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Title: Serge Prokofieff and his Orchestral Music
Author: Biancolli, Louis
Language: English
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                          HIS ORCHESTRAL MUSIC

                            LOUIS BIANCOLLI

                               Written by
                            LOUIS BIANCOLLI

  (Author of “The Analytical Concert Guide” and co-author, with Robert
                   Bagar, of “The Concert Companion”)

                            and dedicated to
                             RADIO MEMBERS
                              OF NEW YORK

                             Copyright 1953
                              of NEW YORK
                            LOUIS BIANCOLLI

                              OF NEW YORK
                          113 West 57th Street
                           New York 19, N. Y.

                    [Illustration: Serge Prokofieff]

                          _A COMPOSER’S CREED_

_The principal lines which I followed in my creative work are these:_

_The first is classical, whose origin lies in my early infancy when I
heard my mother play Beethoven sonatas. It assumes a neo-classical
aspect in the sonatas and the concertos, or imitates the classical style
of the eighteenth century, as in the Gavottes, the_ Classical Symphony,
_and, in some respects, in the_ Sinfonietta.

_The second is innovation, whose inception I trace to my meeting with
Taneieff, when he taunted me for my rather “elementary harmony.” At
first, this innovation consisted in the search for an individual
harmonic language, but later was transformed into a desire to find a
medium for the expression of strong emotions, as in_ Sarcasms, Scythian
Suite, _the opera_ The Gambler, They are Seven, _the Second Symphony,
etc. This innovating strain has affected not only the harmonic idiom,
but also the melodic inflection, orchestration, and stage technique._

_The third is the element of the_ toccata _or motor element, probably
influenced by Schumann’s Toccata, which impressed me greatly at one
time. In this category are the Etudes Op. 2, Toccata, Op. 11, Scherzo,
Op. 12, the_ Scherzo _of the Second Piano Concerto, the Toccata in the
Fifth Piano Concerto, the persistent figurations in the_ Scythian Suite,
Le Pas d’acier, _and some passages in the Third Piano Concerto. This
element is probably the least important._

_The fourth element is lyrical. It appears at first as lyric meditation,
sometimes unconnected with melos, as in_ Fairy Tale, _Op. 3,_ Réves,
Esquisse automnale, _Legend, Op. 21, etc., but sometimes is found in
long melodic phrases, as in the opening of the First Violin Concerto,
the songs, etc. This lyric strain has for long remained in obscurity,
or, if it was noticed at all, then only in retrospection. And since my
lyricism has for a long time been denied appreciation, it has grown but
slowly. But at later stages I paid more and more attention to lyrical

_I should like to limit myself to these four expressions, and to regard
the fifth element, that of the grotesque, with which some critics are
trying to label me, as merely a variation of the other characteristics.
In application to my music, I should like to replace the word grotesque
by “Scherzo-ness,” or by the three words giving its gradations: “Jest,”
“laughter,” “mockery.”_

                                                        SERGE PROKOFIEFF

                            SERGE PROKOFIEFF

                            LOUIS BIANCOLLI

It is given to few composers to become classics in their lifetime. Of
these few Serge Prokofieff was a notable example. At his death in Moscow
on March 4, 1953, he was a recognized international figure of long
standing, a favorite of concert-goers the world over, and in almost
every musical form, whether opera, symphony, concerto, suite, or sonata,
a securely established creator. Only two contemporaries could seriously
dispute Prokofieff’s dominant position in world music—his own countryman
Dimitri Shostakovich and the Finnish Jean Sibelius. There were those who
placed him first. His passing was mourned inside and outside Russia by
all who respond to fastidious artistry and the strange wizardry of
creative genius. Prokofieff had come to belong to the world. While his
musical and cultural roots were firmly planted in the land of his birth,
he had achieved a breadth and depth of expression that communicated to
all. In the vast quantity of his output there is something for everyone
everywhere—for the child, for the grown-up, for the less musically
tutored, and for the most sophisticated taste. Serge Prokofieff is
distinctly deserving of the word “universal.” His music knows no

                                 * * *

Serge Prokofieff was born on April 23, 1891, in an atmosphere of music
and culture at Sontsovka in the south of Russia, where his father
managed a large estate. He seems to have begun composing almost before
he could write his own name, thanks to the influence and coaching of his
mother, an accomplished pianist. At the age of five he had already put
together a little composition called “Hindu Galop,” and there is a
photograph of the nine-year-old boy seated at an upright piano with the
score of his first opera, “The Giant.” Prokofieff himself has given us a
picture of the boy and his mother in their first musical adventures

“One day when mother was practising exercises by Hanon, I went up to the
piano and asked if I might play my own music on the two highest octaves
of the keyboard. To my surprise she agreed, in spite of the resulting
cacophony. This lured me to the piano, and soon I began to climb up to
the keyboard all by myself and try to pick out some little tune. One
such tune I repeated several times, so that mother noticed it and
decided to write it down.

