In the June/July/August issue of Bookforum, Elizabeth Wilson writes, “Sergey Prokofiev (1891–1953) was the last of the great Russian composers whose artistic formation took place before the Bolshevik Revolution.” In 1915, impresario Diaghilev brought him to Italy to discuss Ala and Lolli, the ballet he had commissioned. “This visit and the arduous journey across war-torn Europe are described in riveting detail in Prokofiev’s diaries, two substantial volumes of which—Diaries 1907–1914: Prodigious Youth and Diaries 1915–1923: Behind the Mask—are available in Anthony Phillips’s superb English translation. … Prokofiev’s diaries have nothing of the routine stamp; they are on occasion confessional but often resemble a series of sketches, like a novelist’s notes on people and events worth remembering. They were written when time allowed, sometimes a ‘chapter’ per month rather than daily or weekly entries. Prokofiev had ambitions as a writer and said that, had he not been a composer, he would have become an author. … Prokofiev’s evolution from a jaunty if somewhat prickly youth to a self-assured and suave young man is amply detailed. As he matured, he lost something of the enfant terrible’s desire to shock, while retaining a spontaneous and endearing natural charm.”

Posted May 28, 2009