil War was being won by the Red Army. Paris became a favorite place for Russians, due to its relative closeness to Russia as compared with, for example, the United States.

Many well-to-do and/or cultured Russians who had settled temporarily in the United States and were still hopeful of a return to their country (like Moussia and Vladimir Baranovsky) gravitated to Paris, if only because they spoke French much better than they did English. One such family, Boris and Fatma Samoilenko,  close friends of Prokofiev, moved to Paris from New York. Fatma was one of two sisters Hanum, the other one being Tamara, who would soon become the heart and soul of the Russian party circuit in Paris (Fatma and her husband Boris figure prominently in the Prokofiev Diaries). Borovsky was sometimes invited in these circles, which he thoroughly enjoyed although he kept his distance; he was intent on his piano practice and in getting his career off the ground. He writes in his Memoirs that one day in 1922, he ran into “a Russian couple, Mr. and Mrs. Rumanov, whom I remembered having met on the first day of the Bolshevik victory in Moscow in the sleeping car for Petrograd. The man was a journalist and a very clever man…”. He continues:

“One morning this couple called me on the phone to invite me over for lunch to meet a beautiful young Russian lady from California, who had just recently seen my old friend, Prokofiev. When I arrived, I discovered that my friends had not exaggerated.  She really was a very beautiful woman. Her name was Maria Viktorovna.  She told me she had heard me play the Tchaikovsky Concerto in St. Petersburg under Alexander Siloti, that she had spent a lot of time with Prokofiev recently, and that she had just attended the premiere of his opera, “The Love of Three Oranges,” by Mary Garden’s company, in Chicago.” 

(to be continued)

Moussia 26: A splendid time at the Esplanade

“At any rate, after two weeks of commuting between the hotel and the Bechstein house with Maria and enchanting her with my playing, dressed in my nice suit, I began to feel I wasn’t progressing as I should, if at all …”. Picture taken by a street photographer in Berlin, 1922. From Moussia’s personal collection.

In his memoirs, written approximately thirty years later, Borovsky describes his first encounters with Moussia charmingly, sadly, and, with a fine touch of humour.

We know from Prokofiev’s Diaries that on January 25 1922, when he was leaving New York for France, the sick Moussia had just gone back to California and the Ruminovs (article 24). On April 15th, in Paris,  Prokofiev reports that he had played his Third Piano Concerto in the Grand Opéra, with Koussevitzky. There was supper after the concert: Koussevitzky (who drank to our friendship using the intimate tutoiement form of address), the Stahls, and Frou-Frou whose appearance was very striking. She had recently arrived from California.”

So, Moussia had wasted no time in California. In about two months time, she had made two round trips by train across the United States, recuperated from her illness and crossed the Atlantic Ocean, with her friends the Rumanovs and an American family. Borovsky writes:

She had come to Paris with an American family, but was staying alone in a different hotel, and she intended to go back to Moscow soon, where she had left her mother and brother. Maria Viktorovna had something of all the American manner, in that she seemed very assured in all her movements, and sure of her charm.  I admired her immediately and asked to take her riding in the Bois de Boulogne.  During the ride she told me many new and interesting things about America.  I hated for the ride to end, but I asked to see her again soon, and in just a few days I knew I was in love with her.”

“She would be the most suitable wife imaginable, I thought.  She knew several languages, she knew America and the Americas, and was so interesting to talk to.  And so extremely beautiful.  She would certainly attract everyone around, and it would be such a blessing to have such a wonderful companion.  But on the other hand, I wasn’t sure if I could get married at this time, since I still depended upon each concert and it’s fee.  And marriage was the last thing in the world a pianist should contemplate, in my opinion in those days.  So since I was so confused I said nothing to her of my thoughts; I knew only that I loved this woman, and I began to show her my admiration without restraint.” 

Until I met Maria I had had no steady relationship with any woman, and I felt quite inexperienced when, after courting Maria for a short while, I finally had to declare my love for her.  And she, in turn, was a little dubious as whether I was merely easily inflammable or really in love. But after a while she decided that it was serious, and she accepted my proposal for marriage.”

