excerpt from 'Sergey Prokofiev diaries: 19 June 1911' pp. 214-215 (672 words)

excerpt from 'Sergey Prokofiev diaries: 19 June 1911' pp. 214-215 (672 words)

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Sergey Prokofiev diaries: 19 June 1911

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Besides the four pieces of my own, I was due to play piano works by Schoenberg, a new Viennese composer. When these compositions appeared for the first time on Nurok's desk three weeks ago, we were all appalled, perplexed and repelled at the hideous absence of music and senseless dissonances. Not only that, but with their mass of notes and markings of all kinds it was almost impossible to work out how they should be played, and one after the other all the pianists participating in the Evenings declined to perform Schoenberg: Nikolayev, myself, Medem, Richter. Without wasting time on any of the others, Nurok came straight back to me and persuaded me with the following argument: since the raison d'être of the 'Evenings of Contemporary Music' was to present to the public new works that have attracted attention both in Russia and abroad, they had an obligation to include the works of Schoenberg without passing judgement on their quality, but simply on account of the stir they had caused in Vienna. I agreed to play two pieces. I found it intriguing to get to grips with them, here and there were glimpses of atmosphere, or something very like it. I determined to draw out this atmosphere in my performance. I asked for my own pieces to precede the Schoenberg pieces, because I was afraid that the Schoenberg might precipitate a scandal. But Nurok mixed up the order of the programme, and in the event I had to play the pieces the other way about. Before I went out to play, he asked me what reaction I thought Schoenberg might provoke in the audience. I replied, 'I promise you that after the first two minutes the audience will be listening to it as real music . . .' On stage, I announced in a loud voice, 'Works by Schoenberg,' in order to prevent, God forbid, anyone thinking that I had composed them (my only previous appearances at the 'Evenings' had been as composer-pianist). At first when I started to play the audience listened very attentively, as to 'real music'. And indeed, at the very beginning of the piece I contrived to create a mood of sombre restraint with overtones of savagery and lamenting. This lasted for about two pages, then someone in the hall burst out laughing. The laughter grew and grew, as did the noise level. The second of the two pieces was short and loud, and so managed to drown the noise in the hall. But when I finished playing the din and the guffawing in the hall were tremendous. The only thing that saved Schoenberg was the seriousness and obvious commitment with which I performed the music. And the strange thing was that the more my ears became accustomed to the discordances the less I felt them,, and the music appeared to me wholly and irreproachably admirable; whenever an occasional consonant harmony appeared in place of the expected dissonance, it struck my ears as an equivalent dissonance. And so, to the jeers of the audience I made my way from the stage. But by the time I approached the door to come back again, applause was suddenly ringing out in the hall, acknowledging the seriousness of my performance. I bowed gratefully. Hardly had I finally left the stage when I was surrounded by an ecstatic group of the principal organizers of the evening. My performance had caused a sensation among them; they had not anticipated that it would be possible to make of such pieces, no three bars of which any of them had had the patience to work out, something that would be listened to as 'real' music. A few programme items further on I played my own compositions, pretty well, especially the difficult Etude No. 3, which went down a storm with the audience; I was called back three times. During the interval all the musicians were very complimentary, praising both my music and its performance, but as for the Schoenberg they merely smiled and shrugged their shoulders.

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excerpt from 'Sergey Prokofiev diaries: 19 June 1911' pp. 214-215 (672 words)


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