The Love & Wars of Lina Prokofiev, by Simon Morrison
Recensão dos Diários de Prokofiev, por Simon Morrison
Simon Morrison, Lina’s Childhood
NOTA DE LEITURA
Lina queria ser cantora lírica, mas em Fevereiro de 1919 conheceu o compositor Serge Prokofiev (1891 – 1953), que em 1918 emigrara também para os Estados Unidos. O namoro prolongou-se, com muito empenho dela e bastante pouco da parte dele, mas casaram em 1923, depois que ela ficou grávida. Entretanto, o compositor fora já viver para Paris em 1920, donde partia em tournée para os Estados Unidos sempre que necessário. Lina acompanhou-o e, durante bastante tempo, cuidou da mãe de Prokofiev. Nasceram dois filhos, Sviatoslav (1924 – 2010) e Oleg (1928 – 1998).
Apesar de alguns espectáculos de que não resta nenhuma gravação, a carreira musical de Lina esmoreceu. Entretanto a Nomenklatura russa fazia tudo para que a família se estabelecesse na Rússia, prometendo as maiores benesses. Prokofiev acabou por ceder e em 1936, para lá foram todos, ficando em Paris a mãe de Lina, Olga Codina. Nos primeiros anos, tudo foram rosas, e o compositor pôde até fazer duas tournées ao Ocidente, a primeira das quais acompanhado pela esposa, mas, a partir de 1938, foram-lhe vetadas todas as saídas da Rússia. Nessas viagens, não podia levar os filhos, que ficavam assim como garantia do seu regresso.
Nessa altura, o compositor, com 47 anos, apaixonou-se por uma rapariga de 23, Mira Mendelson (1915-1968), judia, como o nome indica. Nos primeiros anos a seguir, Lina Prokofiev pensou tratar-se de uma relação profissional e só em 1941 é que veio a saber do envolvimento do marido. Este saiu de casa nesse ano, abandonando mulher e filhos, embora os fosse ajudando sob o aspecto material.
Era o tempo das purgas de Estaline, que o autor descreve muito bem, embora de modo sintético. Lina frequentava muito as embaixadas, em especial as da França, Inglaterra e Estados Unidos, permanentemente vigiada por agentes policiais. Queria a todo custo ir a Paris visitar a sua mãe.
Após o sofrimento e a penúria do tempo da guerra, veio o pior. Em Janeiro de 1948, Prokofiev casou com Mira e em Fevereiro, Lina foi presa, primeiro em Lubyanka e depois em Lefortovo. Em 1 de Novembro do mesmo ano, o Tribunal Marcial condenou-a a 20 anos de prisão e foi para o gulag em Kirov.
A morte de Estaline foi conhecida em 5 de Março de 1953 e nesse mesmo dia morreu Serge Prokofiev, que não tinha então mais que uma sombra do prestígio de outrora.
Depois de muitos pedidos e exposições (entre os quais um de Shostakovich) Lina foi libertada em Junho de 1956 e viveu quase duas décadas em Moscovo apoiada pelos filhos. Só conseguiu vir para o Ocidente em 1974.
Uma nota triste é que ninguém sabe do fim que teve a mãe, Olga Codina.
Entretanto, fala-se já da realização de um filme sobre a vida de Lina Prokofiev.
23 Jan 2003
One of the weird coincidences of Sergei Prokofiev's life is that he should have died on precisely the same day as Joseph Stalin. After joyless decades of artistic repression and ruthless eradication of the intelligentsia, Soviet society had cause to hope that Stalin's death on March 5, 1953 might signal something a little more positive.
True, life in Soviet Russia was not exactly rosy even after 1953, and it is useless to speculate on what Prokofiev might have composed had he lived beyond the age of 61. But the burning question is this: why, when he had emigrated to the West in 1918 a few months after the 1917 October Revolution, did he then go back and settle with his family in a country where artists were perpetually under the eagle eye of a communist regime?
Sviatoslav Prokofiev, the composer's elder son, has some answers. "It's important to know," he says, "that Prokofiev was very Russian. He loved Russia. He had lots of happy memories of his youth there. His father ran an estate in the south. Prokofiev had lots of friends in the neighbouring villages, and he also had happy memories of his time at the St Petersburg Conservatoire. He first went back in 1927, simply because he was invited. He had a great success in St Petersburg and Moscow, and this produced a certain impression that augmented his decision to return again."
Vladimir Ashkenazy, who himself lived under the communist yoke until 1963 and will launch a series of Prokofiev's and Shostakovich's music in March, points to Prokofiev's experience in the West as a reason for his decision to return to Moscow.
"He was only semi-successful in the West," says Ashkenazy. "He didn't attain the degree of fame that would satisfy his ambitions. In the West, he tried to be even more avant-garde than he was naturally, and it didn't work. He was going along with the tastes of fashion, but it was against his nature. Then, when he returned to Russia, he wrote the ballet Romeo and Juliet, identified with it and produced an absolute masterpiece."
More masterpieces were to follow. In fact, many of the works for which Prokofiev has achieved lasting recognition - the scores for Eisenstein's film Alexander Nevsky, the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the children's classic Peter and the Wolf, the Seventh Piano Sonata, the epic opera War and Peace - were all written after his return to Russia. Being back in his homeland gave him a degree of security, even with all the diktats and dogma coming out of the Kremlin. During his exile years in America and Paris, he had been feted for his opera The Love for Three Oranges and had enjoyed his collaboration with Diaghilev on the ballets The Tale of the Buffoon and The Steel Step, but his career was unsteady.
Like Rachmaninoff, who also left Russia after the revolution, he was forced to earn much of his living by giving piano recitals and playing his own concertos. Both men preferred composing. Rachmaninoff was able to do so only sporadically after 1917, and Prokofiev must have realised that, quite aside from the emotional aspects of returning to his native country, there would be some financial stability as well. Like the subject of his Paris ballet The Prodigal Son, he would be welcomed back in the Soviet Union with open arms as a major propaganda coup.
From the material point of view, Prokofiev never had to look back after his final decision to return to Russia in 1936. By this time, he had a wife and two sons, Sviatoslav, born in 1924, Oleg in 1928. In Moscow, they were given a four-room apartment, comfortable by Soviet standards, and had a maid and a chauffeur-driven car. Sviatoslav went first to an Anglo-American school, then, when that was closed down, to a Russian one, later qualifying as an architect.
