“I feel an artist should be beyond politics.”
Thus spoke Sergei Prokofiev, a man considered to be one of the twentieth century’s greatest composers. Yet as a new documentary produced by Toronto-based filmmaker Yosif Feyginberg shows, politics were never in the background of Prokofiev’s rich and fascinating life.
The film is the first biography of Prokofiev to be produced following the recent publication of his personal diaries. It features extracts brought to life with archive footage, stills, and of course, plenty of music. There are also interviews with many experts on the composer’s life, including his son Sviatoslav and his grandson Serge.
A musical prodigy, Prokofiev began composing his first opera at age nine. His decision in 1919 to emigrate to San Fransisco was very symbolic for both East and West; the transcript of his interview with U.S. officials is particularly poignant. The film charts his struggles to make a living in America as a composer and performer, and his eventual decision to return to the Soviet Union in 1935. Under the increasingly tight grip of the Composer’s Union, he wrote some of his finest works, including the well-known children’s classic, “Peter and the Wolf.”
The film was conceived several years ago in Toronto, during a conference organized by Professor Sterling Beckwith, founding chair of the Department of Music at York University. It was there that filmmaker Yosif Feyginberg first met Simon Morrison, a musicologist and leading Prokofiev expert who appears in the film. “Prokofiev: The Unfinished Diary” has been shown in Canada on the Bravo Network, but not in its complete form. “As soon as I saw it, I immediately said, ‘We’ve got to put this on properly,’” says Beckwith. “I think people will connect to the musical aspect, the political aspect, the ballet and the filmography. It's a fantastic documentary.”
A screening organized by the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies, will take place on Sunday at 4:00 PM at Innis Town Hall. Mr. Feyginberg will be on hand to answer audience questions and lead a discussion following the film.