I am not suggesting it's true but I have the distinct impression that great artists are also great shits! To be fair, great artists in this era of mass communication tend to be subjected to detailed, even forensic, examination through which, I doubt, many of us would pass without a blemish or three. Even so, it's always such a disappointment when you read ill of a man whose music reaches the very core of one's being. Such a man for me is the late Sergei Prokofiev whose music for Romeo and Juliet would be a 'must have' in the 38 records I would take with me as part of my 8-record choice for Desert Island Discs - when they get around to asking me!
Alas, two recently published books, one of them his very own diary, reveal a very flawed man, as R. J. Stove reports in his review in The American Spectator. There was a mean-spiritedness in Prokofiev from his very earliest days:
When his father died, he could produce no more filial an obituary notice than
“Did I love him? I do not know…he served me, his only son, unstintingly, and it
was thanks to his tireless work that I was provided for so long with all my
material necessities.” If his temperament had been much more reptilian, one
suspects, he would have begun laying eggs.
Ouch! But if you dish it out you must expect some returns. Needless to say, his views of other musicians, and indeed, artists from other disciplines, were acidic to say the least and so rare were the exceptions and, apparently, so grudging that one is left with a irremedial dislike of the man. Perhaps - no, definitely - his greatest act of wickedness was leaving his wife (for a younger woman, of course) who then, lacking his protection in Soviet Russia, fell into the hands of Stalin's secret police:
Less than a month later (February 1948), at the very time that cultural
commissar Andrei Zhdanov formally and publicly started gunning for Serge, goons
arrested Lina and accused her of spying. (Prokofiev greeted the news of Lina’s
detention with the words “What have I done?” Even at this time of extreme
marital crisis, he operated on the principle of “It’s all about me.”) Not for
another eight years would she know freedom. Meanwhile, preparatory to her
incarceration in the gulag, Lina underwent nine months of questioning, at first
in the Lubyanka.
Interrogators spat on her, kicked her, and threatened her children. Needles
were stuck into her arms and legs. For the first three months, she was deprived
of sleep, pushing her to the brink of madness. Two of every five days she spent
crouched in a cell for hours on end until her legs shook and buckled from the
pain…the screams of other inmates echoed in the central square. Hers would be
louder, one of her torturers growled into her ear.
Oh, Sergei, you bastard, you could hear the notes and the chords but did you hear the screams?