“My efforts at that time consisted of either sitting at the piano and
making up tunes which I could not write down, or sitting at the table
and drawing notes which could not be played. I just drew them like
designs, as other children draw trains and people, because I was always
seeing notes on the piano stand. One day I brought one of my papers
covered with notes and said:

“‘Here, I’ve composed a Liszt Rhapsody!’

“I was under the impression that a Liszt Rhapsody was a double name of a
composition, like a sonata-fantasia. Mother had to explain to me that I
couldn’t have composed a Liszt Rhapsody because a rhapsody was a form of
musical composition, and Liszt was the name of the composer who had
written it. Furthermore, I learned that it was wrong to write music on a
staff of nine lines without any divisions, and that it should be written
on a five-line staff with division into measures. I was greatly
impressed by the way mother wrote down my ‘Hindu Galop’ and soon, with
her help, I learned something about how to write music. I couldn’t
always put my thoughts into notes, but I actually began to write down
little songs which could be played.”

Prokofieff also recalled how much his mother stressed the importance of
a love for music and how she tried to keep it unmarred by excessive
practising. There was only a minimum of that hateful chore, but a
maximum of listening to the great classics of the keyboard. At first the
lessons between mother and son were limited to twenty minutes a day.
This was extended to one hour when Prokofieff was nine. “Fearing above
all the dullness of sitting and drumming one thing over and over,”
Prokofieff wrote, “mother hurried to keep me supplied with new pieces so
that the amount of music I studied was enormous.”

This exposure to music continued when the family moved to Moscow. There
Prokofieff attended the opera repeatedly and soon developed a taste for
composing for voice himself. One of these early efforts was submitted to
the composer Taneieff, who advised the family to send their son to
Reinhold Gliere for further study. This early attraction for the theatre
was later to culminate not only in several operas of marked originality
but in numerous scores for ballet and the screen. To the end Prokofieff
never quite lost his childhood passion for the stage. One has only to
hear his music for the “Romeo and Juliet” ballet and the opera, “The
Love of Three Oranges” to realize how enduring a hold the theatre had on

Emboldened by Taneieff’s reaction, the eleven-year-old boy next showed
him a symphony. Prokofieff himself told the story to Olin Downes, who
interviewed him in New York in 1919 for the “Boston Post.” Taneieff
leafed through the manuscript and said:—“Pretty well, my boy. You are
mastering the form rapidly. Of course, you have to develop more
interesting harmony. Most of this is tonic, dominant and subdominant
[the simplest and most elementary chords in music], but that will come.”

“This,” said Prokofieff to Mr. Downes, “distressed me greatly. I did not
wish to do only what others had done. I could not endure the thought of
producing only what others had produced. And so I started out, very
earnestly, not to imitate, but to find a way of my own. It was very
hard, and my courage was severely put to the test in the following
years, since I destroyed reams of music, most of which sounded very
well, whenever I realized that it was only an echo of some one’s else.
This often wounded me deeply.

“Eleven years later I brought a new score to Taneieff, whom I had not
been working with for some seasons. You should have seen his face when
he looked at the music. ‘But, my dear boy, this is terrible. What do you
call this? And why that?’ And so forth. Then I said to him, ‘Master,
please remember what you said to me when I brought my G-major symphony.
It was only tonic, dominant and subdominant.’

“‘God in heaven,’ he shouted, ‘am I responsible for this?’”

Prokofieff was scarcely thirteen when another distinguished Russian
composer entered his life—and again by way of an opera score. Alexander
Glazounoff was so impressed by a work entitled “Feast During the Plague”
that the boy was promptly enrolled at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
That was in 1904. There he remained for ten years, among his teachers
being Liadoff, Tcherepnin, and Rimsky-Korsakoff. From them he absorbed
much of the prodigious skill as colorist and orchestrator that later
went into his compositions, besides a thorough schooling in the
nationalist ideals of Russian music.

