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31.03.2014 г.

Sergei Prokofiev in Japan

Sablina E.B.

In Tokyo, just opposite the Russian Embassy, in a lane, the Archives of Modern Japanese Music are situated (Nihon kindai ongakukan). Here I came, following the diary of Sergei Prokofiev, in the hope of discovering some new details of his two-month stay in Japan in the summer of 1918.

The Archives of Modern Japanese Music was opened in October 1987. The preliminary work was made by "The Society for Establishing the Archives of Modern Music", which was set up in 1984, with the participation of 400 figures of culture, headed by the renowned composer Akutagava Yasushi (1925-1989), the son of the famous Akutagava Runosuke.

The archives contains documents[1] about western music in Japan since the Meiji period (1868-1912). There are scores, books, magazines and records (discs, recording tapes, CD) of the founder of the Japanese school of composing Yamada Kosaku (1886-1965), such well-known composers as Hashimoto Kunihiko (1904-1949), Ikebe Sinitiro (born in 1943) and others. There are also programs of many concerts. The are also a great number of works of such renowned music critics and researchers as Otaguro Motoo (1893-1979), Nakamura Rihei (1932-1994), Toyama Kadzuyuki (born in 1922). There is a special information center with computer data base on history of western music in Japan, beginning from the first newspaper publications of the end of the Tokugava period (1603-1867) and early Meiji. The center is a part of the International Association of Music Information Centers (IAMIC), thus it is possible to learn all the latest news of world music culture.

So, on July 2, 1918 S. Prokofiev wrote in his diary: "Dined with Japanese journalist in the restaurant. It was arranged by the director of the Emperor's theatre, with certain advertising purpose (in this theatre on July 6 and 7 Prokofiev gave concerts. - E.S.). Otaguro's book is about music and about me. The press was rather impressed. Dr. Otaguro is well-informed about Russian music, and we talked all the dinner (in English). We dined squat down, Japanese style. Geishas were dancing, and two young, well-dressed Japanese sat opposite each of us. Very nice." (Diary. 1907-1918. Paris, 2002, p. 713).

Otaguro, mentioned in the "Diary" - is the above-mentioned music critic and researcher Otaguro Motoo. It is interesting, that his father, Otaguro Jugoro (1866-1944), graduated from the Russian department of the Tokyo School of Foreign Languages (currently Tokyo State University of Foreign Languages - Tokyo gaikokugo daigaku), where his course-mate and friend was Ftabatei Sinei (1864-1909). After the death of the writer, Otaguro Jugoro, loyal to their friendship, wrote memoirs about him and published his complete works. Along with the School of Foreign Languages he graduated from the Tokyo Trade and Industry School (currently Hitotsubasi University), started work in the trading-house Mitsui and became one of the founders of the "Sibaura" factory (currently the world-known firm "Toshiba"). As to Otaguro Motoo, when he was a child he studied music from his mother Raku, then graduated from the Tokyo Music School (currently Tokyo ongaku daigaku). In 1912-1914 he continued his music education in London and at the same time studied economy, however the World War I interrupted his education. Motoo returned to Tokyo, settled in Omori, a township between Tokyo and Yokohama, where during the Taisyo (1912-1925) lived mainly figures of art and literature. In his home Motoo organized "Piano soirees" and during the first - "Debussy soiree" - he performed his works, for the first time in Japan. Also, with several friends Otaguro Motoo founded music and literary publishing house and started to publish the magazine "Ongaku to bungaku"; on the last page of the cover there were "News from Omori". The magazine came out from March of 1916 to August 1919.

In the beginning of August of 1918 Otaguro Motoo published in his magazine (Vol.3, No.8, pp. 2-13) his interview with Sergei Prokofiev, who was at that time in Japan. This interview was never more published in Japan or abroad.

The interview with Prokofiev

"I never dreamed of meeting in Japan with a man like you", - these were my first words when I met Prokofiev. When he heard this, he smiled. At this moment I noticed a few drops of sweat on the end of his nose and at the corners of the mouth. That's because it was hot evening during the season of rains.

