Stalin and Prokofiev

Back in January, I announced the anniversary of Lenin’s death. Today, an even more special occasion: the sixtieth anniversary of the deaths of both Stalin and Prokofiev. Prokofiev, who had left Russia for America in 1918, returned to Russia in 1936, and subsequently had a troubled relationship with Stalin and the Soviet regime (see also here and here), so the two are linked by more than just the day of their death.

Two pieces of family lore about Stalin. When Stalin died, the radio was reporting minute details of his medical condition, including that he had Cheyne-Stokes respiration. For those in the know, this meant either that he was about to die or that he had already died and they didn’t want to report it yet. My grandmother, who knew medical stuff and understood this, said, “Thank God.” After his death had been announced, my mother (who was 12) couldn’t manage a single tear during the mass school-auditorium meetings to grieve over Comrade Stalin (probably Saturday March 7), and was later commended on her extraordinary strength of will.

Here are two of my favorite pieces by Prokofiev: the Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet, and the third movement (Precipitato) from his seventh piano sonata.