Whereas Shostakovich always seemed to be ducking and diving with the Soviet authorities, Prokofiev seemed able to remain aloof. The worst aspects of Stalin's regime did not impinge on them for the time being. "In the Thirties," says Sviatoslav, "there were many people among the intelligentsia who were in favour of communism, because, in theory, it was a very just system, but the practicalities hadn't been considered. They were a bit naïve. I think that my father was also a little naive when he decided to return, above all because he didn't understand what was happening."
Ashkenazy thinks Prokofiev "kind of welcomed what was happening in Russia and wanted to see the brighter side. He didn't want to see the tragedy. With this welcome back into his country, he felt he should do what the country wanted him to do."
Hence his cantatas celebrating the 20th and 30th anniversaries of the revolution and the Hymn to Stalin. "But," says Ashkenazy, "it wasn't like an obligation to write the 20th anniversary Cantata. Some people say that he wanted to mock, but I don't think so. It's a great piece, one of his greatest achievements. His attitude was just to go along with the general flow."
But soon that general flow became distinctly choppy. In 1941, Prokofiev left his wife and family to live with a young woman he had met on holiday, Mira Mendelson, who was eventually to help him with the librettos of his operas Betrothal in a Monastery and The Story of a Real Man and with his ballet The Tale of the Stone Flower. Sviatoslav, Oleg and their mother, Lina, were left in Moscow.
Lina, who was Spanish, was constantly under suspicion in Moscow as a foreigner and presumed spy, and in 1948 was arrested, tried and committed to 20 years' hard labour "for treason". Suddenly, the realities of the paranoid Soviet Union had come to bear even on Prokofiev, but he was able to do nothing to alleviate his wife's plight. It must be remembered that 1948 was also the year in which he, along with Shostakovich and practically all the major and minor composers, were condemned by Stalin's notorious henchman, Andrey Zhdanov, for not toeing the Party line. Prokofiev was on a blacklist himself.
Somehow or other, Lina survived the labour camp, was allowed back to Moscow after eight years and eventually moved to Paris, dying only as recently as 1989. Despite all, she remained a fervent champion of Prokofiev's music, just as her son Sviatoslav is now, having recently seen through publication a massive two-volume Russian edition of his father's diaries from 1907 to 1933.
Sviatoslav is seeking "a very serious person to translate them into English - a good translator who can appreciate the special Prokofiev personality," which, in terms of the music he wrote, he recalls as "energetic, lyrical, original and always interesting". "As in the music, he could be a little brusque, but he was always sincere, sometimes tender."
Prokofiev's health, already failing in the Forties, never fully recovered after 1948. But his character was such that he would certainly have appreciated the irony of dying on the very same day as the dictator who had made his final years so troubled.
Saturday 30 March 2013
The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev by Simon Morrison – review
A disturbing biography of the woman who married a superstar composer only to find herself in the Gulag
The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev
by Simon Morrison
The three volumes of Sergey Prokofiev's diaries, now complete in Anthony Phillips's compelling translation, provide what is probably the most complete picture we possess of any significant 20th-century composer. Prokofiev wrote them, it seems, not for publication but for his own satisfaction, and did not try to conceal the disagreeable aspects of his character or behaviour. He appears to have written them up periodically from elaborate notes taken in the immediate shadow of the experiences they describe,
The diaries are well written because he was a natural writer; they are candid because spontaneous. And because he was famous when young, travelled widely and met everyone, they contain endless details about his contemporaries, and his often caustic opinions of them, their music, their playing or their wives. Incidentally, Phillips's footnote biographies of practically everyone mentioned are not the least dazzling aspect of his editorial work: astonishing that Faber accepted them all, since they must have extended the already immense text by a good quarter.
Frustratingly, though, the diaries stuttered to a halt, for no obvious reason, in the spring of 1933, and were apparently never resumed. From St Petersburg, through Paris, America, various European tours, and the first two or three trips back to (by this time Soviet) Russia, the narrative is complete. Almost from the minute Prokofiev decides firmly that his future lies in Russia, the diary ceases. Phillips doesn't advance any reason for this, and it would probably be facile to suggest that it had anything to do with the inadvisability of committing intimate thoughts to paper in the Soviet Union of the 1930s. It's true that Prokofiev and his wife Lina, who was his willing companion when he finally settled in Moscow in 1936, knew that they were under constant observation, their phones tapped and their footsteps shadowed. But Prokofiev was sanguine about such matters, preferring to believe that artists would be favoured under Stalin and that he himself, as a world superstar, would always receive favourable treatment.
What actually happened to him has been well documented by previous biographers. What happened to his wife has also been related, but in less detail, and always (if with regret) from the point of view of the composer himself. Simon Morrison's book, based on new research in Soviet and Prokofiev family archives, reverses this emphasis, and to disturbing effect.
Born in Madrid in 1897 to a Spanish father and a Russian mother, both singers, Lina Codina was brought up from the age of 10 in New York, where she met the 27-year-old Prokofiev at a piano recital he gave in 1919. After a fitful courtship (Prokofiev was attractive, susceptible, and had high-profile admirers), they eventually married when Lina became pregnant with the first of their two sons in 1923. For the next 13 years she led the life of itinerant composer's moll, often travelling with him, sometimes even participating (as a singer) in his concerts, but always engaged in a battle with his music for a share of his attention.
The diaries suggest a spasmodic concern for her well-being. Quite apart from the essentially private act of composition, Sergey's favourite entertainments – chess, bridge – tended to exclude her, and at social events he would be lionised while she was to some extent neglected. As a singer, she inhabited an awkward penumbra in his vicinity. A nervy performer, she would often lose her voice and withdraw. His reports of her variable standard of performance express sympathy rather than the pain it caused her. Besides, she was, he thought, a fussy traveller, moody and sometimes quarrelsome.
The return to Russia was always, for him, a homecoming. For Lina – though she had visited as a child and spoke the language – it was an adventure whose successful outcome depended on his love and support. Alas, both were swiftly withdrawn. When she joined him there in August 1935 after a five-month separation, he immediately disappeared to the Caucasus, then to western Europe on another tour that lasted till early 1936, leaving her to fend for herself and their two small sons. That year they moved into an apartment that Morrison describes as "impressive enough to be showcased to tourists from England" (a fair sample of his prose style), but that actually covered a mere 60 square metres, the size of a large farmhouse kitchen.
