Youri Egorov: His Complete Original Diary - Italy 1976
Edited by Wim de Haan
In May 1976, the Russian pianist Youri Egorov (1954-1988) received an invitation to perform two solo concerts, on two consecutive evenings (17th and 18th May), in Italy. One was to take place in Brescia, the other in Bergamo. This was part of a cultural exchange programme between the two countries, the initiative of Gosconcert, a Soviet agency. The plan was that Egorov would perform Shostakovich in the first half, with Carlo Levi Minzi assigned Edison Desinov for the second.
When the date of the first concert arrived, it was discovered that the Soviet pianist had disappeared without trace, leaving Minzi the unenviable task of deputizing. It turned out that Egorov had sought political asylum and gone into hiding in a refugee camp at the Abbey of Farfa near Rome. Here he remained from May 19th until June 15th, from where he was sent to Brussels, finally ending up in Amsterdam, the city he eventually made his home. During his almost month-long sojourn in Rome he kept a diary, charting his innermost thoughts. It remained hidden until after his untimely death at the age of only thirty-three from an AIDS-related illness. It was discovered by his partner, Jan Brouwer, concealed behind a photo frame.
The diary itself is laid out over twenty-four pages with an English translation on the left and a facsimile of the original on the right. It's a deeply personal document in which the pianist charts his intimate thoughts and reflections on the terrible situation he finds himself in. The first entry, dated May 19th, immediately post-dates his political asylum application. His sense of apprehension and panic reveals itself as the diary text progresses. There's despair when he ponders what might happen to his family back in Russia. Sometimes the trepidation reaches such a peak that he considers ending his life. He seeks solace in prayer and wine. In later entries, the Soviet Consulate ask to meet him, but he refuses, fearing "immediate exile and banishment" on his return to the Soviet Union. He is, though, finally interrogated. He describes his accommodation, his penury and how he keeps himself occupied. By June 11 he gets his passport and the way opens up for him to go to Brussels and Amsterdam.
The whole episode, which generated much interest, was covered extensively in the Italian newspapers, and we have substantial extracts, in English from Corriere della sera and Il Tempo. The articles are flooded with speculation and conspiracy theories. Once journalists had discovered the pianist's hideout, where he was held "prisoner", they employed a telephoto lens to photograph him, one such photograph showing him listening to jazz on a small transistor radio, "absorbed in an interminable heliotherapeutic melancholy". This photo is reproduced in the book. We also learn that he was registered under a false name. He was seen making hand signals to the guards to request wine and cigarettes.
What will intrigue the reader further, as it did me, is the role of Dionigi (Guy) Dussart. He's described as "the lookout who helped [Egorov] escape", and also the cousin of a girl Youri had fallen in love with in Brussels in 1975, and with whom he now wanted to be reacquainted. The author has different ideas, commenting that Youri was in love with Guy. An email from the latter to the author, included in the book, claims that, although he went to Brescia to meet Egorov, they never, in fact, did so. They got together only several months later.
The whole text is amply illustrated. The latter pages contain photos of locations relevant to the episode and reproductions of the pianist's Dutch passport.
The author, Wim de Haan, does sterling work in maintaining the Youri Egorov website. This beautifully produced book provides a fascinating snapshot of an important episode in this great pianist's life.
In 2016 I reviewed a CD produced by Mr De Haan of a previously unreleased radio recording which the pianist recorded live, 16 November 1983, Het Concertgebouw, Grote Zaal, Amsterdam.