Moussia 1: Russian by birth, French by taste


Maria (“Moussia”) Viktorovna Sila-Nowicki (Moscow, 25 January 1895 – Paris, 2 August, 1959).

‘Russe de naissance, française de goût’: ‘Russian by birth, French by taste’. With these words, Natasha Borovsky described her mother in a beautiful poem which you can find in the French part of my blog. The photo shows her at the age of 34.

Emigrated from Russia in 1918 – she often returned – having lived in Los Angeles, at times in New York, in Paris most of the time but also in Berlin in its artistic heyday of 1929-1933, she is still alive in the diaries of Sergey Prokofiev and Vera Stravinsky, in the personal memoirs and archives of Natasha Borovsky  and of Giacomo Antonini, the well-known Italian-Dutch literary and film critic, Moussia’s loving husband from 1937 until her death in 1959. She can be found in the personal diaries of the Dutch diplomat and writer F.C. Terborgh, a close friend of Antonini’s. It is my good fortune to have had access to all of these sources.

Maria was well-acquainted with the brilliant and famous in Paris and Berlin of her time, where she personally knew composers, choreographers, painters, musicians and conductors. Educated in the theatre school of Meyerhold in St. Petersburg, she once sat at Prokofiev’s side at the piano, in Los Angeles in 1921, as he prepared the music and lyrics of his opera, The Love for Three Oranges and again, that same year, sat next to him in a concert hall in Chicago, critically watching and commenting on the final rehearsals. He took good notice of her professional advice. With her natural flair and family background, her early days in St. Petersburg and Moscow, as a good friend of Prokofiev and his wife, and later as the wife of the famous Russian pianist Alexander Borovsky, she built a network of friendships in the world of the arts.

This is the first of a series of articles on her and some of her friends and loved ones. Stuart Dodds, husband of the late Natasha Borovsky and executor of her estate, has given me permission to make full use of her writings, memoirs and archives and much other information that they sent to me over the last ten years.

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