The question now, according to Morrison, was whether the marriage could survive their enforced togetherness. For as long as Prokofiev continued to tour in the west it hung in the balance. But after 1938, when even he was refused foreign travel, the situation became critical. For two or three years they stuck it out, but in March 1941 he packed a bag and left for good. For more than two years there had been another woman, a literature student called Mira Mendelson. Mira wrote bad poetry and aspired to membership of the Party; but having set out to capture Prokofiev, she made herself useful, helping to write his articles and libretti.
Lina's life meanwhile went steadily downhill. She lived alone with her sons through the Moscow siege and everything that entailed (she dug tank traps rather than tend livestock on a collective farm). Her car and piano were requisitioned. Not surprisingly she began to look for a way out. She talked to embassy acquaintances and once-influential friends, and might have got out in 1941 if her contact hadn't been killed by a German bomb. Instead she stayed on, increasingly under suspicion because of her unconcealed inquiries about leaving, until one night in February 1948 there was a phone call. When she descended to the street to pick up a parcel she was dragged into a car, carted off to the Lubyanka, and her flat ransacked while her sons looked on in despair.
Morrison's detailed and harrowing account of Lina's eight years in a sub-Arctic gulag contains few surprises for anyone who knows theirSolzhenitsyn. What's uniquely appalling about the story is the sense that she had no business being in Russia in the first place, that its social and political struggles were not hers, that a profound emotional injustice lay at the heart of her entire destiny. She had gone to Moscow solely for her husband, and he no longer loved her. Had his fate been linked to hers, hers might have made some sense, however grim. But, although Prokofiev was one of the composers condemned by the central committee in February 1948 – a terrifying experience that destroyed his work and undermined his health – he was never arrested, though he was deprived of his livelihood. He lived only another five years, and died in March 1953 on the same day as Stalin, which meant that no flowers were available for his funeral. Lina, by contrast, lived on for 33 years after her release in June 1956, and did eventually manage to leave the Soviet Union, apparently with the help of one Yury Andropov, head of the KGB.
Morrison tells a good story, without excess or indulgence, and with touching empathy for his heroine. Lina Prokofiev was no saint: she was truly a femme moyenne sensuelle, good-looking but not specially talented, a spirited, sharp-tongued arguer. She needed these qualities to help her stand her ground against a self-centred genius whose work came first and whose sense of the world began and ended with his own interests. For sure what happened to his abandoned wife was partly his fault. Whether it is expiated by Romeo and Juliet or the Fifth Symphony is a matter of taste.
Stephen Walsh's Stravinsky is published by Pimlico. To order The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev and Sergey Prokofiev Diaries 1924-1933: Prodigal Son,
New book on Soviet composer's family will show how his wife was abandoned, tortured by Stalin's police and sent to the gulag
She endured an abusive husband who likened her to "an infected tooth", and torture by Stalin's secret police, who stuck needles in her, threatened her children and drove her to the brink of madness. The tragic life of the wife of Sergei Prokofiev, one of the 20th century's greatest composers, is now revealed in hundreds of previously unpublished letters, as well as secret Soviet files.
The cruelty suffered by Lina Prokofiev at home paled against her later torture, but she never stopped loving her husband – even when he abandoned her for another woman – and she never spoke publicly of her suffering during eight years in a Siberian prison camp.
Prokofiev (1891-1953) is the composer of masterpieces such as the opera War and Peace, the ballet Romeo and Juliet and the children's fable, Peter and the Wolf. But when Simon Morrison, a British-born music professor at Princeton University and president of the Prokofiev Foundation, was given access to the unpublished documents by Prokofiev's family for a new book, he was shocked by their contents. They revealed "a real indictment of his personality", he told theObserver. "I have a moral question. Prokofiev's music is some of the most emotional of the 20th century, but he was a person of very little feeling. As a biographer, you have responsibilities. As a listener, I don't think I can listen to the music the same way again. It is a harrowing story." Letters from Lina to her children from the gulag are equally poignant, he added.
The 600 letters – whose contents are to be published on 21 March by Harvill Secker in The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev – were made available to Morrison by Prokofiev's older son, Svyatoslav, whose "dying wish was for his mother's story to be told in unvarnished guise".
Morrison said that Svyatoslav told him: "My mother always wanted to have her story told and she never herself could do it." Morrison added: "He gave me permission to look at intimate letters that had never been seen." They reveal a heartbreaking story of doomed love. In various passages, Prokofiev accused Lina of "bat grabbing" his hair and rarely displaying "acts of love". He criticised her for being manipulative, and wrote of his feelings for another woman: "It's only now that I recognise the barrenness of my life, excluding my work." With brutal bluntness, he told Lina that, when she kissed him, he felt like an adulterer, betraying his real love.
Until now, the correspondence was sealed in the Russian State Archive. Morrison said: "Nobody got to see it. It literally says 'categorically forbidden' because of its intimate nature. The family didn't want people going in there because they recognised that one could write a devastating indictment of the composer and what he put his family through. I sent my book to the grandson. He read it and he was deeply affected by it. He didn't interfere with it at all and said 'this is just devastating'. He himself had never gone through this material."
The Prokofievs were married in 1924. Several scores, including The Fiery Angel, were inspired by her. Seventeen years later, he left her for a woman 24 years his junior, and the marriage was officially annulled in 1948. During their marriage, they wrote extensively, as his touring kept them apart. But, despite his adultery, Lina never stopped loving him, pleading in her letters for reconciliation. In one letter she protested that she was neither "a freak nor an idiot", as he made her feel. Even when she knew of his affair, she wrote: "Well, go ahead and see her. I won't object; but that doesn't mean you have to live with her."