Prokofiev - rather thin young man; however he looks healthy. He resembles an ordinary student. His openness makes a good impression and it is easy to talk with him. We both spoke bad English. Although our knowledge of this language was unsatisfactory, we were greatly satisfied with our conversation.

My first question was:

-          What is the current state of the Russian music?

-          Better, than one can imagine. Even I gave a concert in April of this year. And there are enough orchestras.

And our conversation continued.

-          Who is the best conductor in Russia?

-          Who? First of all, I think, Kusevitsky[2]. And Ziloti is also famous[3].

-          I listened Ziloti playing the piano in London.

-          Yes, he is a student of Liszt. Surely, he is rather aged for a pianist. That's why he became conductor. However, I can't say that he is good as conductor. But he is good in organizing concerts, that's why he is popular. There is also this Englishmen, Albert Coates[4], he is an excellent conductor.

-          Who are your favourite modern Russian composers?

-          I like Skriabin. And also Stravinsky and Myaskovsky.

-          What's the attitude to Skriabin's music in Russia?

-          I think, today there is better understanding of him.

-          Really? I listened to him in London. But his music is rather difficult. I listened to his "Prometheus".

-          "Prometheus"? Very good. I was also in London in July of 1914. Perhaps, at the same time with you.

-          Which of the Skryabin's sonatas is your favourite? As to me, a haven't listened to the Tenth sonata, however, I listened to the Ninth in his performance.

-          I wouldn't say I like the Ninth, but the Fifth and the Sixth are good. An also the Tenth, though it is rather short.

-          What a pity he is no more. In several years a lot of famous people have gone.

-          Yes. Max Reger[5] died, Debussy died. I always liked Reger more, than Strauss[6]. He death of Granados[7] is a great loss.

-          I agree with you. But the greatest loss is Debussy.

-          Surely. I never had occasion to meet Ravel, but I met Debussy.

-          When did it happen?

-          Not long before the war. Debussy came to Petrograd, he was conductor in the Kusevitsky's concert. They performed his "Sea" and "Nocturne".

I wanted to continue our conversation about Debussy, but at this moment several maiko entered the room, and the subject has naturally changed. I showed at their colourful kimono.

- How do you like it? Beautiful kimonos, aren't they?

- Really, very beautiful.

- By the way, when did you come to Japan?

- I arrived in Tokyo on June 1, and then I spent 10 days in Nara and Kyoto.

- You liked these places, didn't you?

- Yes, quiet and beautiful places. In Nara I even started to compose sonata for violin.

But there are so many amazing things around, that it is just impossible for me to write music in Japan. I can't concentrate.

-          However, I hope, that one day you will express your Japanese impressions, like Charpentier[8], who wrote his "Italian impressions"[9]. You will also write about Japan. I am sure, it will be interesting.

-          I'll try. Now I am getting ready to my trip to America and anticipate the pleasure of writing music about my voyage across the Pacific Ocean.

-          Perhaps it will be suite "In the Pacific Ocean", or "Sunrise", or "Sunset", or even "Hurricane".

-          Oh, I don't think so. Anyway, I am looking forward to my three-week sea voyage, in fact, it will be my first.

-          How long will you stay in America?

-          A month or two, I suppose. I would like to visit the Niagara waterfall, and am curious about this big city - New York. Anyway, first of all I am going there as an ordinary tourist. By the way, in one American magazine they wrote, introducing me, that I am the composer-futurist. This has nothing in common with me. However, American journalists are right, when they say, that Russian futurists have moved forward in comparison with the American ones.

-          Do you know any American composers?

-          Nobody. Except Kurt Schindler[10]. He came to Petrograd. He has a good knowledge of the Russian music.

-          I also know him, though merely his songs. They are rather popular.

-          Yes, he gave me his songs, and I, in response - my works.