“First, however, she was obliged to go to Italy for the summer with the American family who had brought her to Paris. And during the summer she would have to get permission from her Russian bishop to marry me; she had been married before, but her husband had disappeared without a trace three years before, leaving her alone in California. It was generally presumed that he had been killed somewhere in Mexico, where he had gone to gamble, but she would have to be declared a widow before she could marry me.  I agreed to wait through the summer, and then meet her in Berlin in August, when she would be free to leave the American family.  So I was left alone in Paris, to wait for the summer’s end.”

It is exciting to read Borovsky’s words while seeing the last pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fall in place. He tells his story so naturally, some thirty years after the events, revealing himself as a kind and sensitive man. He wrote those words with the benefit of hindsight, knowing what he did not know in 1922:  that there were two dark clouds hanging over their marriage from the start, two unresolved issues which plagued Moussia in 1922 and thereafter: her unwanted obligation to continue claiming that her first husband Vladimir was dead while she must have known by then that he had just changed his name and wished only to be perceived as dead, and, her determination to go back to Russia to try and get her beloved younger brother Julian out of the country. One might ask: why had Vladimir put her in a precarious situation like that, by disappearing and changing his name? Surely it would have been easier to get a divorce?

I think that Vladimir’s disappearance had everything to do with the aftermath of the book “Rescuing the Czar” as I have explained in article 20. He wanted to make a clean break from George Romanovsky, Michal Rumanov and their merry band which at that moment included the free-spending Moussia, who had all been living it up and mostly at Vladimir’s expense. Enough was enough. But it may well have been that in 1920 he was not yet mentally ready for a divorce. His later wife Fern Barstow, who mastered the art of expressing herself succinctly, said during her 1990 taped interview: “they rented a house in San Francisco on the Pacific side, they even had a pipe organ in it, it was such a huge house, Vladimir wasn’t happy about it, he was never happy with his wife, he loved her very much but he couldn’t stand her.”

The fact that Moussia said she still had to be declared a widow, sheds a very interesting light on what we have learned in previous articles. She admitted this time, as she hadn’t to Prokofiev (article 24), that there was an outstanding  problem. Borovsky must have thought: ‘How is she to contact a ‘Russian bishop, to get that problem fixed?’ He continues his account as follows:

“I left Paris when the season began to run down and went to Germany. Germany was suffering from terrible inflation. For only two or three hundred dollars I could have bought a house in Berlin, if I’d wanted to. But I stayed in the best hotels … dreaming of the coming reunion with Maria in August… The day finally arrived, and I met Maria at the railroad station in Berlin and then took her to a suite in the Hotel Esplanade, where I was staying. Maria looked extremely tired, and she was sick with a kidney ailment which kept her swallowing quantities of pills she had brought from America. These pills eased the pain, and then she would be suddenly gay and brilliant again, eager to go out and see the shows and the people. And it was a great experience for me to see her getting ready to go out, putting on powder and lipstick and all manner of preparations for the evening. I was amazed and charmed by all this infernalia.  Such magic, that enters into the making of a beautiful woman!”

“Before long I introduced Maria to one of the Bechstein brothers, and she bought a piano for me.  Due to the inflation she paid only about $140.00 for this wonderful piano. The Bechsteins were very cordial to me and wanted me to play their pianos exclusively, but this never came about.”