Lina was in her Moscow apartment one night in 1948 when the telephone rang and the caller insisted that she come downstairs to collect a parcel. In the courtyard, she was arrested. Charged with espionage and treason following her attempts, through the British and French embassies, to escape from the USSR, she endured nine months of interrogation and torture, spat on and bound in painful positions. Soviet files reveal the account she submitted to the prosecutor general in 1954: "For three and a half months … I wasn't allowed to sleep. I was driven to the point of madness … Having been made sick … the investigator 'consoled me': 'Don't worry, you'll be screaming even louder when you feel this truncheon down there!'…"
Once in a camp, her two sons were able to visit her and correspond with her. Her older son kept diaries. Morrison said that the correspondence and diaries provide a "first-hand account" of the horrors of a prison camp.
Even when incarcerated, her love remained undimmed. Until her death in 1989, she continued to champion Prokofiev's music and to give the outside world the impression that theirs had been an enduring love, despite everything.
Negotiations are under way for a possible feature film based on her story.
PUBLISHED 21 MARCH 2013
The lonely fate of the great composer's wife.
Not every one can be Alma Mahler, whose success in the marriage stakes was immortalised in Tom Lehrer’s song “Alma”: “Alma, tell us/All modern women are jealous/You should have a statue in bronze/For bagging Gustav and Walter and Franz”. (As in Mahler, Gropius and Werfel.) Still, the fate that awaited Carolina (Lina) Codina after she married Sergei Prokofiev was particularly cruel. Enticed along with her husband to return to the Soviet Union in 1936, Lina spent eight years in the Gulag, abandoned by all but her dutiful sons.
Lina’s mother had warned her daughter against falling for a man like Prokofiev. She did not think he’d take proper care of her – and she was right. But Mrs Codina had not reckoned on Lina’s insatiable ambition to be “someone”, even if it is was only by association. Lina knew all too well what life offered for the mediocre and the mighthave- beens.
Born in Spain in 1897 to a Russian mother and Spanish father, Lina watched her parents eke out a living giving voice lessons and the occasional concert in regional theatres. Eventually, the family ended up in New York, where they rented a small apartment in the respectable part of Washington Heights. Lina’s education finished at 16. But thanks to a pretty figure, a phenomenal talent for languages and a passable soprano voice, she was adopted by an exclusive cadre within the Russian émigré community.
Prokofiev thundered into Lina’s life in 1918 when he was 27 and she was 21. He had come to the US in the hope of making it as a composer and piano soloist. Unfortunately, after a promising start he neglected his performing in order to work on the opera . The piece had been commissioned by the Chicago Opera Association and support for its premiere did not survive the unexpected death of the director. Humiliated and broke, Prokofiev left the US in 1920 and went to live in Paris, with a smitten Lina in tow. Ostensibly, she had followed him to France to work on her singing but in practice she was Prokofiev’s bedfellow, secretarial assistant and nurse to his aged mother.
Putting up with Prokofiev’s legendary arrogance required a special mix of personal ambition and self-denial. Lina happened to possess it in abundance. She wanted to be a famous singer but had neither the discipline nor the talent to join the ranks of the truly great. Failing in a career of her own, she was more than willing to share in Prokofiev’s.
Lina tried everything to convince him to marry her but nothing worked until she fortuitously became pregnant with their first child in 1923. They were married in the Bavarian village of Ettal, where Prokofiev spent a year composing the opera , based on the novel of the same name by Valery Bryusov. That they were married in Germany rather than France, or anywhere else for that matter, would have remained a minor detail were it not for the fact that years later the Soviets annulled the marriage on the spurious pretext that it was never registered in a Russian consulate.
As Mrs Prokofiev, Lina could at last enjoy the limelight as a “someone”, though it was rarely, if ever, in her own right as “Lina Llubera” (her stage name). Even when she gave a concert with Prokofiev accompanying her, the audience came to watch him play rather than listen to her sing. Lina also had a continuous battle on her hands, according to Morrison:
. . . for Serge’s attention, a frustrating contest, given not only his wandering eye but also his self-obsession. She had succumbed to his magnetism and had the wiles to maintain his affection, so she braved the broad range of other women in his life without protest. His indifference to her needs was, and always would be, the greater affront to her pride.
It was pride on both their parts that led the Prokofievs into the trap laid on for them by the Soviets. The seduction began slowly, with an invitation to tour the country in 1927. Prokofiev’s cousin, Shurik, had recently been imprisoned as a counter-revolutionary but this failed to have a dampening effect on the Prokofievs’ enthusiasm for the country. Shielded from the paranoia and poverty unleashed by Stalin’s murderous regime, they bathed rapturously in the carefully choreographed adulation of the Russian intelligentsia. Lina, just as much as Serge, was lulled into believing that her musical gifts enjoyed a special place of honour in her ancestral homeland.
Ironically, the Soviet official in Paris who did most to facilitate these trips, an embassy counsellor named Jean-Joseph Arens, would end up being recalled and executed in 1937. By then it was far too late for the Prokofievs to escape. The early 1930s had not been good for the career of either. The death of the ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev in 1929 had deprived Prokofiev of his most fruitful collaborator. He also found that in the west his popularity and reputation were running a distant third behind that of two other Russian exports: Sergei Rachmaninoff and Igor Stravinsky. By contrast, there seemed to be a vast untapped store of ballets and operas awaiting Prokofiev in Moscow.
The extent to which Lina and Sergei were willing dupes in their deception can be judged from the farcical nature of his telephone calls to her when he was in Leningrad and she was in Paris in 1934. Interference began subtly enough with operators allowing them to speak when the connection was poor and cutting them off when the line improved. Soon the interference became more blatant and the Prokofievs began to hear laughter and commentary in the background. Finally, on 19 November, 1934, Sergei faded out mid-sentence, leaving Lina to shout, “I can’t hear you”; at which point the eavesdropper announced, “You were perfectly audible, I just decided to cut you off.” Yet once the train had been set in motion for their relocation to Russia, neither felt able to call a halt. Not even the sudden official persecution of Shostakovich in 1936 was strong enough to shake the Prokofievs’ confidence that they, in contrast, would be untouchable in Moscow.
At first it appeared as though the Prokofievs were immune to the ravages of the Great Terror. It was only towards the end of 1938 that Lina and Sergei fully woke up to the reality that they had walked into a gilded cage – and thrown away the key. The Prokofievs made their final tour abroad that year. If the couple now regretted their move to Russia, they kept their feelings to themselves. By all accounts Lina put on a magnificent show in the US, wearing couture clothes every night as though she never wore anything else in Moscow. In Washington she finally won a measure of the recognition she craved by giving her own recital at a glittering soirée at the Russian embassy.
Prokofiev also met with complete adoration, especially from Hollywood. Both Paramount and Disney tried to persuade him to sign a contract. Walt Disney even sweetened the deal by offering Prokofiev $1,500 for the rights to a cartoon version of . But, in typical Soviet style, the Prokofievs’ two boys had not been given permission to leave Russia, effectively turning the children into hostages in case their parents developed any ideas about not returning home at the end of their tour.
Lina’s life began to unravel almost as soon as they returned to Moscow. Their marriage had staggered on in part because Sergei was almost always travelling. Once they were forced to live together without a break, he found companionship elsewhere with a young woman half his age called Mira Abramovna Mendelson. She was the daughter of two party apparatchiks and a student at the prestigious Maxim Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow. There was nothing especially interesting about the girl, as Lina discovered during her jealous investigations. But Mira did enjoy one advantage over her rival: she had no interest or desire other than to devote herself entirely to Prokofiev. Lina tried every possible trick to keep Sergei within the family fold but Mira turned out to be the more ruthless of the two. Whenever Prokofiev appeared to be wavering in favour of his wife, Mira would threaten to kill herself unless he immediately returned. The couple began cohabitating in 1941 when he was 47 and she was 23.
Lina was left in an appalling predicament. She was a 44-year-old mother with two adolescent sons and no obvious means of support in a city that was under intense aerial bombardment. Prokofiev and Mira had been evacuated, along with the city’s other prominent artists, to Alma-Ata in Kazakhstan. He was not unsympathetic when Lina’s pleas for money or food occasionally reached him but there was little he could do to ensure that anything he did send actually reached its destination. In a desperate bid to shield her children, Lina worked in every kind of capacity, including trench-digging around the city’s perimeter. Moscow was a terrifying place during the war: lawless, rapacious, dangerous and cruel. Lina discovered a well of inner strength and reserve that she never knew existed within her. She resolutely kept trying to get her family out of the city and, if possible, out of the country, but every scheme fell through.
Prokofiev had been churning out patriotic music during the war, and in peacetime returned to Moscow an even greater Soviet hero than when he left. Understandably, Lina refused to grant him a divorce – at least not until she and the boys were safely in the west. The stalemate between them ended in 1948 in spectacular fashion: Prokofiev suddenly fell from favour and the majority of his work was banned.
As a non-person he was at the mercy of Soviet bureaucracy, which, for no discernible reason, decided that his marriage was invalid. This left Sergei free to marry Mira and deprived Lina of her last shred of protection. A few weeks after the wedding, NKVD agents arrested Lina on the charge of espionage. Her unceasing attempts to cultivate high-level contacts in western embassies – in the hope of getting an exit visa – had caused her name to get on the wrong list.
After enduring 13 months of torture and interrogation, Lina was given a 15-minute trial and sentenced to 20 years in a forced labour camp. It is at this point that a glaring omission in Simon Morrison’s immensely readable and entertaining book comes to light. The reader is at page 254 with only 40 pages to go, while Lina has another 40 years to live. Her eight years in the Gulag takes up a little over 20 pages and then it’s a romp home to old age. The vast lacuna that is Lina’s life after the death of Prokofiev in 1953 (three years before her release) cruelly highlights the very fear that made her cling to the composer for all those years: she was “someone” with him, and no one without him.
It isn’t only women spouses whose history is reduced to a few footnotes in the annals of their famous husband’s lives. No one remembers Mr Edith Wharton or Mr Agatha Christie, either. Morrison, at least, has given this footnote its due and told the story of a woman who was a desperate little nobody when she was married, and became a courageous heroine when she was single. Someone should give Lina Prokofiev her own Wikipedia page.
MARCH 23, 2013
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Number of pages:
328 pp., illustrated
When in 1936, Sergei Prokofiev moved from the West to Stalin’s Soviet Union, the choice not only affected his music, but put his personal life in turmoil. An innovative composer, Prokofiev lost his freedom to create, and his first wife, Lina, a foreigner, was deprived of her liberty altogether. In 1948, she was charged with treason and sentenced to 20 years in the gulag, of which she would serve eight.
Lured with commissions and privileges, the Prokofievs never even discussed their decision to migrate to the totalitarian state. Prokofiev, who initially had left Russia after the revolution, wanted to make Moscow the center of his international operations. Lina had ambitions of her own, hoping to perform on Soviet radio, something she would not later admit.
In “Lina and Serge’’ Princeton musicologist Simon Morrison, best known for his biography, “The People’s Artist: Prokofiev’s Soviet Years,’’ creates a fascinating portrait of the self-absorbed couple. Lina’s dramatic story, new to Western readers, reveals Prokofiev beyond his famously unsentimental exterior. Beginning with Lina’s arrest, which had “shaken” Prokofiev, Morrison maintains strong narrative tension, following the couple back to their cosmopolitan milieus before the ill-fated relocation.
Lina Prokofiev interested Western biographers after her escape from the Soviet Union in 1974, at age 77. However, interviews were unsuccessful: She could not talk meaningfully about her life with Prokofiev — he was always on tours — and would not talk about the gulag.
Born Carolina Codina in Madrid into a family of two singers, a Russian-speaking mother and Spanish father, Lina studied voice in Paris and Milan, but was told she lacked the patience and will for a serious career. She was introduced to Prokofiev in New York in 1918, the year he left Bolshevik Russia, after a concert where the virtuoso pianist played his own dissonant, tempestuous music.
During almost two decades in the West, Prokofiev wrote operas, ballets, concertos and, like Igor Stravinsky before him, collaborated with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. He was dedicated to his art alone, he told Lina, who also had to compete with a broad range of women in his life; it took her until 1923, not long before their first son was born, to get Prokofiev to commit to marriage.
An aspiring operatic soprano, Lina debuted in Milan’s Teatro Carcano substituting in “Rigoletto’’ for the principal singer, Marina Campanari. Subsequent performances were botched due to attacks of nerves. Prokofiev wrote songs for Lina’s voice, but their joint performances were only a burden. Even with Prokofiev accompanying, Lina disappointed her audiences, critics, and herself.
