In January 1930, while Moussia was in Moscow to see her brother, Prokofiev was on tour in the United States. Later that year, he met Moussia in Berlin quite often. Sometimes they met when he passed through by train, she would then come to the station. He writes that he sometimes went out with her in Berlin, once to listen to a Mahler Symphony directed by Bruno Walter. Mahler’s music bored him ‘to extinction’ and she could barely stop him from leaving the hall. In November 1930, on the way to Warsaw, he had lunch with the Borovskys who were, in his words, ‘in a sour mood’.
He must have sensed the background of their sour mood. Moussia had confided to him already before that there were marital problems between her and Alexander. In October 1929, following Prokofiev’s car accident, she had come to see him and he reported: “Conversations with M.V. about her husband, tragic but restrained; the cause her relationship with Boris, another time about Vladimir, a third time about his madness.” One can only guess the exact meaning of these notes: several of their mutual Russian friends in Paris were called Boris, Vladimir could have been Vladimir Baranovsky, and ‘his madness’ may have referred to Alexander’s soft spot for women while on tour. Borovsky may have made an oblique reference to that weakness in his Memoirs when, writing about Moussia’s strong personality, he added: “And if I may get ahead of myself for a moment, I would like to express the opinion that when a man has a dominating wife, I think it is perfectly understandable that he might begin looking for someone whom he, in turn, can dominate — another woman, if you will.”
On November 22, 1930, on his way back from Warsaw to Paris, Moussia waited for Prokofiev at the station when his train stopped in Berlin. He wrote: “Arrived back in Berlin in the evening, and there on the platform was Mar-Vik, and behind her Weber. The train did not wait long, and as we were pulling out again, de Chamiec [Zygmunt de Chamiec, director of Polish radio] slyly enquired who was the attractive woman with whom I was strolling arm in arm up and down the platform.” This comment was Prokofiev’s last mention of Moussia in his published Diaries.
Alexander Borovsky and Moussia separated in the spring of 1931, just over eight years after their marriage. In his Memoirs, looking back some thirty years later, Borovsky had the following to say, in an honest and gentle, albeit rather one-sided, manner:
“It was in Germany that I was living with my wife for the last time. During the seven and a half years of my married life, I was so much away from home, wherever we lived, that once, coming home when my daughter was about one and a half years old, she was not sure who I was and was speaking to herself, as if asking herself, whether this was her Daddy or not. She pronounced the word ‘Papa’ with a definite question mark in her expression.
And it was always the same thing: when I came home tired from my travels and the constantly being in public, surrounded by people, I dreamed of coming home, to be with my wife and daughter, and then to immerse myself immediately into the practicing, to polish my neglected technique, and to renew my repertoire for the next season. But my wife, who avoided all social contacts during my travels, being a beautiful young woman who was often subjected to excessive attention from several men, waited for the moment of my return in order to immerse again into the social life which she liked above all the rest.
So I had to go to the lunches, to the dinners, to other receptions, to go to the opera with her, to the concerts, to the theatres, to receive many people at home whom I often did not know enough – altogether to lead a life which was like my life during my travels – only without the concerts which not only gave me the possibility to verify my interpretations, but also were giving me the means to go on, to continue the good life which we both liked to have. All this did not help me in my progress in the music, this was detrimental to my success with the concerts, this created a tense and heavy atmosphere in my home.
This all alienated me from Maria more and more. She probably understood it herself and during my last time with her in Berlin, I noticed that she was paying attention to the conversations with a man with an Italian name who was constantly at her side, even when I came home myself. I did not pay attention to it, but when some time later I was told that she will leave me, divorce from me, and marry this man, I was shocked.
Inside me, two feelings were fighting one another: on one side a feeling of hurt pride mixed with the traces of my love; on the other, the feeling of relief from the duty of a husband whose wife does not understand his needs and wishes. I must confess that I suffered from this for at least three years, after the moment Maria told me the whole truth. I do not have any ill feelings towards Maria, I understand that she was in her right to insist on her own ways of life, but I regret that she could not help me in the most important periods of my musical career.”
The ‘man with the Italian name’ was Giacomo “Gino” Antonini, to whom Moussia would remain happily married until her death in 1959. She met him in Berlin in 1930, when he was a thirty-year old, impecunious, filmscript writer and literary critic. Born of an Italian father and a Dutch mother, he had had his secondary school and university education in The Netherlands, where before 1930 he had already made a name for himself in literary circles.
First day to school, Berlin, September 1930. Natasha (on the right) and friend
(to be continued)