At the same time he was already feeling the urge to express himself in a
bolder and more unorthodox style of writing. This rebelliousness was
later to lead to controversial clashes over several of his scores. By
the time he left the Conservatory in 1914, Glazounoff knew that
Prokofieff had wandered off into paths of his own. Yet he arranged for a
trial performance of Prokofieff’s First Symphony. This proved crucial,
for it attracted the notice of an influential group of vanguard
musicians and, perhaps even more important, a publisher. Yet, when he
graduated, it was not as composer but as pianist, that Prokofieff
carried off first prize. Shortly after his graduation, Prokofieff’s
father died, and when the First World War broke out later that summer,
he was granted exemption from military service because of his widowed

During the war years Prokofieff composed two works that would appear to
be at opposite extremes of orchestral style—the “Classical Symphony” and
the “Scythian Suite”. One is an unequivocal declaration of faith in the
balanced serenity and suavity of the Mozartean tradition, and the other
rocks with an almost savage upheaval of barbaric power. Over both,
however, hovers the iron control and superb sureness of idiom of a
searching intellect and an unfailing artistic insight. The two works
represent two parts rather than two sides of a richly integrated

The revolution of February, 1917, found Prokofieff in the midst of
rehearsals of his opera “The Gambler,” founded on Dostoievsky’s short
novel, to a text of his own. Production was indefinitely suspended
because of the hardships and uncertainties of the social and political
scene. Actually it was not till 1929 that the opera was finally
produced, in Brussels, Prokofieff having revised it from the manuscript
recovered from the library of the Maryinsky Theatre of Leningrad. When
the October Revolution had triumphed, Prokofieff applied for a passport.
His intention was to come to America, where he was assured a lucrative
prospect of creative and concert work. The request was granted, with
this rebuke from a Soviet official:—

“You are revolutionary in art as we are revolutionary in politics. You
ought not to leave us now, but then, you wish it. We shall not stop you.
Here is your passport.”

Prokofieff proceeded to make his way to America, following an itinerary
that included Siberia (a small matter of twenty-six days), Hawaii, San
Francisco, and New York, where he arrived in August, 1918. A series of
recitals followed at which he performed several of his own compositions,
and the Russian Symphony Orchestra featured some of his larger works.

A picturesque and revealing reaction to both Prokofieff’s piano-playing
and music was that of a member of the staff of “Musical America” who was
assigned to review the visitor’s first concert at Aeolian Hall on
November 20, 1918.

“Take one Schoenberg, two Ornsteins, a little Erik Satie,” wrote this
culinary expert, “mix thoroughly with some Medtner, a drop of Schumann,
a liberal quantity of Scriabin and Stravinsky—and you will brew
something like a Serge Prokofieff, composer. Listen to the keyboard
antics of an unholy organism which is one-third virtuoso, one-third
athlete, and one-third wayward poet, armed with gloved finger-fins and
you will have an idea of the playing of a Serge Prokofieff, pianist.
Repay an impressionist, a neo-fantast, or whatever you will, in his own
coin:—crashing Siberias, volcano hell, Krakatoa, sea-bottom crawlers!
Incomprehensible? So is Prokofieff!”

A commission for an opera from Cleofonte Campanini, conductor of the
Chicago Opera Company, was to result in what ultimately proved to be his
most popular work composed for America—the humorous fairy-tale opera,
“The Love of Three Oranges.” Campanini, however, had died in the
interim, and it was Mary Garden, newly appointed director (she styled
herself _directa_!) of the Chicago company, who undertook the production
of the opera in Chicago in 1921. Its reception in Chicago and later at
the Manhattan Opera House was scarcely encouraging. Almost three decades
were to pass before a spectacularly successful production, in English,
by Laszlo Halasz at the New York City Center gave it a secure and
enduring place in the active American repertory.

Prokofieff next went to Paris, where he renewed ties with a group of
Russian musicians and intellectuals, among them the two Serges who were
to become so helpful in the development of his reputation as a dominant
force in modern music. These were Serge Diaghileff and Serge
Koussevitzky. For Diaghileff he wrote music for a succession of ballets,
among them “Chout” (1921), “Pas d’Acier” (1927), and “The Prodigal Son”
(1929). Considerable interest was aroused by “Pas d’Acier”, which was
termed both a “labor ballet” and a “Bolshevik Ballet” by various members
of the press both in Paris and in London, where the work was given in
July, 1927. It was a ballet of factories and firemen, of lathes and
drill-presses, of wheels and workers, and it brought Prokofieff the
dubious title of composer laureate of the mechanistic age.

