Prokofiev: from the diaries 3

From student days at St Petersburg until 1933, just before he finally returned from the West to live out the remainder of his life in the Soviet Union, Prokofiev kept a uniquely revealing diary to which he confided his innermost thoughts, the struggles and triumphs of his creative life; the events and encounters of his turbulent life at the centre of the most explosive period of 20th-century art.

Find out what Prokofiev was writing in his diaries January between 1915 and 1922 – as he might have written for Twitter.

8 January

Today 1916, Prokofiev: I much enjoyed hearing Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony, which I hardly know at all. What a delight the first movement is!

9 January

Today 1921, Prokofiev: I took the funicular railway up Mount Echo; magnificent! Thousands of lights shining like an upturned bowl of the sky at night.

10 January

Today 1916, Prokofiev: Woke sometime after noon with a splitting headache from drunkenness. Feeling rotten I went for a walk, after which I felt better.

Today 1919, Prokofiev: In the evening I had an American girl, typical of Americans in being beautiful, flat-chested and unresponsive.

11 January

Today 1918, Prokofiev: Baltimore: culinary art centre. Boston: intellectual centre. Philadelphia: old culture; Chicago: new. San Francisco – cosmopolitan.

Today 1919, Prokofiev: I studied Tchaikovsky’s Sonata and two pieces of Scriabin – Prélude and Désir. I know both of them by heart.

Today 1922, Prokofiev: Spent the morning packing, and took the 12.40 Twentieth Century train to New York. I leave with good feelings.

12 January

Today 1919, Prokofiev: I heard Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Concerto. Backstage there was such a savage expression on his face that I immediately went away.

13 January

Today 1919, Prokofiev: Haven’t done any piano practice nor composition, but I’m much enjoying writing the ‘Fairy Tale’ for orchestra. Why am I so taken with this?

Today 1921, Prokofiev: It’s the date of my concert. I’m spending the day quietly at home concentrating on playing through my programme.

Today 1921, Prokofiev: …I played well and avoided several disasters. I was presented with a bouquet of flowers done up in a Russian bow.

Today 1921, Prokofiev: Into the garden to savour the warmth and fragrant freshness of the Californian winter.

Today 1923, Prokofiev: Composed the whole of the final scene between Mephistopheles and Ruprecht, thus completing ‘Fiery Angel’.

14 January

Today 1916, Prokofiev: It’s the anniversary of my decision to marry Nina. What are my feelings about the year gone by? Something like an fairy-story.

Today 1917, Prokofiev: I performed my 1st Piano Concerto at the Imperial Russian Musical Society. It went well at rehearsal; extremely so at the concert.

Today 1918, Prokofiev: Memories of Nina a little dimmed, but fond. Today is her name-day.

Today 1919, Prokofiev: I should not have got involved with Fairy Tale. It is very enjoyable, but now Oranges is back on track I should not be distracted.

Today 1920, Prokofiev: Arrived in New York, which despite the hideous cold appears very pleasant compared to Chicago.

Today 1920, Prokofiev: Went to Fritz Kreisler’s concert. This season his success has eclipsed that of all other violinists.

16 January 

Today 1918, Prokofiev: Making some refinements to the theme of the second movement of the Third Piano Concerto.

Today 1918, Prokofiev: … and finished it.

Today 1919, Prokofiev: The ‘Fairy Tale’ is good, as much as I have written that is, but made no further progress today. So I am learning the Tchaikovsky Sonata.

Today 1927, Prokofiev: Cold in Lithuania today. Air smells of snow mixed with manure. No cars here; people get about on horse-drawn sleighs!

17 January

Today 1915, Prokofiev: Just got back from the premiere of ‘The Ugly Ducking’. Had expected huge success, but in fact it was rather modest.

Today 1918, Prokofiev: Back to composing the Third Piano Concerto.

Today 1919, Prokofiev: I’ve got toothache. Not going to get much done today…

Today 1920, Prokofiev: In Paris they have decided on a partial lifting of the blockade of Russia. Events are assuming a new direction.

Today 1921, Prokofiev: I am leaving Los Angeles with many thoughts still firmly anchored here. But it is time to go.

Today 1923, Prokofiev: Revising Act Five of Fiery Angel and making a plan for the conclusion of Act Two, which so far does not exist.

18 January

Today 1919, Prokofiev: Making a start on the libretto for the first scene of ‘Oranges’ Act II and have composed a bit of the ‘Fairy Tale’.

Today 1920, Prokofiev: Taking Linette to the cinema. At least that’s what we said we’re going to do, but in fact she’s coming home with me

Today 1923, Prokofiev: Doing some cleaning up of ‘Fiery Angel’ and patching it here and there.

19 January

Today 1918, Prokofiev: Thinking about movement 1 of the 3rd Piano Concerto away from the piano. Extraordinary how much clearer everything is

Today 1918, Prokofiev: I have almost completed the general shape and detailed plan for the first movement of the 3rd Piano Concerto

Today 1919, Prokofiev: Just finished the libretto for the whole of the second scene of Act II. Astonishing how little time it took (1 hour)

20 January

Today 1918, Prokofiev: Serbian passport. This makes the journey to America more of a real possibility.