            While we were talking, they served tray with snacks. Prokofiev looked with surprise at the little cups. I explained, that they are for sake. So we immediately drank. He said: "Very strong". Then they served him beer, but he hardly drank it. Unskillfully operating with the sticks, he turned to me. I wanted to learn more about the situation with orchestras in Russia, and our conversation continued.

-          Your teacher was Tcherepnin[11], wasn't he?

-          Yes. He is a good composer with excellent instrumentation, though he lacks personal touch.

-          And Kui, is he alive?

-          Alas, he is no more. We all called him "Old general". Because among the military men he also one of the oldest and distinguished generals. However he couldn't bear my music.

-          Really? And Glazunov, is he also from the "old guard"?

-          That's it. Glazunov also couldn't tolerate my works. Once. When I performed my "Scythian suite", he came to listen, but left before the end.

-          Really? And Lyadov also doesn't like you music?

-          Surely. Although he was my teacher, he is rather my opponent.

-           And what do you know about Rachmaninoff?

-          I heard he is currently in Sweden. He is a very touchy person, and the war badly affected him. They say he will perform as conductor in America soon.

-          He will present his own works?

-          I think so. And he will also perform as a pianist.

-          Rachmaninoff is an excellent pianist, isn't he? I listened to him in London, listened with admiration. He is amazing! Do you agree with me?

-          You are right. In Russia he is Number 1. As to his works, some people like them, others don't like, however he is considered to be best pianist. He is especially good, when he plays his First concert. I am going to America through Siberia and Japan; and Rachmaninoff - through Switzerland and Northern countries. It would be interesting, when we will meet in America and shake hands.

-          And what about Vasilenko[12], Akimenko[13]?

-          Perhaps, they are in Petrograd. But both of them are not the first-class composers.

-          Aren't they? I thought, Vasilenko is rather famous.

-          Of course not. Metner[14] is much better.

-          Metner... there is something German in him.

-          Maybe there is something German, maybe not, but he is an excellent composer. But even more than Metner I like Myaskovsky[15].

-          I never listened to his music. And it impossible to find it here. To tell the truth, for the first time I learned about you from the Montagu's[16] book. And in this book I for the firs time read about Myaskovsky. In this book the author quotes your words, that his sonatas are rather difficult.

-          Really? Well, in fact his sonatas are difficult. Myaskovsky was wounded in the war, he returned and wrote five symphonies.

-          Five? Quite a lot. And what can you say about his music?

-          In a few words, his music is sombre. He is a very shy man, and he is usually rather reluctant to publish his works, thus few of them are known.

-          I wonder, where is Stravinsky now?

-          I am not sure about it. He usually lives either in France, or in Switzerland, and he is virtually a stranger in Russia. Four years ago I met him in Milan. I came there by the invitation of that futurist Marinetti[17].

-          A admire Stravinsky's music. Scriabin was a genius. And after him if we can name anybody a genius, this is Stravinsky.

-          You are right, he is a genius. He is unrivalled in orchestration. Whatever they say, his music is very picturesque/colourful, also, perhaps, it lacks depth.

-          Did you hear his "Wedding"?

-          Oh, that new work? In Milan he played a part of it, but then never performed it any more. And did you hear his "Nightingale"?

-          Yes. I was greatly impressed.

-          And I must admit, I don't like it very mach. To my mind, "Petrushka" and "Holy Spring" are much better.

-          Yes, "Petrushka" is an excellent work. He used a lot of folk songs there, didn't he?

-          Sure. Besides, he boldly introduce music phrases, which sounds awfully for some people.

-          You mean this melody?

And I started to sing this simple melody "Nanny's dance". He immediately joined me, whistling, and laughed. Then he said:

-          You know, I understand "Petrushka" quite well, but "Holy Spring" is rather difficult for perception. When I listened to it for the first time, I understood nothing. Only when we met in Milan and I listened its piano performance in four hands, I understood this work. Especially this wonderful waltz. Anyway, it is an outstanding work of art.

