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)

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