Today 1919, Prokofiev: Since the ‘Fairy Tale’ seems not to be going anywhere, I’m concentrating on piano practice for the recital.

Today 1919, Prokofiev: Just got back from the season’s premiere of ‘The Golden Cockerel’ with Mme Samoilenko. I had a wonderful time.

Today 1920, Prokofiev: Won $16 playing bridge tonight!

21 January

Today 1920, Prokofiev: Composing some more of ‘Fiery Angel’ and learning the Rimsky-Korskov Concerto.

22 January

Today 1917, Prokofiev: I have completed the orchestration for ‘The Gambler’. Oof! What a weight from my shoulders!

Today 1917, Prokofiev: Scoring ‘The Gambler’ is taking an unconscionable amount of time. Act 4 will contain some quite new sounds.

Today 1919, Prokofiev: Working on Act 2 of ‘The Gambler’. It took a while for the opening bars to come right, but the music is now flowing.

23 January


Today 1919, Prokofiev: I’m composing some more of The Fairy Tale. It’s going splendidly: quickly, easily and pleasantly.

Today 1920, Prokofiev: I’m frightened. 1000 cases of influenza in New York today. To live here is like waiting to be shot in the back.

Today 1920, Prokofiev: I’m on the 7.45 train to Montreal. Linette saw me off from the station. She is very loving.

Today 1918, Prokofiev: Got a superb atlas from Khodzhayev, and studied the street plan of New York. Why are there two Fifth Avenues?

24 January

Today 1919, Prokofiev: Just finished composing the March from ‘Oranges’. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything with such speed and fluency.

Today 1919, Prokofiev: Been to Kosaku Yamada’s concert, the Japanese composer. He has no talent for symphonic music, but I did like one song

25 January


Today 1918, Prokofiev: Astounding news: Constantinople has fallen to the English. It could affect the way I travel to America.

Today 1919, Prokofiev: I’m getting on with the entr’acte. I must do a lively march.

Today 1920, Prokofiev: The trams have posters saying ‘His Majesty Prokofiev’. (His Majesty’s is the name of the theatre I’m playing tonight)

Today 1920, Prokofiev: …The concert was a great success and I was called back 3 or 4 times!

Today 1920, Prokofiev: I’m at the post-concert reception. A few interesting men but no attractive single women.

26 January

Today 1916, Prokofiev: I overslept and missed my organ lesson with Jacques Handschin!

Today 1916, Prokofiev: Mama’s name-day, but she’s not celebrating it on account of the war and the expense.

Today 1920, Prokofiev: The hotel here in Quebec is excellent. It looks like a castle and has a marvellous view of the river.

27 January

Today 1916, Prokofiev: The general rehearsal of The Snowstorm induced a level of boredom so profound it failed even to provoke indignation

Today 1919, Prokofiev: Got as far as the Monsters’ fight in Oranges, but now I am stuck..

Today 1920, Prokofiev: Played four encores at my concert tonight in the Columbus Hall!

28 January

Today 1916, Prokofiev: I’ve finished Act II of The Gambler three days ahead of schedule! Now just to fill in a few gaps.

Today 1917, Prokofiev: I’m sat at the first rehearsal of the Gambler, following the score. Everything has come off! This is wonderful!

Today 1918, Prokofiev: Just finished composing the first variation in the second movement of my Concerto.

Today 1919, Prokofiev: Heard Rachmaninoff’s new version of the 1st Concerto. The 2nd mvt is beautiful but the finale remains as bad as ever

29 January

Today 1919, Prokofiev: Spent the morning having three teeth extracted at the dentist. Three hours later, the bleeding has finally stopped.

Today 1916, Prokofiev: My exam is set for the spring. Handschin has been gently chiding me for missing lessons without a reasonable excuse.

Today 1919, Prokofiev: Learning the Rimsky-Korsakov Concerto!

30 January

Today 1916, Prokofiev: Nina sat provocatively at the concert tonight, talking to a student. As I passed, I naturally looked the other way.

Today 1918, Prokofiev: I’m making a start on Variation II of the second movement of my Concerto.

Today 1919, Prokofiev: Mme Schindler’s funeral is today…

31 January

Today 1916, Prokofiev: Anna Grigorievna just caressed me with her sweetest smile, to which my response was a coldy formal bow.

Today 1918, Prokofiev: Back to working on Variation II of the second movement of my Concerto.

Today 1918, Prokofiev: ….the orchestral parts are now finished! Now onwards with the solo part.

Today 1919, Prokofiev: I’ve moved on from the Monsters’ fight and am getting a bit further with the composition of Oranges.

1 February


Today 1918, Prokofiev: I’ve done no work today. My thoughts are fixed on travelling to America.

Today 1918, Prokofiev: Stayed up late playing chess. Now I have a headache.

Today 1919, Prokofiev: Moving out of Wellington today. It’s like a conservatoire here – everyone practising interferes with my composition

Today 1919, Prokofiev: Just settling in to my new accommodation on Fifth Avenue. Very comfortable. And complete quiet!

The London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Prokofiev Festival ran from 13 January to 1 February 2012.

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