-          Do you compose music for ballet?

-          I did. "Scythian suite" is one of such works. I wrote it at the request of that famous Dyagilev. This is a tragedy ballet about the life of primitive people, who lived in the Russian lands even before the Slavs. The characters are Ala and Lolliy. However in the process of writing the ballet turned into the symphonic composition, and I decided that it would be better as a symphony, than ballet.

-          And what about ballet?

-          For a ballet I wrote other music. They pan to stage it in Paris.

-          Dyagilev, is he in America now?

-          No, hi is in Madrid.

-          And Nizhinsky?

-          When the war began, he was on tour in Austria, and they arrested him. At least, currently they say he is dancing every night in Vienna, in the Emperor's Opera.

-          Really? I heard nothing about it. By the way, how did it come out that you were not conscripted to the military service?

-          I am the only son in the family. And the only sons are not called up. Besides, today they try to protect musicians. Thus I am not in the army.

-          You are lucky. Now you can write music and travel.

-          Yes. Recently I was in the Caucasus, wrote music. But riots started there, and I couldn't come back to Petrograd. I had to stay there and continued my work. Consequently I wrote the Third and the Fourth sonatas and the violin concert.

-          "Transience" and "Fantasy" - these are your new works, which you will perform in the Emperor's Theatre?

-          Yes. "Transience" is a very short composition. Just before the departure from Petrograd I made proofs, and now it is already published. As to the "Fantasy", it is in fact the final part of the Fourth sonata, but I will not play the whole sonata, because it is rather long. So I'll play only the final part.

-          You have symphoniettas, and what about symphonies? Did you write any?

-          Yes, I wrote classical symphony. In fact that symphonietta can be considered as symphony. And among the recent compositions I have "Vocal symphony".

-          What's its name?

Prokofiev became thoughtful. The point was that he didn't know, how to call it in English. So he gave its French name. Unfortunately, I understood nothing, and we didn't manage to find out the name of that composition. But I learned, that Prokofiev wrote music for the religious Assyrian poem, translated by Balmont[18].

-           At least this is the chorus to the accompaniment of wind- and stringed instruments with the solo tenor part, who perform the role of the priest. All this needs participation of a large number of people, thus it is rather difficult to perform it completely.

-          I heard, Balmont visited Japan last year?

-          That's right, and he continues to admire this country.

-          He liked it?

-          Yes, very much.

-          Unfortunately, the weather is very hot now. It would be nice if you come two months earlier.

-          Yes, very hot. It is hard to work at the daytime.

-          It's hard really. Your concerts begin after 1 p.m.

-          But I'll visit America, and when I come back, I hope, the weather will be milder. I think autumn here must be good.

-          Yes, October and November are the best seasons.

At this moment the sound of syamisen was heard, and two women-dancers maiko started to dance. We once again filled our cups with sake and watched them. The name of the dance was "Matsusima". I didn't know its content, so I couln't explain it to Prokofiev. So we continued our conversation.

-          Will you play Chopin at the concert?

-          Yes. In fact, up to now I performed only my own compositions. However it will be my first concert in Japan, and I think it would be wrong to play only music, which is difficult to understand. So I decided to include Chopin in the program, because everybody understands him. But I wasn't training fore more than two and a half months and I am afraid, that my fingers wouldn't move properly.

-          Will you play without rehearsal?

-          Of course, not. Today I for the first time here played the piano at my friend in Yokohama.

-          Oh, you visited Grand Hotel?

-          Yes.

-          I live halfway between Yokohama and Tokyo. Please, come to my place, Omori.

-          Omori? I remember the station with such a name. I'll visit you after the concert in the Emperor's Theatre.

-          You are welcome. And although my piano isn't a first-class instrument, it is at your disposal. Maybe, you'll play a pert of your "Scythian suite"? I will be delighted to listen to it in your performance.

