Sergey Prokofiev, a compulsive diarist and gifted and idiosyncratic writer, possessed an incorrigibly sardonic curiosity about individuals and events. When he left Russia after the 1917 Revolution, his diaries were recovered from the family flat in Petrograd and later hidden at considerable personal risk by the composer Nikolai Myaskovsky. Prokofiev himself smuggled them out of the country after his first return to the Soviet Union in 1927. The later diaries, written in the West, were brought back by legal decree after the composer's death in 1953, to be kept in an inaccessible section of the Soviet State Archive. Eventually Prokofiev's son Sviatoslav was allowed to transcribe the voluminous contents. When he and his son Sergei eventually emigrated to Paris, they undertook the gigantic task of reproducing the partially encoded manuscript in an intelligible form.Diaries, 1907-1914, the first of three volumes that extend to 1933, covers Prokofiev's years at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. Simultaneously attached to and exasperated by the tradition exemplified by composers such as Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, and Tcherepnin, the brash young genius relishes the power of his talent to irritate, challenge, and finally overcome the establishment. In candid and lively prose, he records the all-too-normal preoccupations of a young man making his way in the brilliant social and artistic circles of the prewar Russian capital. Virtually every artist and musician of note appears in these pages, in penetrating and not always flattering vignettes. Prokofiev's main subject, however, is music, its creation and its performance. He reveals his own developing aesthetic principles through his assessments of the works of others, even as he composes such early masterpieces as the First and Second Piano Concertos, The Ugly Duckling, the First Violin Concerto, and the Classical Symphony. An inexhaustibly rich portrait of a vibrant artistic culture on the edge of war and revolution, Prokofiev's Diaries are both a dramatic illumination of a great composer's creativity and an indispensable contribution to our understanding of musical modernism. They constitute an essential and entertaining reference for all lovers of Prokofiev's music.
"Particularly interesting passages concern the composer's meetings with Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Diaghilev, Serge Koussevitzky, and Sergei Rachmaninoff; deeply personal reflections on Prokofiev's own life and desires; and appealing trivia about composing, rehearsing, and dealing with the politics of the conservatory. Phillips has produced a readable translation in idiomatic English. This wonderfully detailed view inside the mind of a twentieth-century heavyweight is recommended for public and academic libraries."-Library Journal, February 1, 2007 "The diaries are a revelation ... Their strengths are their lively prose and clarity, their capacity to recreate the atmosphere of place and time, and their flair for dialogue, qualities happily maintained in Anthony Phillips's excellent translation... The climax of the first volume of Prokofiev's diaries is a fascinating account of the composer's triumph in the prestigious Rubinstein Prize, the piano competition for students graduating from the Conservatory, with a performance of his Second Piano Concerto, in April 1914. It was the only occasion in the history of the St. Petersburg Conservatory that a student graduated with a performance of his own concerto."-Orlando Figes, New York Review of Books, May 10, 2007 "Phillips has translated the vast Russian text into English and produced exhaustive annotations, critical for following the panoply of people and events within the composer's purview... An acute observer and a gifted writer, Prokofiev had a fascinating life; even without an intentional narrative, the book makes for compelling reading... As a composer-diarist, he now sits with Berlioz in the first rank. The current volume and its two predecessors are indispensable for any library with a music collection. Summing Up: Highly recommended."-B.J. Murray, Choice (September 2013) "It was my good fortune to have been a close acquaintance of the genius Sergey Prokofiev. Before coming to know him personally I knew many of his works and admired him without reservation as a composer, but after 1948 and until his death we met very frequently indeed. He was a man of unique character: candid, possessed of an exceptionally penetrating wit and deeply held convictions. The publication of his Diaries, first in Russian and now in English, is a great event. We must be grateful to those who have made this possible and who have thereby revealed to us the life of one of the greatest composers and men of the twentieth century."-Mstislav Rostropovich