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A Joke on Prokofiev


Sergei Prokofiev was known for his stubbornness. When he found himself at loggerheads with a strong-willed choreographer, something had to give.

In 1939 Prokofiev was attending rehearsals of his ballet Romeo and Juliet. He and the choreographers, L.M. Lavrovsky, were not seeing eye to eye. Lavrovsky wanted an opening dance for the ballet, and he asked Prokofiev to provide something, but the composer refused. “You have to make do with what you’ve got,” he said.

Lavrovsky could see by Prokofiev’s face that it would be pointless to argue. So he hit on a plan. After the rehearsal he went to a music store, searched through a stack of Prokofiev scores, and came up with Prokofiev’s Second Piano Sonata. He began to use the scherzo in rehearsals, calling it “Morning Dance.”

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A few days later, knowing nothing of Lavrovsky’s plan, Prokofiev walked into the theater and heard his Scherzo being used as dance music. “You have no right to do that!” he shouted. “I won’t orchestrate it!”

“Then we’ll have to play it on two pianos,” Lavrovsky replied calmly.

Prokofiev got up and walked out. Several days passed. Lavrovsky began to think that he had gone too far, had offended the composer beyond repair. But finally Prokofiev showed up at the theater again. For a long time he watched the dancing without comment. Then suddenly he asked, “What did you do with that number — that piece you had the gall to call ‘Morning Dance?”‘

“I’m working hard on it,” Lavrovsky told him.

“I’d like to see it performed,” Prokofiev said.

Lavrovsky had his dancers go through it. Prokofiev sat down and played it on the piano. Then he got up, saying nothing. Lavrovsky, watching nervously, observed that he was making notes in a little book he always carried. The next day he received without explanation, a copy of “Morning Dance” freshly scored for orchestra. The confrontation of two stubborn artists had resulted in a victory — for audiences of Romeo and Juliet.