-          "Scythian suite"? Why not... I was considering performing it as a conductor in America and brought the music with me. I'll show it to you.

-          Really? That's wonderful!

I glanced at the watch. It was about 9 p.m. At hat moment a photographer entered the room, as it was arranged beforehand. We all went into the garden. When we stood with Prokofiev side by side, I noticed, that he was taller than me al least by 10 cm, i.e., he was about 179 cm height. The flaps of his white, linen jacket were slightly short, under the jacket he wore red striped shirt. He stood and smiled. The camera flashed. The photo session was over. I said:

-          Good by. See you in the Emperor's Theatre.

We shook hands. I set off for the station Simbasi. In the car on the way to the station I recalled our conversation and smiled.

July 5

This talk took place on the eve of the concerts in the Emperor's Theatre. Earlier, in the "News from Omori" Otaguro Motoo informed: "Composer Prokofiev has come to us. We are delighted with such a wonderful development: composer-reformer will perform his works in Japan. I wonder, what other celebrities will visit us?"[19]

Actually, a lot of celebrities appeared. Strange though it may seem, the World War I was to some extent beneficial for the Japanese artistic life. Despite the Europe, which lied in ruins, the Far East provided excellent conditions for concerts and theatre art, especially following the revolution and civil war in Russia. Many Russian artists, actors, musicians rushed to America through Siberia with a stop in Japan, which was rapidly developing in the cultural sphere and where they paid tribute to the Japanese hospitality and performed on the scene of the Emperor's Art Theatre (Teikoku gekije).

The Emperor's Art Theatre, opened in 1911, was built in the European style. It was a peculiar symbol of the Taisho period, which, unlike Meiji period (1868-1912), regarding culture was the time, when "western civilization was familiar to the second generation consecutively, and the European culture was not regarded as something completely alien"[20]. Here in 1918 and 1919 performed the duet of Prokofiev's conservatory class-mates: pianist Alfred Merovich and violinist Michael Piastro. In his diary Sergei Prokofiev wrote on June 4, 1918: "I was at the concert of Piastro and Merovich. Good impression. The audience well-dressed in the European style, good performance, serious program. Merovich is rather good, although not first-class pianist. Piastro - excellent violinist. I have an idea - to write the violin sonata[21]. The concerts of the famous violinists became a major event: in 1921 Misha Elman (1891-1967), son of the Russian emigrants in America; in 1922 Efrem Tsymbalist (1889-1985), who emigrated to the USA in 1911; Leopold Auer (1845-1930), an outstanding musician and educator, who worked in the Petersburg's conservatory and left for America in 1918; and, finally, the king of the violinists, as they called him, Yasha Heifets (1901-1987). The tickets' price also made a sensation; in the box - 15 yens, in the stalls - 10 yens, the cheapest seats cost 2-4 yens (the average salary of a school teacher was about 40 yens). At the same time, there were considerable discounts for the students of music schools and the musicians of the military orchestras.

So, in 1918 in Tokyo in the Emperor's Art Theatre Prokofiev's concerts took place. The bills said: "The piano concert of the compositions of Sergei Prokofiev, the world-famous Russian composer and virtuoso pianist. On Saturday, July 6, and Sunday, July 7 at 1.15 p.m.".

On July 6 the following compositions were played: The First sonata, Prelude, Etude No4, Gavot, Tokkata, the Third sonata, "Reproach", "Tale", "Despair", "Devil's spell", "Ballade No3" and three etude of F. Chopin.

On July 7 Prokofiev played his compositions: The Second sonata, "Dream", "Why?", "Novelette", March, Scherzo, "Transience" and "Fantasy", and also nocturne, mazurka, waltz and etude of F. Chopin.

The program specially said, that the compositions would be played on the instrument of the firm "Yamaha".

Prokofiev described his impressions of the concerts in the Diary. He wrote, that there were few people because of the hot weather and daytime, but the audience listened "fairly well. Especially technical compositions were a success"[22].