“While Maria and I lived in our suites in the Esplanade, I had to go to the Bechstein house to practice, and Maria wanted to be there with me, but I couldn’t really work much when she was there.  A pianist’s work is really hard work, and it produced much perspiration, the more you perspire, the more you achieve with your hands.  And I didn’t like to be perspiring a lot when Maria was there, particularly since I was usually dressed for the street when I went anywhere with her, whereas by myself I would practice in an old shirt or pyjama top and some old work trousers.  At any rate, after two weeks of commuting between the hotel and the Bechstein house with Maria and enchanting her with my playing, dressed in my nice suit, I began to feel I wasn’t progressing as I should, if at all, and I started to dream of the day when I could dispense with the formality of the suit and just sit at my piano, even without a shirt if I liked, and study and study…”

Hotel Esplanade, Berlin, in the 1920s

(to be continued)

Moussia 27: 1922-1923 Marriage and honeymoon

Alexander Borovsky in 1923 , photo from Moussia’s personal collection

It is a privilege to be able to follow the early development of Moussia’s and Borovsky’s relationship both in Borovsky’ Memoirs and in Prokoviev’s Diaries, the two stories being complementary. Borovsky writes:

“One day,  Maria suddenly decided that we would leave the hotel Esplanade and go to a spa near Berlin which was popular among the Russians, and which was operated by a Doctor Chlenow, the most charming person in the whole world.  So I sold my Bechstein piano back to the firm and we went to the spa and began curing our respective illnesses, Maria’s kidneys and my acidity.  We spent almost a month there…”

During that month at the spa, Alexander and Moussia were visited  by her mother, Anna Satina (see article 6) and by Sergei Prokoviev. Her mother’s visit had become possible because, following the Russian Civil War, the Soviet authorities had relaxed travel restrictions as part of their so-called New Economic Policy. However, to Moussia’ bitter regret the authorities did not allow her to be accompanied by her son Julian. Borovsky continues:

“My future mother-in-law was a very shy and quiet person, completely dominated by her daughter.  She was an actress in Russia, and although she didn’t appear in Moscow or Leningrad, she had quite a name in the provincial cities. She had not stayed with us a very long time before Maria decided that it had been a long enough visit and sent her back home to Moscow. Maria’s dream now was to have her brother come visit us, but he couldn’t get permission to leave Russia, since he had been an officer of the old regime”(see pictures of Julian as an aviator in the Imperial Russian Air Force, in article 8).

Prokofiev heard about Moussia’s and Alexander’s marriage by chance from his friend Pyotr Suvchinsky . During supper, after a concert in Berlin in October, 1922,  Suvchinsky  mentioned to him that Borovsky would go to Argentina to play concerts, after marrying. Prokofiev asked “Who to?”  “Someone called Baranovskaya.” “Which Baranovskaya?!” “Maria Viktorovna, a most attractive and interesting woman.” Prokofiev was shocked. He had not yet come to a firm and  final decision to marry Lina Codina (‘Linette’), as is clear from his Diaries. Prokofiev writes:

“In a state of some agitation,  I said to him this was incredible, that I knew Maria Viktorovna very well, and that it was quite inconceivable that she should contemplate marrying a sweating lump like Borovsky. In reply,  Suvchinsky said: “I am very much afraid that tomorrow you will go and rescue her from her fate, and marry you herself.”  I reassured him on this point, and the next day accompanied Borovsky to see Frou-frou. Borovsky was respectful, the soul of courtesy, and would not let me pay for my ticket. As soon as we were together with Frou-frou he immediately absented himself on some pretext or other.

Frou-frou was in seventh heaven that I had come to see her, because being unaware of the situation with Linette she had not understood my lack of enthusiasm for her to come to Ettal. Then she asked: “Well Prokosha, have you still no plans to marry?” I answered: “Not at the moment”.  She then somewhat mistily explained that, for the sake of variety, she had decided she might marry Borovsky. I found it very hard to say yes or no to the idea, to approve it or condemn it. Of course, had I shown any sign of going along the path that had so alarmed Suvchinsky, Frou-frou would have been mine in two words. But as nothing could have been farther from my thoughts, what place was it of mine to dissuade her? After all, there she was. Lying alone with her tubercular kidney. It was not impossible that she might soon die. Borovsky, meanwhile, was head over heels in love with her, and a better carer could not have been imagined. And when all was said and done Borovsky, despite his comic appearance and occasional tendency to lapse into vulgarity, was a very famous musician both here and in South America, and his circle of acquaintances was an interesting one. “He is like wax in my fingers,” said Frou-Frou. “I can mold him as I please.’ This in answer to my mention of his clumsiness.

