Before the war I have seen one of Diaghilev’s ballets that caused a scandal—Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” But I have never seen anything like what happened at the “Parade.” People, sitting in the orchestra, rushed towards the stage, and angrily screamed, “Curtain!” See more
While at the same time a horse with a cubist muzzle came on stage and began to perform circus tricks—went on its knees, danced, bowed. The spectators, it seemed, thought that the artists were making fun of them and have completely lost their heads, screaming, “Death to the Russians! Picasso—Boche! Russians—Boches!”
I will never forget an adventure which happened to me on the border of Chiasso. I was travelling with a portrait of myself, which had been painted by Picasso not long before that. When the military authorities searched my luggage, they discovered the painting and refused to let it through. I was asked what the painting was, and when I replied that this was my portrait painted by a famous artist, they did not believe me: "This is not a portrait, but a plan", - they said. See more
"Yes, this is a plan of my face, but not of anything else", - I tried to convince them. However, I was unable to persuade these gentlemen. These arguments took a lot of time and I missed my train, and I had to stay in Chiasso until the following morning. Regarding my portrait - I had to leave it in the British embassy in Rome, addressing it to Lord Berners, who eventually sent it to me in Paris by diplomatic mail.
I was expecting Naples to greet me with bright skies and azure waters, but have found in their place only grey clouds, including one, small and immobile, hanging threateningly over Vesuvius. I used my leisure time to go sightseeing, more often than not in Picasso’s company. We were particularly struck by the aquarium, and spent many long hours there. See more
We made something of a hobby out of collecting Neapolitan watercolours, and during our frequent wanderings around the city made numerous sallies against the city’s flea markets and antique stores.
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.