Picking up the pieces: Following Prokofiev's death in 1953, the original manuscript for his opera of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin disappeared. When it resurfaced, 20 years later, four pages (three of 44 musical numbers) were missing

Their whereabouts remained a mystery until Sir Edward Downes spotted a small ad in the Times Literary Supplement; now he is to conduct the world premiere performance of the complete score in London. Mark Pappenheim reports

Ask any opera buff who wrote the music for Eugene Onegin, The Queen of Spades and Boris Godunov, and they're bound to reply 'Tchaikovsky, Tchaikovsky again, and Mussorgsky.' But persist with your enquiry - 'Yes, but who else? Who composed all three at the same time?' - and even the most Russophile fan will probably be stumped. Supplying the correct answer - Sergey Sergeyevich Prokofiev - only prompts the question: 'Why?'

For, as Prokofiev himself admitted in a letter written shortly after his return to Russia in the spring of 1936, his current list of works-in-progress - consisting entirely of titles already made famous by his 19th-century predecessors - must have read like the 'ravings of a madman'.

Yet there was method in his madness. 1937 was both the 20th anniversary of the October Revolution and the centenary of the death of Pushkin, and recomposing the major dramatic works of Russia's national poet must have struck Prokofiev as an eminently sensible way of marking his return to the Motherland after 18 years' self-imposed exile in the West.

He could hardly have chosen a worse moment for his homecoming. That January Pravda had produced its anti-Shostakovich editorial, 'Chaos instead of Music', attacking his younger colleague's opera The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and signalling the first stage in the Stalinist clampdown on 'formalistic' music that was to culminate in an almost total ban on the works of Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Khachaturian.

How Prokofiev's Pushkin plans could possibly have offended against the prevailing political orthodoxy remains unclear. Yet, for whatever reason, all three productions were abandoned before reaching rehearsal. But not before Prokofiev had produced his preliminary sketches and, in the case of Eugene Onegin, composed all 44 musical numbers in manuscript short score, complete with instructions to the copyist for its final orchestration.

After the projects' collapse, Prokofiev's Pushkin music began, in his own words, 'gradually to resolve itself into other pieces', and many of the principal themes from Onegin were soon to become familiar through their re-use in the finished scores for Cinderella, War and Peace and the final symphony and piano sonata.

As for the original manuscript, following Prokofiev's death on 5 March 1953 it disappeared, along with most of the composer's other papers, into the archives of the Glinka Museum. And there it lay forgotten for the next 20 years, until it was eventually rediscovered by the Soviet authorities, edited, orchestrated, published, and even recorded. Yet, despite this triumphant, if delayed, rehabilitation of Prokofiev's 'lost' Onegin score, the Soviet version was incomplete: four manuscript pages, totalling three out of 44 musical numbers, had mysteriously gone missing.

At much the same time as the Soviet edition first began to reach the West, Sir Charles Johnston published, at his own expense, a new English version of Pushkin's original verse-novel that instantly won classic status, not only for its graceful rendition of the text's literal meaning but, even more, for its brilliant recapturing of the uniquely sly, cynical narrative tone that had hitherto eluded all comers.

Putting two and two together, the BBC then decided to broadcast a dramatised reading of the new Johnston translation accompanied by the newly rediscovered Prokofiev score, and invited the conductor Ted Downes (now Sir Edward) to take charge of the music.

Given his impeccable Russian credentials, Downes was the obvious choice. Besides having conducted the British premiere of Katerina Ismailova, Shostakovich's politically corrected version of the once-banned Lady Macbeth, at Covent Garden in 1963, he had become particularly associated with the music of Prokofiev: he opened the new Sydney Opera House with War and Peace in 1972, orchestrated the composer's first mature opera, Maddalena, for the BBC in 1979 and, only two years ago, brought the long-awaited British premiere of the 1920s symbolist-satanist opera The Fiery Angel to Covent Garden (where he is now associate music director).

But what the BBC can't have counted on was Downes's luck. For what had promised to be a British broadcast premiere of the incomplete Soviet edition of the Prokofiev score was suddenly transformed into a world premiere broadcast of the complete thing when Sir Edward's eye was momentarily caught one morning by a back-page display ad in his TLS.

'I was just taking my wife up an early- morning cup of tea,' he recalls, 'when I noticed this advertisement for an auction sale at Christie's of letters and manuscripts belonging to Prokofiev. Now, as it happens, I knew Mme Prokofiev, the composer's widow, I knew her very well - in fact, she died in my wife's arms - and I knew she would never sell any of her husband's things. So I called her up in Paris and she got a lawyer to put a stop to the sale. She then came over to London and she and my wife were put in a locked room by Christie's and made to go through every item, verifying her claim to each one.'

Mostly, they were just personal letters, but, in among the letters, were a few manuscripts. And, before locking them all away in a London bank vault, Mme Prokofiev had photocopies made of the music for Downes to take home and study. 'And as soon as I got them home, I realised these were the three missing numbers from Eugene Onegin.' It's all prime Prokofiev, dating, like the rest of the score, from the period in between the Romeo and Juliet ballet and Peter and the Wolf. But, unlike the rest of the score, it's all 'new' music, containing no pre-echoes of any of the composer's later works. 'So I orchestrated the music over the weekend, following Prokofiev's instructions, just as I had with his earlier opera Maddalena, and was able to give the first complete performance of the score for the BBC.'

That was in 1979. Since then, the BBC has repeated its recording a couple of times, but the score has yet to reach the stage. According to Downes, the National was interested in it, so were the RSC, but the practical problems have always got in the way. For, as he explains, 'This isn't written for your usual theatre band of 15, like Carmen Jones. This is for full symphony orchestra' - plus narrator, actors, chorus and vocal soloists. And Prokofiev exploits his forces for the full range of available possibilities, going from straight speech and song to fully integrated 'melodrama', or speech over music.

Now, where the National and RSC feared to tread, plucky little Docklands Sinfonietta has taken up the challenge of presenting the 'world premiere public performance' of Prokofiev's lost Pushkin score. It's being directed, and narrated by Timothy West whose credentials are almost as good as Downes'. A former EMI recording engineer who admits he still 'tinkles a bit', West has not only impersonated Sir Thomas Beecham on stage, he even played Stalin in the David Pownall play Masterclass based on the showdown between the Great Teacher and his three leading composers.

Given a showdown between the Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev versions of Eugene Onegin, West would clearly side with the latter, for his loyalty to Pushkin's original. 'But I see the piece as essentially a triangular relationship,' he says - 'between the music, which is mainly romantic; the story, which is extremely passionate, yet essentially realistic; and the narrative, which is basically rather cynical.' Having a sometime stage Stalin as your narrator should do the trick.

Monday 7.45pm QEH, South Bank Centre, London SE1 (071-928 8800) pounds 6- pounds 16

(Photographs omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor