“I’ll Perish in the Concert Hall”: Vladimir Korvin-Piotrovsky Foresees a Californian Death

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 1960s

As I noted at the start of this year, although I’m far from LA, I still keep one eye on the latest Angeleno developments. The Los Angeles Times is always a reliable source — a source, as I told my wonderful audience at the LA Times Festival of Books a week ago, which I’ve often plundered for epigraphs when writing poems about the city. Yesterday’s edition brought to light an incident that… well, I’ll let reporter Christi Carras tell it:

Molly Grant was enjoying the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony on Friday at the Walt Disney Concert Hall when she heard what she described as a “scream/moan” erupt from the balcony.

“Everyone kind of turned to see what was happening,” Grant, who was seated near the person who allegedly made the noise, told The Times on Sunday in a phone interview.

“I saw the girl after it had happened, and I assume that she … had an orgasm because she was heavily breathing, and her partner was smiling and looking at her — like in an effort to not shame her,” said Grant, who works for a jewelry company and lives in Los Feliz. “It was quite beautiful.”

I can’t imagine a more delightfully SoCal reception of Tchaikovsky. As another concert-goer told Carras, “I think everyone felt that was a rather lovely expression of somebody who was so transported by the music that it had some kind of effect on them physically.” Angelenos are nothing if not full-bodied in their appreciation of art.

This life-affirming story also brought to mind a poem by the Russophone Angeleno émigré Vladimir Korvin-Piotrovsky (1891-1966), whose work I’ve shared twice before and also included in My Hollywood. This poem — a part of Korvin-Piotrovsky California cycle — also speaks to the bodily impact of music, but paints a darker scene. In it the poet, who had survived two world wars and imprisonment by both the Bolsheviks and the Gestapo, foresees his demise in a concert hall. I wouldn’t be surprised if Korvin-Piotrovsky had one of Tchaikovsky’s pieces in mind.

Fortune has ruled that I won’t die
on any battlefield:
I’ve seen the jolly shrapnel fly,
have dodged my share of steel.
It won’t be violent at all,
death in this foreign land.
I’ll perish in the concert hall,
and by the lightest hand.
Wearing a tailcoat, raven-black,
a vest as white as snow,
his gray hair carelessly swept back,
one strand on his cold brow,
a violinist will delay
his stroke, hiding a sneer,
and I will sense it right away —
I’ll know my death is here.
No one will stir within the hall
amid the music’s boom;
the lightning of the bow will fall
into the piano’s gloom.
As I peel off a narrow glove,
my heart will cease to beat;
the hiss of ripping silk is smooth,
the tear is straight and neat.
I will collapse without a sound,
as battle laws decree,
and some stern doctor will pronounce
what should be done with me.
Then, pushing back the little crowd,
a scrawny clerk will say
that there are worse ways to go out —
he wouldn’t mind this way.

Не от свинца, не от огня
Судьба мне смерть судила, —
Шрапнель веселая меня
Во всех боях щадила,
И сталь граненая штыка
Не раз щадила тоже, —
Меня легчайшая рука
Убьет в застенке ложи.
В жилете снежной белизны
И в чёрном фраке модном,
С небрежной прядью седины
На черепе холодном
Скрипач, улыбку затая,
Помедлит над струною,
И я узнаю, – смерть моя
Пришла уже за мною.
И будет музыка дика,
Не шевельнутся в зале,
И только молния смычка
Падёт во тьму рояля.
Перчатку узкую сорву
(А сердце захлебнётся),
И с треском шёлковым по шву
Перчатка разорвётся.
Я молча навзничь упаду
По правилам сраженья,
Суровый доктор на ходу
Отдаст распоряженья.
И, усмиряя пыл зевак,
Чиновник с грудью впалой
Заметит сдержанно, что так
Не прочь и он, пожалуй.


9 thoughts on ““I’ll Perish in the Concert Hall”: Vladimir Korvin-Piotrovsky Foresees a Californian Death

    1. Thank you, dear Dana, for finding just the right words–and the right literary antecedent–to characterize the poem’s tone. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks the clerk makes a good point, even if that point didn’t actually need to be made.


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