In 1927, the couple traveled to the Soviet Union where they witnessed the success of Prokofiev’s satirical opera “Love for Three Oranges.’’ Prokofiev “had never felt as popular, as potentially influential,” and the triumph of that trip would determine his decision to relocate. Although Prokofiev’s ballet “Le Pas d’Acier’’ (“The Steel Step’’) was attacked as a mockery of Stalin’s industrialization, by the mid-1930s his commissions came mostly from the Soviet Union, while interest in the West declined.
Lina was also preparing for a career as a Soviet musician. Having received a star’s welcome in the Soviet embassy in Paris and reassured about the purges, she read Stalin’s speeches and rehearsed the “Shepherd’s Song of Georgia.” But her radio contract in Moscow was canceled in 1935, after a failed performance.
When in 1936, Dmitri Shostakovich’s modernist ballet and opera were attacked in Pravda, the couple ignored the warning. In a letter to Prokofiev, then touring Eastern Europe, Lina implied Shostakovich’s downfall presented an opportunity: “It seems to me that in all of this drama you can play a very important role.” That same year, the Prokofievs made their disastrous move and became trapped in the totalitarian state, which needed its celebrities repatriated to restore the country’s prestige.
Prokofiev would continue to compose brilliantly, but now he had to revise his ballets and operas to see them staged. Tragically for Lina, they lost freedom to travel. She was desperate to get out and was at war with Prokofiev. The marriage soon unraveled, and in 1938 Prokofiev met Mira Mendelson, an aspiring writer, half his age. Mira became his co-librettist and eventually his wife and would experience the nightmarish period of his career when his works were prohibited from performance.
Prokofiev left Lina and their two sons in 1941, just months before Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, but supported them as long as he lived. In 1948 Prokofiev, along with Shostakovich and others, was condemned for absorbing modernist creative techniques. With Prokofiev in political disgrace, the court annulled his marriage with Lina, which had not been registered with Soviet authorities. By then, the secret police had collected a file about Lina’s persistent efforts to obtain an exit visa from foreign embassies, a crime under Stalin.
Morrison’s effort to portray Lina as “a tragic victim of Serge’s genius” is unsuccessful. She emerges as a charming socialite with an opportunistic streak, who had danced with Joachim von Ribbentrop’s aide at a Kremlin reception. But her destiny will surprise the reader at every turn, with her eventual triumph in the West where she served as cultural representative for the Prokofiev Estate and Foundation almost until her death in 1989 at age 91.
Published on Saturday 16 March 2013
By STUART KELLY
The life of Lina Prokofiev – dumped by Serge and sent to Siberia – is a poignant tale of endurance
When Serge Prokofiev was working on his second opera, The Love For Three Oranges, in 1919, barely a year after he had met his future wife, the singer Lina (Carolina) Codina, he made what seems like a romantic gesture: he renamed the first princess in the rambunctious, satirical opera Princess Linette. Lina’s mother, Olga, cautioned against her reading too much into this, though the name-change survived to the 1921 Chicago premiere and thereafter. But it turned out to be a more ambiguous and fearfully ironic alteration in the long run; since Linette does not marry the Prince – she expires of thirst having been “hatched” from her orange in Act III.
Although Lina did marry Serge, their relationship, never the easiest, came to an end once they returned to the Soviet Union, and, in 1948 she was arrested by the Ministry of State Security (MGB in Russian), imprisoned in Lubyanka and then Lefortovo, and spent until 1956 as a zek in a Siberian gulag. Morrison’s biography of Lina is as much a story of personal tragedy and disappointment as it is a compelling study of how art and tyranny interact.
Lina was an aspiring singer, the daughter of two singers, Spanish tenor Juan Codina and Ukrainian soprano Olga Nemïsskaya. Their careers imposed an itinerant, polyglot and erratic childhood on her, from Spain to Russia to Switzerland to America. She was evidently charming – Rachmaninoff was enchanted by her, as was the Slavophile socialite Vera Johnston – and it was this sophisticated internationalism that would eventually bring about her arrest.
Prokofiev was touring in the States when they met: although she later wrote to him saying “But I love S.P. man and not S.P. composer”, S.P.’s first love was his music. They returned to Europe and had a strangely disconnected relationship, seeing each other between his touring schedule and her singing lessons and performances. But it was clear that her career would be subordinate to his (she had a mild success as Gilda in Rigoletto, though she lost her place: he did not attend any performances). They married in 1923, in Ettal in the Bavarian Alps, when Lina was four months pregnant. Crucially, for later developments, the marriage was in a foreign country, between foreigners. The MGB would use their failure to declare their marriage to Soviet authorities as the spurious justification to declare it null and void.
Prokofiev had been being assiduously wooed by Soviet authorities, for whom the cultural cachet of such a high-profile return was a propaganda coup. They were promised both artistic and personal freedoms, and travelled back to Moscow in 1936. One can understand why Prokofiev did so, over and above his sentimental attachment to his native country. Prokofiev combined staggering self-belief with something of an inferiority complex. In America, his dissonant, chromatic music was less preferable to audience than the easier melodies of Rachmaninoff. In Paris, his dissonant, chromatic music was less fully avant-garde than that of Stravinsky. In Moscow, his only rival, Dmitri Shostakovitch, was denounced in 1936 for “ideological deficiencies” in Lady Macbeth Of The Mtsensk District and The Limpid Stream. In the USSR, he could be the maestro, working with Eisenstein on Alexander Nevsky, writing pieces for the centennial of Pushkin, and adapting Tolstoy’s War And Peace as an opera. Many of his most popular works derive from this period: Peter and the Wolf, the film music from Lieutenant Kijé and the ballet music from Romeo and Juliet. Lina attempted to broadcast on Soviet radio, but the experience was humiliating and technically limited. Worse, Prokofiev fell in love with a 25-year-old, Mira Mendelson, and left his wife and both children. For a while, being the wife of an eminent composer protected her; but not permanently.
Why Lina agreed to go to Russia is less certain. Partly, it was duty to the man she loved. Partly it was naivety. But, given that her first job, in America, was as secretary to the anti-Bolshevik but pro-Socialist Yekaterina Breshko-Breshkovskaya, the “Grandmother of the Revolution”; given her friendship with Aleksey Stahl, who had been a member of the provisional government; given she knew Prokofiev’s cousin was imprisoned and his mother had retreated with the White Army, her innocence seems wilful whereas his was tinged with expediency.
