Moussia 34: Life with Sergey and Lina Prokofiev

Sergey and Lina Prokofiev with their firstborn son Svyatoslav, Bellevue, 1924. Photo: Moussia’s private collection.

This picture and the one above have obviously been taken by the same person, on the same afternoon. In the centre: Prokofiev’s mother Maria Grigorievna Prokofieva (scanned from ‘Sergey Prokofiev Diaries 1924-1933, translated and annotated by Anthony Phillips’, Faber and Faber, London, 2012, picture gallery next to page 554).

When, at the end of 1923, Alexander and Moussia Borovsky came back to Paris from the Americas, and Sergey and Lina Prokofiev arrived there from Ettal in Germany, the two couples shared an apartment, first in Sèvres, then in Paris. This became inconvenient when Svyatoslav was born and Moussia was about to have her baby, so the Borovskys and the Prokofievs moved into separate apartments. Later that year, the Prokofievs moved to a ‘dacha’, a house with a garden, in Bellevue near Sèvres, just outside Paris. That is where the above pictures were taken.

Originally, Moussia had liked the idea of sharing, hating to be alone during the frequent and prolonged absences of her husband. But it was rather impractical. Prokofiev notes on February 19, 1924, a few weeks before the birth of Svyatoslav, having arrived by train from Germany at about six in the morning:

“Everything was fine at home, and Ptashka was feeling better than I had expected. It was a very joyful meeting. Borovsky had left the previous evening, only a few hours before my arrival. It’s really unacceptable: first there is one husband, then the other, but never the two of them. In my absence he had been learning the March from ‘Three Oranges’, and now even the cook was singing it.” A few days later, Prokofiev had a “ferocious altercation” with Moussia because she came into the room where he was composing, to go through the accounts with the cook.

Sergey and Lina Prokofiev, Moussia Borovsky, Bellevue , 1925. From Moussia’s private collection.

Until the ‘season’ of 1928/29, when the Borovskys moved to Berlin, relations between the two couples remained cordial. There were frequent visits to each other’s apartments so that the infants Natasha and Svyatoslav could play; the two men often went to the cinema or had lunch together (bliny afterwards); the couples went to each other’s concerts and had dinners together. In his Diaries, Prokofiev frequently refers to Borovsky’s concerts, in very laudatory terms.

Borovsky comes across as the more sympathetic and generous friend of the two. For example, he helped Prokofiev more than once practicing his hellishly difficult Second Piano Concerto Opus 16. The original score of this piano concerto of 1912 had been destroyed in a fire at the time of the Russian Revolution. Prokoviev had reconstructed and revised it in Paris and was to premier it on May 8, 1924. He had made a transcript of the orchestral part, which he called the ‘second piano part’. Borovsky learned it by heart ‘scrupulously’ and the two went to the piano shop of Pleyel to rehearse it on three different days between April 29 and 6 May, the last time on the day before Borovsky himself had to give a concert.  Borovsky helped him again with rehearsing this Concerto in December, 1926.

In his Memoirs, Borovsky writes extensively about Prokofiev, Scriabin and their compositions, which he introduced around the world. He had known Prokofiev well since his Conservatory days in St. Petersburg although he notes, sadly, that he never could count on him as a real friend.

Moussia and Lina got on well, notwithstanding the occasional irritation to and fro. Their children often played together, sometimes under the watchful eye of a governess who had to threaten them with going to get Prokofiev whom she called  ‘Papa Shliopé’ (shliopa is ‘spanking’, in Russian). In the 1970s and 1980s, after Lina had returned from Russia, Natasha met her again three times: in her own home in Berkeley, California, in London and in Paris.

Natasha Borovsky and Svyatoslav Prokofiev, spring 1927.
From Moussia’s private collection.

(to be continued)

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