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Royal Conservatoire Antwerp

Librarian discovers letters Prokofiev

During a routine inventory of the archival records, Librarian Jan Dewilde discovered hitherto unknown correspondence from the Russian composer and piano virtuoso Sergei Prokofiev.

The letters were found on Monday 17th November 2014 in the Conservatoire Library and consist of unique documents providing an valuable insight into musical life around 1923.

Librarian Jan Dewilde: “These are not the only treasures hidden away here. This major discovery encourages us to continue our labour-intensive inventory work."

The correspondence he discovered is about the concert that Russian composer and pianist Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) was about to give in Antwerp on 5th March 1923. On a fully Russian concert put on by the Maatschappij der Nieuwe Concerten he played his own third piano concerto as well as a selection of his own solo piano works. 

The correspondence which has now come to light between the Antwerp concert association and Prokofiev is interesting because it provides insight into contemporary musical practices. Prokofiev's third concerto written in 1921 had not yet been published and he carried with him on tour the only orchestral score and the only set of orchestral parts. Only when the composer himself arrived in Antwerp on 1st March, could conductor Lodewijk De Vocht and his orchestra start studying the concerto, a mere five days in other words before the concert and a remarkably short rehearsal period to assimilate a new composition. Everyone was very nervous. Only Prokofiev remained calm. From the Victoria Palace Hotel in Paris, he asked the Antwerp concert association to book a room for him, "dans un hôtel comfortable et propre, mais pas cher."

The heritage library of the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp has a very extensive and valuable historical collection of over 600,000 items, of which a significant part is still waiting to be classified. The library of the Antwerp Conservatoire was the first in Flanders to be recognized in 2010 as a heritage library, a quality label for high-quality workmanship.