“Does it not worry you at all to be marrying a Jew?” I asked. She replied that Jewish men were more considerate to women than Slavs; Slav men were all sadists. Frou-Frou then touched me by adding: “And since Prokosha is no going to be around, at least by marrying Borovsky I shall always be able to hear Prokosha’s music.” I kissed her. Borovsky then came back, the talk turned to other matters, and he took me back to the station.”

I think that Prokofiev had been given to understand very clearly by both Borovsky and Moussia that they were engaged to be married. But, in the field of women as in  that of music, his vanity knew no bounds. Borovsky continues the story in his Memoirs:

“After our month’s sojourn at the spa near Berlin I had to begin a concert tour of Spain, so Maria decided to go and stay with an aunt who had an estate near Lublin in Poland. We said our good-byes and set off on our respective journeys, with plans to reunite and marry in Paris during the Christmas holiday… the Christmas holiday of 1922 arrived, and with it the end of my first tour in Spain. I went eagerly to Paris to meet Maria, who had been busy during my absence, getting the necessary papers for our marriage, which was performed soon after my return.”

This clarifies how Moussia solved the problem of her “papers”. She went to stay with her aunt Jozefa Sila-Nowicki (see article 5), also called Aunt Jozia, who lived at the Sila-Nowicki family estate at Wylagi, together with her husband Jozef Slosarski since 1918 when they had fled from Moscow. Moussia must have managed to obtain an official paper from the Church there (Moussia was a baptized Catholic).

Alexander and Moussia got married around Christmas 1922. In the spring, they left on a long trip by ocean steamers, first to Brazil, from there to Argentina and finally to the United States, for concerts and pleasure. Borovsky:

“Señor Quesada (Ernesto de Quesada of Conciertos Daniel, specializing in Spain and South America, who had introduced Arthur Rubinstein in South America in 1917) arranged for me a short trip to South America. This was a modest little tour and certainly wasn’t large enough to cover the expenses of both a musician and his wife. Maria, however, decided that she was going…  And so, we took an extra first-class ticket on the Italian liner Giulio Cesare, which sailed from Genoa.”

(to be continued)

Moussia 28: 1923 : Genoa – Rio de Janeiro – Buenos Aires – New York and Carnegie Hall

Moussia proudly showing her new poncho, Buenos Aires, 1923.

Picture from her photo collection

Moussia and Alexander Borovsky sailed from Genoa to South America in April 1923 on the brand new Italian liner ‘Giulio Cesare’, the flagship of the Navigazione Generale Italiana (NGI) which had made its maiden voyage in May 1922. In Buenos Aires, the winter season had just started. Winters and summers in the Southern Hemisphere occur at opposite times of the year from those in the north, with July being the coldest month. Many European orchestras, musicians and singers flocked to Buenos Aires when the European theatre season was over. As we shall see, I had good reasons, as I was preparing to write this article, to reconstruct the 1923 opera season (with the help of a magnificent website of the Teatro Colon).

On board, with the Borovskys, was the Wiener Staatsoper (The Viennese State Opera), whose Directors  at that time were Franz Schalk and  Richard Strauss. The Staatsoper was on its way to Buenos Aires to perform under the direction of Franz Schalk,  two operas by Richard Wagner: Tristan and Isolde (five performances between May 22 and June 9) and  The Valkyrie  (five performances between May 31 and July 2). Borovsky writes in his Memoirs:

Maria soon won the admiration of the opera company on board and even got friendly with Maestro Franz Schalk,who invited us frequently to his table.” 

Richard Strauss and Franz Schalk in the 1920s

It took three weeks to cross the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where the ship had a stopover and where the Borovskys disembarked. Alexander had to give a few concerts in Rio, before resuming the trip to Buenos Aires on the next boat, the ‘Principessa Mafalda’. It was a short stay, it being very hot in Brazil.  After only a few concerts and a bit of sightseeing, they boarded the NGI’s former flagship, the Principessa Mafalda. It had Richard Strauss and the Vienna Philharmonic on board who would perform in Buenos Aires Richard Strauss’ operas Salome (seven performances between June 26 and July 20) and Elektra (six performances between July 6 and August 9). Mousia and Alexander, first class passengers like Richard Strauss, soon discovered that he was there. Borovsky writes that he and Maria strolled four times round the deck seeing Strauss, without exhanging a single word with him.

“Finally, on our fifth encounter, Strauss stopped me and asked me to present him to my wife! I did, and Maria had a long talk with the composer in the ship’s lounge, finally persuading him to listen to my playing. I began with the Waldstein Sonata. When I finished, Strauss astounded me by asking what it was! I couldn’t believe he did not know, so I said, half-jokingly, ‘of course you know !’ ‘Schubert?’ he asked. So I told him it was Beethoven. But he did not appear at all confused or embarrassed; he simply explained that he had thought it was Schubert because there are places in that third movement where phrases in a major key are repeated immediately in a minor key — a device typical of Schubert. Then I played the Adagio and Great Fugue from Bach’s Organ Toccata in the Busoni transcription. I am sure that he did not know this either, but he was so impressed with it that he jumped out of his chair and announced emphatically, ‘with such music, the German nation will not perish.’ Later on, we met often… Maria and I arrived in Buenos Aires in June. ”

The couple stayed in Buenos Aires more than two months, until the beginning of September, no doubt in a good hotel and I wonder if their money started to run low because I found in Moussia’s photo album a picture which suggests she did a modeling job for the fur department at Harrods. In the righthand bottom corner of the picture  are the words: Harrods Buenos Aires. I found the following information about that store in Wikipedia:

“Harrods Buenos Aires, established in 1914 on 877 Florida Street as the only overseas branch of the renowned Harrods of London. The department store was expanded in 1920, and grew to occupy almost an entire Retiro-area city block. Following its expansion, the 47,000 m² (500,000 ft²) landmark was crowned by an eight-story cupola overlooking Cordoba Avenue and featured marble steps and cedar flooring throughout, as well as wrought-iron elevators with a riding capacity for twenty, valet service, and a jazz orchestra.”

Or would Moussia have bought the fur coat there and received the picture as a courtesy? It was certainly the type of store where Moussia felt at home!

The Borovskys left Buenos Aires by SS Southern Cross and arrived in New York on October 2, 1923. They probably still travelled on Nansen passports so they had to pass through Ellis Island. Their entry data are on the Ellis Island website. In the column “Ethnicity” the official has written for both: ‘Russia, Hebrew’ (Borovsky’s father was a Jew who had converted to the Orthodox Christian faith).

Alexander wanted to arrive in good time before his debut at Carnegie Hall on October 17, he wanted to practice hard. His debut in Carnegie Hall was a great success and he was asked to perform once more, on November 14. Then after an absence of eight months, they went back to France.

“We boarded the SS Berengaria for France. And at this point, when I was least expecting it, Maria decided the time was right to inform me that she was expecting a child.”

Maria could not have told him any earlier… Their baby, Natasha, was born on August 5, 1924 and counting backwards the child was conceived on or about the date of Borovsky’s debut in Carnegie Hall. The very moment she missed a period, she told him that he would also make his debut as a father. They were back in Paris around Christmas 1923.

The luxury liner SS Giulio Cesare

 (to be continued)

Moussia 29: 1924, the birth of Natasha, daughter of Alexander and Moussia Borovsky

Moussia with her daughter Natasha, about 9 months old, in the spring of 1925

When Moussia and Alexander Borovsky arrived in France in December 1923, they initially shared an apartment with Lina and Serge Prokofiev, in Sèvres, just outside Paris. They later shared another apartment, in Paris, until the Prokovievs found their own place in March 1924. The Prokovievs had just arrived from Ettal, Germany, where they had lived  for a while. They were married on September 29, 1923. Lina expected her baby in February, Moussia hers in August 1924.

On January 1, 1924, Prokoviev wrote in his diary:

Ptashka (Prokofiev’s name for his wife Lina: ‘little bird’) and I saw in the New Year at  the Samoilenkos. Borovsky and I drank to our Bruderschaft (a German and Russian custom to officially seal friendship and henceforth use the intimate second personal singular instead of the formal polite second person plural to address each other, the intimate form is called dutzen in German, tutoyer in French). We all had a little too much to drink, and eventually Ptashka and Frou-Frou had to go and lie down. Went back to Sèvres in the car.”

On February 27, 1924, Lina gave birth to a son, Sviatoslav. Moussia gave birth to a daughter, Natalya, on August 5, 1924. The Prokofievs sent them a telegram at the clinic, with the text: “Hurrah for Natashka, Mamochka, Papachka!”        .

I am indebted to André Dzierzynski of London for being able to publish the following fragment of Alexander Borovsky’s memoirs. André visited Moussia in Paris when he left Poland in 1958, a year before her death. His grandmother Stanislawa Sila-Nowicki was  Moussia’s favorite aunt.  Since the Russian Revolution, Stanislawa’s sister Jozefa (‘Jozia’) lived at the family estate Wylagy near Kazimierz Dolny in Poland, where Moussia and, later, Alexander visited her. I find his gesture all the more touching because Natalya, or Natasha as she was to be called, became the wife of my friend Stuart Dodds. Both she and Stuart, who became my friends in 2001, are represented on my English and French blogs with their poems.

Natasha has written  poems in prose in French about her father and also about her early youth with her parents and the Prokofievs. I have her and Stuart’s permission to publish these poems on my French blog and I would like to refer, already now, those English language readers who also read French, to Natasha’s ode to her father Alexander Borovsky. That ode and a similar one to her mother first gave me the idea to begin this series of articles. Natasha’s reminiscenses about her early youth with her parents and the Prokofievs will follow at a later stage in this series. Also, I dedicate this fragment of Alexander’s Memoirs to Natasha’s daughter Malou of Santa Cruz, California, who to this date has never seen it.

Alexander Borovsky wrote the following in his inimitable, wonderful style:

“The time ultimately came for the arrival of my child. It was in August, and I was back with Maria in Paris, where everything was organized. I would advise anyone who has control over such matters never to plan having a baby born during this period in Paris. The time from the 14th of July until a month or five weeks after is the sacred vacation season for Parisians, and nothing stands in their way.

The clinic where Maria was to go had only two nurses on duty, instead of the usual six or seven and there was only one doctor – our obstetrician, who eagerly waited his vacation and planned to leave Maria the very day after the child was born. The whole community of Auteuil was deserted, and walking to the clinic there was like a march through the desert. The overall shortage of help, though temporary, made conditions atrocious, conditions for the baby were bad, and care for the mother was absolutely minimal. We got the impression of being distinctly unwanted.

Of course, I must admit I did not notice much of this, excited as I was by my approaching fatherhood. I still did not know just how I would feel when I saw my own child. I had not wanted anything of this sort, I had never imagined it happening to me, in all my morning talks with Maria I had never talked about the subject – and then, suddenly, I got the surprise of my life one night as we were sailing from New York.

So here I was, in Auteuil, on the morning of August 5, 1924, approaching the clinic around 8 o’clock, when I heard a loud groan through an open window and recognized Maria’s voice. Fifteen minutes later my child – a girl – was brought to me, and after a few months of doubt I immediately fell in love with her. And now, after all these years, I am as ready to fall in love with every baby in the world. We named our daughter Natalie, by the way.

Two days after Natalie was born, we had visitors – Serge Koussevitzky and his wife (also called Natalya, JD) were in town, and they came to see our baby. But it was an unhappy encounter, since Natalie was crying and had to be taken away.

