Diagilev went to Rome where the "Russian ballet" season is set to begin. He asked me to come and conduct The Firebird and Fireworks, for which he hired the Italian futurist Balla to do a special kind of illustrative set with light effects. I went to Rome. See more
At the apartment Diagilev rented, I found the whole company gathered around a richly laid out table. There were Ansermet, Bakst, Picasso, whom I then met, Cocteau, Balla, Lord Berner, Massine and many others. The season opened at the Teatro Costanzi with a ceremonial performance for the Italian Red Cross. The February Revolution had just occurred in Russia. The tsar abdicated, and the Provisional Government now ran the country. Usually the Russian national anthem was performed before the Russian performance, but now it was really inappropriate to sing "God Save the Tsar.” An alternative was needed. Diagilev got the idea to open the play with a Russian folk song. He chose the famous Song of Volga Boatmen ("Hey, hey ho"). The orchestra was supposed to perform it, but they didn’t have the orchestration. Diagilev begged me to urgently compose it. I had to get right to work, and on the eve of the gala performance I sat at the piano all night long in Berners's apartment, orchestrating the song for the wind orchestra. I dictated the score to Ansermet chord by chord and the interval by interval, and he transcribed it.
The orchestral parts were quickly drawn up so that in the morning rehearsal of the evening program, I was able to hear my orchestration under Ansermet’s conduction. In the evening a solemn performance was staged started by the Italian national anthem and "Hey, hey-ho" instead of the Russian anthem. I directed The Firebird and Fireworks against Balla’s aforementioned illuminated set.
All my thoughts are with you in these unforgettable days of happiness, which our beloved and liberated Russia is going through. Send a telegram of your news.
Would you like to conduct “The Firebird” and “Feu d’Artifice” at a charity concert to be held in Rome, Naples and Milan between the 9th and 26th of April? The Italian ambassador in Berne will be able to lend his assistance.