Irene Graham, nee Sartini dÁlbe, (1910-1996) was the hybrid of two great nations – Italy and Russia. She lost her father at an early age, and her Russian mother moved from Genoa to China where she had relatives in Harbin and Shanghai. After graduating from High School Irene Graham worked as a reporter for several Russian newspapers. In the middle of the 1930s, she married Thomas C. Graham and traveled extensively in Europe and America. In 1942, her husband was interned in a Japanese concentration camp for English, Americans, Dutch and Belgian civilian prisoners of war (Chapei Civil Assembly Center). In January 1944 Irene Graham joined her husband in Chapei. She spent 19 months behind barbed wires and after her liberation moved to the United States. She settled first in San Francisco and then in New York. Since her husband’s death in 1949, she changed 36 jobs until she eventually joined the Tolstoy Foundation where she was active until her death.
Irene Graham was a prolific journalist and collaborated with several Russian language newspapers in the United States. She wrote under several pseudonyms, such as Andrea D’Albe, Leslie Kay, Fru-Fru, and others.
In 1946, while working for the Voice of America as a free-lance translator, she became acquainted with Arthur Lourie, a Russian-American musician and composer. Born in 1892 in St. Petersburg, and having died in 1966 in Princeton, Lourie was not very well known until recently. He was an outstanding musician in the circle of the St. Petersburg futurists, to whose manifesto he gave a musical application and whose principles he practiced in his music. He left Russia in 1923 and during his more than 15 years in Paris the composer wrote two symphonies, a balletic opera and works for chorus, chamber ensembles, piano, and instrumental music.
He came to America in 1941 and found it hard to gain an audience for his very European and very Russian music. In 1948 he asked Irene Graham to write a libretto of an opera commissioned from him by the Koussevitsky Foundation. Irene was fascinated by the project and in several months the libretto of The Blackamoor of Peter the Great by Pushkin was finished.
They soon became close friends and Irene Graham was a fervent proponent of Lourie’s experimental music long after his death.