Morrison writes excellently about her wartime deprivations and courage. But her friendship with diplomats and foreigners brought her under suspicion, and without her connection to Prokofiev, she was caught up in the post-war purges. Again, Morrison’s description of her life in the gulag is penetrating, and not without moments of terrible pathos: despite everything, one of her few requests was for a copy of Prokofiev’s song “Ya poidu po polyu” from the film Alexander Nevsky.
Prokofiev died the day that Stalin’s death was announced. His relationship with the state’s musical arbiters had not been as easy as he had convinced himself it might be – the Cantata For The Twentieth Anniversary Of The October Revolution went unperformed in his lifetime, and although there are stand-out late pieces, most notably the Seventh Symphony, there is a lot of formulaic and listless work. Lina was released, in part through the generous intercession of Shostakovitch, and died in 1988. Before she died, she recorded the narration for Neeme Järvi and Scottish National Opera’s anniversary performance of Peter And The Wolf. But, in the chilling epilogue, Morrison writes that no recordings of her singing have survived. Furthermore, with the exception of few songs, she rarely sang her husband’s work and he certainly never composed an operatic piece with her in mind.
Prokofiev comes across as caddish and arrogant, an impression his diaries might serve to ameliorate (for example, his anxieties at the cosmopolitanism of works like the Fifth Piano Concerto, on the eve of their return to Russia, shows him more ambivalent about his capacities to conform to Soviet musical dogma). On one of their first meetings Lina said she found him rude, and he replied that insolence was his preferred mode: that insolence, whether in the neoclassical cheekiness of the First Symphony, the zaniness of The Love For Three Oranges or the brass eructations of the Fifth Piano Concerto, show a more human, and loveable composer, than his scandalous coldness to his wife. He once upbraided Lina saying she just wanted to be seen on a composer’s arm; but it was when she was brushed off that arm that she showed remarkable, poignant dignity.
Life was never so happy...
The sun shines differently
Knowing that Stalin is in the Kremlin!
Those words come from Sergei Prokofiev's cantata Zdravitsa, celebrating the 60th birthday of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1939. They were broadcast on loudspeakers in the streets of Moscow. History does not record personal contact between the two men though Stalin, whose minute knowledge of the cultural world was legendary, was more than aware of Prokofiev's status as an internationally famous composer, recently returned to Moscow from emigration and one of the Soviet Union's top cultural assets. What linked them forever was the fact they both died on the same day 60 years ago: March 5, 1953. Stalin was 73 and Prokofiev 61.
They probably won't be playing Zdravitsa in Moscow on March 5.
Apart from the fact that it's a joyous piece and thus unsuitable for remembering a death, the words, taken from the pseudo-folk poetry of various Soviet republics, praised Stalin in terms that were over the top even in the 1930s. But that doesn't mean that Stalin isn't held in high regard in Vladimir Putin's Russia. In the rest of the world Stalin is remembered as a ruthless tyrant and mass murderer, often mentioned in the same breath as Hitler. In Russia, however, the picture looks different. Stalin is the man who led his country to victory in World War II, under whose rule the Soviet Union achieved the dizzying status of a world superpower. No matter what the rest of the world thinks, that makes him a hero for many Russians.
Yes, Stalin's posthumous domestic reputation has had its ups and downs. His rule was condemned selectively by Nikita Khrushchev in 1956 and comprehensively during Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika in the late 1980s. (Prokofiev's Zdravitsa had to have its words rewritten, substituting "Communist Party" for "Stalin".) Under Putin, however, Stalin's reputation has risen sharply. Stalin scores high on all the popularity contests for Russia's historical leaders. Ordinary Russians are aware that millions died under his rule but still regard him as a wise statesman who led the Soviet Union to greatness.
Politicians close to Putin have advocated reinstatement of the name of Stalingrad for the city of Volgograd, site of the great World War II battle. Putin himself recently recommended a modernisation plan for the defence industry in the spirit of the "powerful, all-embracing leap forward" of the 1930s, a clear reference to Stalin though without mentioning his name. The Russian Communist Party, now in opposition, freely refers to "the great Stalinist era" of the l930s and 40s; one of its leaders recently stated on radio that the human cost of Stalinist industrialisation was "normal" (or normal no, meaning not worth talking about).
Most Russians are not celebrating Stalin the communist but Stalin the builder of the Russian nation, an ironic legacy for a Georgian who wrote romantic poetry in his native language when young and as ruler tried to build a multinational Soviet nation with Russia and Georgia among the constituent republics. Liberal intellectuals hate the Stalin revival, but they are a vanishing breed since the collapse of Gorbachev's perestroika, despite their continuing popularity as old friends and contacts with Western Russia-watchers. A good rule of thumb is that the opinions expressed to Westerners by their usual informants in Moscow are likely to be the opposite of those held by the (provincial, non-intellectual, non-liberal) majority of the Russian population an example being reactions to the convictions for hooliganism of three members of the feminist punk-rock group Pussy Riot for mocking Putin and the Orthodox Church in a performance in Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. National pride and "decency" trump liberal democracy and free speech any day in post- Soviet Russia.
Stalin was at the height of his power, and the height of his tyranny, when he died 1953. He had been a hands-on leader during World War II, which ended with the triumphant march across eastern Europe to Berlin and the German surrender. Eastern Europe had been whipped into line with quasi-communist regimes as a "Soviet bloc" and buffer zone. The Soviet Union and the United States were the two superpowers, with their respective spheres of influence, confronting each other in the Cold War. Stalin's cult had never loomed larger or his paranoia been more intense. Personally, however, he was a lonely mart. His second wife had committed suicide in 1932, leaving him with a young daughter, Svetlana, to whom he was much attached, and two sons who were disappointments. His social circle in the 1920s and early 30s, consisting largely of in-laws from his two marriages, was effectively wiped out by the Great Purges of 1937-38, despite the fact that he was the architect of the purges. In the post-war years, his top political associates were drafted as unwilling companions in late-night drinking parties at his dacha to keep loneliness and insomnia at bay.
