In Between Perfectly Alive People and Symbolic Figures. Prokofiev in Search for a Plot in the 1920s — the First Half of the 1930s


S. Prokofiev’s search for a plot reflects how broad his interests were: from biblical and cosmic themes to stories with symbolic characters from the world of music notation and ordinary objects. His creative concepts combine ancient mythologems, connotations to classical plots with swift, captivating development of action, with marks of the detective genre, with sharp dialogue and baffling finale (the so-called “point-ending”). His interest in Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind seems strange only at first glance. The novel’s motives seamlessly blend into contexts of the Prokofiev’s theater. Situations, scenes, some characters and even anticipated main dramatic moments of the Gone with the Wind can be found in Prokofiev’s theatrical works.
One of the archival findings of last years is the libretto titled Chess. Its plot originates from Queen of Spades and The Gambler and it accumulates themes of passion to win, sacrifice, madness and vengeance. Chess play itself forms the storyline in a great measure. In this way Prokofiev’s concept anticipates Nabokov’s novel Luzhin’s Defense. Chess affects the structure of the whole and the nature of conflict drivers. It becomes symbol of life, which constructs itself on the principle of chess play. The main motives of the plot are highly associative, they have rich background and various approaches for staging. The fantastic sphere of Chess follows romantic tradition and is inseparable from everyday life. The libretto’s draft suggests notable Prokofiev’s dramaturgy methods: contrasting inclusions, repeated sharp striking phrases, extra-musical and extra-textual devices for the enrichment of vocal speech.


Heartfelt thanks to Serge Prokofiev-junior for the permission to publish archival documents; to Svetlana A. Petukhova, Senior Research Fellow at the Music History Sector, the State Institute for Art Studies, Moscow


1. Rabinovich, Georgiy B., trans. 1991. “Beseda c Prokofyevym [Conversation with Prokofiev].” In Prokofyev o Prokofyeve: stat’i, interv’yu [Prokofiev on Prokofiev: Articles, Interviews], compiled, edited and commented by Viktor P. Varunts, 78–80. Moscow: Sovetskiy kompozitor. (In Russian).

2. Pol’dyaeva, Elena G., publ. 2005. V muzykal’nom krugu russkogo zarubezh’ya. Pis’ma k Petru Suvchinskomu [In the Musical Circle of the Russian Diaspora. Letters to Petr Suvchinsky]. Publication, accompanying texts, and commentary by Elena G. Pol’dyaeva. Berlin: Osteuropa-Förderung. (In Russian).

3. Gladkov, Aleksandr K. 1990. “Pyat’ let s Meyerhol’dom [Five Years with Meyerhold].” In Meyerhol’d [Meyerhold], vol. 2, 5–346. Moscow: STD RSFSR. (In Russian).

4. Mudrak, S. A., and A. V. Mertsalov. 2016. “S. S. Bryukhonenko kak sozdatel’ pervogo v mire apparata iskusstvennogo krovoobrashcheniya. 90 let so dnya pervogo ispol’zovaniya apparata iskusstvennogo krovoobrashcheniya [S. S. Bryukhonenko as the Сreator of the World’s First Heart-Lung Machine. 90 Years Since the First Use of the Heart-Lung  Machine].” Vestnik Soveta molodykh uchenykh i spetsialistov Chelyabinskoy oblasti [Bulletin of the Council of Young Scientists and Specialists] 4, no. 2 (December): 135–40. (In Russian).

5. Prokofiev, Oleg S. 1991. “Moy otets, ego muzyka i ya [My Father, His Music, and Me],” published by Natalia P. Savkina. In Sergey Prokofyev, 1891–1991: Dnevnik, pis’ma, besedy, vospominaniya [Sergey Prokofiev, 1891–1991: Diary, Letters, Conversations, Memoirs], compiled by Mikhail E. Tarakanov, 202–12. Moscow: Sovetskiy kompozitor. (In Russian).

6. Prokofiev, Sergey S. 1982. Avtobiografiya [Autobiography], 2nd ed., enlarged. Moscow: Sovetskiy kompozitor. (In Russian).

7. Prokofiev, Sergey S. 2002. Dnevnik [Diary], 2 vols. Vol. 1: 1907–1918. Vol. 2: 1919–1933. Paris: Serge Prokofiev Estate. (In Russian).

8. Prokofiev, Sergey S. 1991. “Sovetskiy slushatel’ i moe muzykal’noe tvorchestvo [Soviet Listener and My Musical Work].” In Prokofyev o Prokofyeve: stat’i, interv’yu [Prokofiev on Prokofiev: Articles, Interviews], compiled, edited and commented by Viktor P. Varunts, , 126–28. Moscow: Sovetskiy kompozitor. (In Russian).

9. Prokofiev, Sergey S., and Nikolay Ya.  Myaskovsky. 1977. Perepiska [Correspondence]. Compiled and edited by Miral’da G. Kozlova, Nina R. Yatsenko; commentary by Vasiliy A. Kiselev; foreword and indexes by Miral’da G. Kozlova. Moscow: Sovetskiy kompozitor. (In Russian).

10. Savkina, Natalia P. 2007. “Khristianskaya nauka v zhizni S. S. Prokofyeva [Christian Science in S. S. Prokofiev’s Life].” In Nauchnye chteniya pamyati A. I. Kandinskogo [Scholarly Readings in memory of A. I. Kandinsky], compiled and edited by Elena G. Sorokina, Irina A. Skvortsova, 241–56. Moscow: Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory. (In Russian).

11. Sakun, Sergey V. n.d. “Prevrashchenie Mednogo Vsadnika v figuru chernogo shakhmatnogo konya. (Ili vvedenie v problemu religiozno-philosofskogo vyskazyvaniya v romane V. Nabokova “Zashchita Luzhina.”) [The Transformation of the Bronze Horseman into a Piece of a Black Chess Knight. (Or an Introduction to the Problem of a Religious-Philosophical Statement in V. Nabokov’s Novel ‘Luzhin’s Defense.’)].” (accessed January 5, 2023). (In Russian).

12. Savkina, Natalia P. 2005. “The Significance of Christian Science in Prokofiev’s Life and Work.” Three Oranges Journal, no. 10 (November 2005), 19–24.