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)