When Stalin's body was laid out in state at Moscow's Hall of Columns, thousands turned out to mourn and pay their last respects, causing such crowding in the streets that thousands were trampled and hundreds died. No doubt a few people privately rejoiced at the passing of the tyrant. But almost all the memoirists, including those who later became strongly anti-Stalinist, recall shedding tears for Stalin and fearing for the future.
The other notable death in Moscow that snowy Thursday was Prokofiev's. Twelve years younger than Stalin, Prokofiev had spent the 1920s in the West and built a substantial reputation as a modernist, though it frustrated him that his fame never equalled that of his fellow Russian Igor Stravinsky.
He was famous enough, however, for the Soviet regime to want him to come back and to woo him with promises of performances and privilege; and he finally moved from Paris, with his Spanish-born wife, Lina, and their two sons, in the mid-l 930s. Musicians, writers and other artists were indeed richly rewarded in the Soviet Union, but there was a price to pay: accepting Party control, censorship and, in case of contravention of Soviet norms of "socialist realism", loss of privilege.
Even as the Prokofievs were moving their wordly goods to Moscow, Prokofiev's foremost Soviet competitor for composer's laurels, the young Dmitri Shostakovich, was harshly criticised for his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, seen and disliked by Stalin and other Politburo members at its Bolshoi Theatre production. This heralded a harsh campaign against modernism, although Prokofiev at this time was not a target. Prokofiev, in fact, was well disposed to the idea of moving his style away from the modernism of his earlier years. Ironically, his readiness to embrace a "new simplicity" satisfying Soviet demands for cheerfulness and popular accessibility was not a product of admiration of Soviet values he was totally apolitical and had come back in the hope of more productions and more reliable income but rather of his conversion to Christian Science, a faith he quietly retained in atheist Moscow until the end of his days.
Prokofiev survived the great purges (though a close associate, the theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold, fell victim), and even achieved the almost unparalleled feat of pretending not to notice that anything untoward was going on.
Music written in his "Soviet period", including the ballet Romeo and Juliet, the opera War and Peace and Peter and the Wolf did well with the Soviet public. He had troubles with the musical bureaucracy but seemed to take these relatively in stride, as an 18th century court composer with a touchy patron would have done.
Prokofiev had a relatively productive war. Evacuated to safety in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, he wrote his popular Cinderella ballet music as well as the score for Sergei Eisenstein's film Ivan the Terrible.
There was trouble after the war, however, when the five "greats" of Soviet music, including Prokofiev and Shostakovich, were condemned by the Party Central Committee for writing music that was too Western, modernist and elitist for the Soviet public. It was a big scandal, though not a fatal one (none of them was arrested or deported or permanently lost their privileges).
Prokofiev's response was grudging: while he made the expected apology and promised to do better, he insisted on ignoring the ideological aspect of the criticism and treating it as a musical problem he could easily fix.
Prokofiev's marriage had broken down in 1941 and he left Lina for Mira Mendelson, a young Soviet admirer who was to co-author the libretto of War and Peace. Mira accompanied him into evacuation, but Lina refused to leave Moscow, which meant she had a hard and hungry war. Isolated and alienated, she spent a lot of time with diplomats from Western embassies, a dangerous connection in the paranoid post-war period. In February 1948, around the time Prokofiev was condemned for modernism, Lina was arrested and vanished into a gulag.
Mira was the incumbent wife at Prokofiev's funeral at the House of Composers, along with the two sons and a small group of mourners. As he was a five-time Stalin Prize winner, Prokofiev's death would have rated major press attention, but under the circumstances was overwhelmingly overshadowed by Stalin's. The Borodin Quartet managed half a movement of Tchaikovsky not Prokofiev's favourite composer, but that's what officials told them to play before being whisked off to Stalin in the House of Columns. It was only a few streets away, but they barely made it through the milling crowds.
With Vyacheslav Molotov, Lavrentii Beria and other Politburo members standing solemnly by Stalin's coffin, taking the place of honour normally occupied by the family, the Borodin Quartet played Tchaikovsky again real "Russian" music for an adopt ye Russian hero.
Stalin was laid to rest in the mausoleum alongside Lenin until 1961, when he was abruptly removed as part of Khrushchev's de-Stalinisation and reburied along with lesser members of the Communist pantheon in the Kremlin Wall. Prokofiev's burial place, like that of Stalin's second wife, Nadya, and other elite Soviet members, was the Novodevich monastery. Both left human tragedies behind. Stalin's unhappy daughter Svetlana defected to the West in 1967, renouncing and later denouncing her father's legacy Seventeen years later, she redefected, resuming Soviet citizenship and living in Georgia, her father's birthplace; but two years later she changed her mind again. She died in 2011 in Wisconsin, US.
Lina Prokofiev, released from the gulag in 1956, had bitter legal with Mira abut who was the real widow and heir to the estate. After years of seeking permission to leave Russia, Lina and her sons finally managed it in the mid-1970s. She continued to see herself as guardian of Prokofiev's musical legacy until her death at 91 in 1989.
Looking back on the two deaths, the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke imagined their funeral corteges passing each other in Moscow, travelling in different directions, the one attended by teeming crowds, the other by a devoted few. He saw Stalin and Prokofiev as representing two opposing principles, the darkness of tyranny and the light of art. That's an image of moral confrontation much loved by the old Soviet/Russian intelligentsia, but it's not the one that matters in Russia today. For Putin, Stalin and Prokofiev are not mutually exclusive principles: both are part of the great Russian national tradition that he embraces. Prokofiev's Zdravitsa is up on YouTube, with the original "Glory to Stalin" words, in multiple Russian performances. Stalin and Prokofiev are linked not only by the accident of simultaneous death but by their contributions - different in kind though they may be - to the era of Russia's glory, the half century from the 1940s to the beginning of the 1990s when Russia really mattered in the world. While it's scarcely likely that glory will be recovered, it's Putin's - and Russia's - benchmark for national achievement. Just as Prokofiev's War and Peace has won a permanent place in the Bolshoi Opera repertoire, so Stalin's wartime and peacetime achievements look firmly embedded in Russia's narrative of 20th century history, under Putin and beyond.
is honorary professor in the at the University of Sydney and emerita professor in history at the University of Chicago. She is the author most recently of Sedition: Everyday Resistance in the Soviet Union under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, Yale University Press, 2011.