Let's allow to speak the music critic. Otaguro Motoo wrote: "It seems that Prokofiev's music was born from the mixture of the revolutionary idea, striving to the new free expression, and the honest love for the beautiful. This natural love for the beautiful makes his music especially delicate, and this produces remarkable lyrical melody. Spiritual state of Prokofiev is reflected in his music. Sometimes his music expression surprises the audience and seems strange; at the same time it makes it possible to feel the genuine spiritual emotions of the composer. His music was influenced by the advanced composers, especially such excellent authors as Mussorgsky, Scriabin and Stravinsky. He has great love and sympathy for these three geniuses. It is evident from his last works"[23].

After the concerts Sergei Prokofiev and Otaguro Motoo met several times, and the composer played for him his works, which were mentioned in the interview. Otaguro came to Yokohama to see him off to the USA and predicted, that there, in America,

[1] All the materials of the archives are available for study. A year's pass costs 500 yens, one page of Xerox - 50-60 yens.

[2] Sergei Alexandrovich Kusevitskiy (1874-1951), conductor and double-bass player.

[3] Alexander Ilich Ziloti (1863-1945), conductor and pianist.

[4] Albert Coates (1882-1953), conductor and composer. Englishmen; was born in Saint Petersburg.

[5] Max Reger (1873-1916), German composer, organist, pianist, conductor.

[6] Richard Strauss (1864-1949), German composer and conductor.

[7] Enrike Granados (1867-1916), Spanish composer and pianist.

[8] Gustave Charpentier (1860-1956), French composer.

[9] "Italian impressions" - suite, written in 1890.

[10] Kurt Schindler (1882-1935), American composer and conductor, was born and studied music in Germany. His main interest laid in the folk music of the European countries. He wrote a lot of songs and romances on the themes of folk-lore of various nations. (Evidently, these songs are mentioned in the interview.) His debut as a composer took place in 1902. Since 1905 he was the conductor in the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In 1909 on the initiative of Maler he founded a chorus (Schola Cantorum of New York), which later was considered the best chorus in the USA, which performed for the American audience Russian and Spanish folk music. On Russian music he published: Paraphrase on 4 Folk-Song Themes as Sung in the Provinces of Novgorod and Voronesh (1909); A Century of Russian Song from Glinka to Rachmaninoff (N.Y. 1911), Songs of the Russian People (Boston, 1915), Sixty Russian Folk Songs for One voice (N.Y., 1918-1919).

[11] Nikolay Nikolayevich Tcherepnin (187301945), composer and conductor, father of the well-known composer Alexander Tcherepnin.

[12] Sergei Nikiforovich Vasilenko (1872-1956), composer and conductor.

[13] Fedor Stepanovich Akimenko (1876-1945), composer, his teacher was Rimsky-Korsakov.

[14] Hikolai Karlovich Metner (1879- 1951), composer and pianist.

[15] Nikolai Yakovlevich Myaskovsky (1879-1951), composer and educator.

[16] Montagu-Nathan Montagu (1877-1958), English violin player, educator, music researcher and critic. Renowned expert in Russian music, he gave a number of concerts in 1913-1914 in London, Steinway Hall. He wrote the following books: "A History of Russian Music" (London and New York, 1914), "An Introduction to Russian Music " (L., 1916), "Handbook to the Piano Works of A. Scriabin" (L., 1916), "Rimsky-Korsakof" (L., 1916), "Contemporary Russian Composers" (L., 1917), etc.

[17] Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), Italian poet, on of the founders of futurism.

[18] Cantata "Seven of them".

[19] Ongaku to bungaku. 1918, vol. 3, No7.

[20] Mine Takashi. Teikoku gekije kaimaku. Tokyo, 1996, p. 226.

[21] Diary. Paris, 2002, pp. 707-708.

[22] Diary, p. 714.

[23] Ongaku to bungaku. 1918, vol.3, No8, p. 25.
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