Moussia 40: 1931-1937 Going through the rapids


In 1932, Moussia cracked, due to the accumulation of pressures she had been under during fifteen eventful years. In 1930, after her brief reunion in Moscow with her brother Julian, she must have given up hope to ever get him out of the Soviet Union. Soon thereafter, he died of tuberculosis in one of Stalin’s prisons.

As in previous periods of stress, she fell ill with kidney trouble. With Giacomo Antonini at her side, she was nursed in a spa in Spandau, near Berlin, and had to recuperate further, in Kammer am Attersee in Austria (see photos above and below). The four years which followed were very difficult for her.

Moussia in Moscow, 1929, when she was briefly reunited with her brother – and in 1932, in the spa at Berlin-Spandau, with her daughter Natasha Borovsky

Her separation from Borovsky was traumatic. First of all, because they both loved their daughter, Natasha.

Having left Borovsky, she gradually lost contact with the important musical circles in Berlin and Paris which she used to be a member of, the more so because she also lost her friend and moral support Sergey Prokofiev. Since 1931, he spent more and more time in Russia and moved there permanently in March 1936, together with his family. Moreover, there is no doubt that he felt distressed by her choice of Antonini.

As mentioned in a previous article, Moussia had always hoped that one of these two famous musicians could somehow have intervened with the Soviet authorities to get her brother released. This hope had been in vain.

Since her escape from Russia in 1917, she had never been in serious financial trouble, having lived with two generous husbands, Baranovsky and Borovsky. However, Gino Antonini, a young and budding literature critic, had to earn his income from writing articles for Dutch literary magazines and filmscripts for Tobis Tonfilm – Fritz Lang – in Berlin. In January 1932, notwithstanding their modest revenues, Gino and Moussia started to live in style at 16, Salzburgerstrasse in Berlin.

For both, divorce proceedings proved to be very complicated and time consuming. In the end, they obtained their respective divorces in 1936 and 1937 in Riga, Latvia where they married in September 1937.

There were great worries of a political nature. In Germany, Hitler came to the fore. Moussia, who had many Jewish friends, was outraged and worried because her daughter Natasha was half-Jewish through her father. Also, being of Polish descent,  and with many of her relatives living in Poland, she was most upset by Hitlers anti-Polish rhetoric. So when Hitler came to power, in 1933, she decided to leave Germany immediately and to move to Paris. Antonini agreed with her motives. Moreover, he had lost his job in Berlin, because Fritz Lang had left Germany in the same year, for the same reasons.

Moussia, French by taste and by adopted language, insisted that they would go to Paris, where she had lived seven years before moving to Berlin in 1929. Living in Italy or the Netherlands (where Antonini had grown up, having an Italian father and a Dutch mother) was no option. Antonini did not object. He felt a displaced person in both his parental countries and felt that Paris would be an excellent centre from which to monitor European literature.

In Paris, they rented  a ‘meublé’, a small furnished apartment, at 6, rue Corot in Auteuil at the outskirts of Paris. They had so little money that they were often having to receive paying guests, to make ends meet.

Moussia recovered and adjusted to the new living conditions, re-energized by Antonini, her first and final real love. But little Natasha suffered. Separated from her loving father, having few friends and no pet animals, she was a lonely child, kept company by her dolls and her books. She would become a successful poet and writer, surrounding herself with literary characters, as with her dolls before. Later, she would remember her time at Brillantmont, a girl’s pensionnat in Lausanne, Switzerland, which she entered in 1936 at the age of twelve, as the first really happy period of her early life.

Antonini went out of his way to take good care of Natasha. Alexander Borovsky, who made her stay at the school financially possible, visited her from time to time in Lausanne and during her holidays in Paris. Once, he gave a school concert at Brillantmont. The head mistress quoted Borovsky later as saying to her : “Antonini takes care of everything, I am only a père de passage”. Père de passage: a transient father.

In the following eight or so articles, I shall present Giacomo Antonini to you. But first, please have a look at the following telling pictures.

1931: Natasha at the age of seven.

Sergey Prokofiev’s son Sviatoslav to his friend Natasha (both were born in 1924) : “To dear Natasha from Sviatoslav, Paris, April 1931

Natasha at the age of 10, crayon drawing by Alexander von Schubert, husband of the well-known Russian singer Nina Koshetz, friends of both the Borovskys and the Prokofievs.

1935.Moussia, Natasha in Russian traditional costume, the shadow of Giacomo Antonini in the foreground

(to be continued)

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