In a few days we realized that it was unwise for Maria and the baby to remain any longer in the clinic – it was uncomfortable for Maria and the absence of the vacationing clinic personnel created several handicaps. We furthermore decided that it would be best for Natalie to do her growing for the winter in the country rather than in Paris, and since Maria had an aunt who had an estate in Poland, we arranged for Maria to take Natalie there when she was big and strong enough to travel.

After about six weeks we took the train from Paris to Berlin, where we would go in our separate directions – Maria and Natalie to Poland, and I to my concert engagements in Yugoslavia, to the South. Our connections were very short ones; Maria’s train was to leave almost immediately after our arrival in Berlin, and I had to hurry from the station, go to a friend’s home to pick up my luggage, and then to rush off to a different station to catch my South bound train. Maria’s train departed around 7 p.m., which was Natalie’s crying hour, so Maria did not have a quiet moment to say goodbye to me, and I was terribly nervous. I did not even hear the conductor’s last warning before the train began moving, so it distressed me to see the train suddenly rolling out of the station, with Maria in the window, holding our crying baby in her arms.

When the train was out of sight I hurried off to my own train on the other side of Berlin and, as was customary with me, I felt in my pocket to make sure that I had my Nansen passport  with its Yugoslavian visa. To my absolute horror, I found that I still had Maria’s passport with its Polish visa. I had forgotten to give it to her.

It was out of the question that I should leave Berlin now, without knowing whether Maria and Natalie would arrive safely in Poland. At first it occurred to me to find a train for the Polish frontier, to try and overtake Maria, but I soon thought better of this. At the time, there was only one train leaving for Poland each day, since the myriad formalities of the Polish corridor made it impossible for the authorities at the frontier to handle more than one train each 24 hours. So I decided to stay with friends and await a wire from Maria.

I waited three days, with no word from Maria, and finally decided that everything must have worked out all right. And I attributed the lack of news from Maria to the distinct possibility that she was angry that I had forgotten to give her her passport. I had already missed some of my Yugoslavian concerts while waiting in Berlin, so I hurriedly cabled my manager in Zagreb that I was coming for the rest of my tour and immediately left Berlin. Shortly thereafter I heard that some guards had wanted to detain Maria at the German-Polish border. But that she had protested so vehemently, insisting upon her right to take her infant daughter to the country, that they had given up. I regarded this as a tremendous  achievement, but I knew that a mother with a baby is a formidable adversary in anything involving the baby’s welfare.

During the course of my tour in Yugoslavia, I was asked to go to Hungary  …. After my recital in Budapest I had an interval between concerts, so I decided to go to Poland, to see Maria and find out how my daughter was growing. I arranged for some appearances in Warsaw while I was to be in Poland, and then I set out.

It was in late October when I arrived at the Polish city of Kazimierz. The changing leaves were still on the trees, beautifully colored, and the air was balmy; I took a carriage to the house of Maria’s aunt, and it was a rather long journey. For the horses were slow and the roads went uphill and down. As we approached the estate, I could see the small white house with pillars, standing in the center of the garden, illuminated by the rays of the sun.

I had one week to spend here, free of travel, and I enjoyed the company of my wife and daughter and my wife’s aunt (Aunt Jozia, JD) – a very charming lady….”

During that week, they saw the Stravinskys in Warsaw.

Warsaw, November 7 1924, Alexander Borovsky (right) and Vera Sudeikin , who would become Igor’s wife (left) listen as Igor Stravinsky plays his Sonata, completed October 24,1924 for the Polish conductor Gregor Fitelberg (leaning on piano). Picture taken “after dinner with the former Polish nobility, Countess Rjevoutzki (Polish spelling: Rzewuski), Potocki, Lubomirski and others (Vera Sudeikin’s diary), from the book “Igor and Vera Stravinsky, a photographic album 1921 – 1971, photos selected by Vera Stravinsky and Rita McCaffrey, captions by Robert Craft, Thames and Hudson,1982. No doubt Vera’s friend Moussia, née Maria Sila-Nowicki, a member of the Polish nobility, was also present. Stravinsky can be heard here playing this ‘Sonate pour piano’:

(to be continued)