A new issue of The New York Review of Books has a very poignant essay about the Russian composer Prokofiev and how his decision to return to his native Russia proved so catastrophic, not to himself, but to his first wife, Lina, also a composer.
The two Russian emigrés met in Paris, but “in a way that Lina could not fully understand, he longed to go back to his native land, to renew contact with his childhood friends, with the Russian language, Russian songs.”
Lina had no point of reference for her husband’s longing beyond his sardonic, ill-tempered assessments of his Parisian competition and occasional declarations of weariness with life on the road. His longing was existential — for a guild of like-minded composers, a support network, the inspiration that direct access to Russian culture, of the distant and recent past, had given him.
“. . . only in his native land,” Prokofiev felt, “would he be recognized as Russia’s greatest living composer . . . At a time when interest in his music was declining in the West, he was seduced by the lucrative commissions he received from the Soviets for operas, ballets, and film scores, and . . . ” convinced himself that “to rescue his career as a theatrical composer, he needed to shift his sphere of operations from Paris to Moscow.” There were danger signals about the Soviet regime’s tolerance for artists, but Prokofiev “thought his music was above all that.”
To make a long story short, he returned to Moscow with Lina, and at first they were treated like celebrities: “He had a blue Ford imported from America and a chauffeur.”
Anyhoo, the move was hard on Lina and put a strain on their marriage. Prokofiev left her and their two young sons for a much younger mistress, and during the war Lina and her children were left to fend for themselves.
The story becomes sadder when Lina was arrested, taken to Lefortovo prison, and tortured.
But, upon her release in 1956, she still served as a kind of cultural ambassador for Prokofiev, “donating papers to archives” and attending his concerts: And never once did she mention her own ordeal in the camps — and what it cost her to survive.
Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.