Deceptive Cadence
9:57 am
Thu February 2, 2012

Prokofiev And The 'Fourth Orange'

Originally published on Thu February 2, 2012 8:25 am

Earlier this week via a fellow music scribe's blog, I came across a very beautiful animated short about Prokofiev. Director Julia Titova's Fourth Orange is a wistfully brilliant little film now making the film festival rounds. It includes generous doses of Prokofiev's music and imaginative evocations of iconic pictures of the composer.

Utterly entranced by the visuals, I sought help from my Russian-speaking friends — and Inna Barmash, the excellent singer who fronts the band Romashka, generously volunteered to translate while I transcribed. Read on for the translation. The ellipses indicate pauses in the voiceover, not omissions — and any mistakes are entirely mine.

[Title: TALES OF AN OLD PIANO]

PROKOFIEV: I died the same day as Stalin. Only my relatives and friends attended my funeral.

[Title: FOURTH ORANGE — SERGEY PROKOFIEV]

I was born in the village of Sontsovka on April 23, 1891. Alexander III was the tsar. Lenin was 21, and Stalin was 11.

When my mother played the 'Moonlight' Sonata, I would ask her to leave the top range for me and I would hammer out little exercises. ...

In the spring, it would rain, and then it would pour, the river would overflow, and the bridge would crumble. ...

When I was five and a half, I figured out a tune and played it a few times, and I learned how to write it down – and the process of writing it down really made an impression on me. ...

When I was eight, my parents took me to Moscow to hear Faust ...

"Mama, I'd like to write my own opera." ...

My teacher, [composer and pianist] Reinhold Glière, came to the village when I was 11 and he was 28. In the evenings, I would play piano, Glière would play violin, and we would play together. And when I was 13, I was led to audition for the conservatory [in St. Petersburg]. ...

"Mr. Prokofiev, come in." ...

[We see composers Anatoly Lyadov, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov looming overhead. Rimsky-Korsakov asks,] "Are these all your compositions? Sit down and play them." ...

"Mr. Prokofiev, you're admitted." ...

[Lyadov asks,] "Why are you studying with me? You should go to Paris and study with Claude Debussy."

[Rimsky-Korsakov asks,] "Why are you listening to Sibelius?" ...

My mood that morning was murky. I was asking myself, 'Why am I here. How did I get here?' I was afraid of a bad outcome in the [Anton Rubinstein] piano competition." ...

[Glazunov says,] "The contest winner is Prokofiev."

"The prize is a Schroeder piano." ...

The news of the October Revolution is confusing. Everywhere, there's talk of the Bolshevik uprising. ...

I would like to get some kind of document so I can work and live anywhere I want.

[He goes to the bureaucrat's office and says,] "I'd like a breath of fresh air."

[The bureaucrat replies] "We have lots of fresh air here. You are a revolutionary in music, we are revolutionaries in other things. We should work together. But I'll give you the permission you want."...

In New York, I had huge success: six encores. I read about three oranges – pretty awesome. I could do something with that! ...

Nevertheless, I was drawn back to Russia. So I didn't even say goodbye to anyone in New York. I left; I was no longer interested in America. ...

I wasn't used to arriving in Paris from the west. ...

[We see him with impresario Sergey Diaghilev, who says,] "I'd like to commission a ballet from you."

"Why should I write on a theme that you propose? I don't want to write in a style that you approve."

[Diaghilev responds,] "Fine, so write in a style that you want."

I couldn't believe my ears. Diaghilev had commissioned me to write a ballet on a Soviet theme. ...

[Prokofiev listens to a singing accordionist.] "Why the hell am I here and not in Russia? In Russia, it's much more interesting for me." ...

I chose a particularly luxurious train so that no one would feel sorry for the one going back to a Bolshevik country. ...

I had thoughts of turning back. After all, this was an important life decision. As it turned out, in my absence I'd become quite famous. ...

Eisenstein's mastery inspired the creation of music that you could see. ...

One more page, and my symphony will be over.

I died on the same day as Stalin, and only my relatives and friends attended my funeral.

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