Koussevitzky had begun his celebrated series of concerts in Paris in
1921. This proved a perfect setting for the newcomer. Again and again
the programs afforded him a double hospitality as composer and pianist.
Koussevitzky introduced the Second Symphony and when he later took up
the baton of the Boston Symphony, Prokofieff was among the first
composers invited to appear on his programs in either or both
capacities. In 1929, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Boston Symphony,
it was to Serge Prokofieff that Koussevitzky went for a symphonic score
to commemorate the occasion. The resulting work was Prokofieff’s Fourth
Symphony. It was not till 1927 that Prokofieff, absent from his homeland
for nine years, decided to return, if only for a visit. Of this period
away from home, Nicolas Nabokov, who knew Prokofieff well, had this to
say in an article written for “The Atlantic Monthly” in July, 1942:—

“From 1922 until 1926 Prokofieff lived in France and travelled only for
his annual concert tours. In Paris he found himself surrounded by a
seething international artistic life in which the Russian element played
a great part, thanks mainly to Diaghileff and his Ballet. Most of these
people were expatriates, in various degrees opposed to the new regime in
their motherland. Prokofieff had too close and too profound a relation
with Russia to lose himself in this atmosphere. He kept up his
friendships with those who stayed in Russia and those who were abroad by
simply putting himself, in a certain sense, outside of the whole
problem. It was interesting to watch how cleverly he succeeded in this
position. There was nothing strained or unnatural about it. He earned
the esteem of both camps and the confidence of everyone. From a
production by the Ballet Russe of his latest ballet, Prokofieff would go
to the Soviet Embassy, where a party would be given in his honor, and at
his home you would find the intellectuals arriving from Russia, among
them his great friend, Meyerhold, Soviet writers, and poets.

“In 1927 he dug out his old Soviet passport and returned for a short
while to Russia. As a result of this first trip came his ballet ‘Pas
d’Acier’. This was Prokofieff’s greatest success in Paris. It coincided
with a turn in French public opinion toward Russia, with the beginning
of the Five-Year Plan, and the increasing interest in Russian affairs
among the intelligentsia of Western Europe. For several years to come
Prokofieff kept up the dual life of going to Russia for several months
and spending the rest of the time in Paris, until finally the demands of
his country inwardly and outwardly became so strong that he decided
definitely to return and settle in Moscow.”

Prokofieff had again visited America in 1933. In New York, within the
space of a few days, he performed his Fifth Concerto with Koussevitzky
and the Boston Symphony, and his Third Concerto with Bruno Walter and
the Philharmonic-Symphony. So many references have been made in these
pages to Prokofieff as his own soloist, that perhaps a few balanced
words from Philip Hale on the subject may be appropriate at this point.
After having heard him several times in Boston, the late critic and
annotator, declared:—

“His pianistic gifts are unusually great; there was reason for his being
recognized in America primarily as a pianist and only later on as a
composer. Though possessed of all these exceptional attainments,
Prokofieff uses them within the rigid limits of artistic simplicity,
which precludes the possibility of any affectation, any calculating of
effect whereby an elevated style of pianism is sullied. In any case I
have never heard a pianist who plays Prokofieff’s productions more
simply and at the same time more powerfully than the composer himself.”

Prokofieff’s return to Russia opened a new and active chapter of his
career. Almost overnight he began to identify himself with the ideals of
Soviet musical organizations insofar as they were concerned with
education and the fostering of a community feeling of cultural
solidarity. The attraction of the theatre was stronger than ever, and
soon he was composing operas, ballet scores, incidental music for plays,
and music for films. Indeed, the composition that virtually reintroduced
him to the Russian public was the striking score for the film
“Lieutenant Kije.” This delighted one and all with its pungent wit and
satiric thrusts at the parading pomp and stiffness of the court of Czar
Paul. Less successful was the first performance in Moscow in 1934 of a
“Chant Symphonique” for large orchestra. This drew the reproach that it
echoed “the disillusioned mood and weary art of the urban lyricists of
contemporary Europe.”

Another composition of this period was a suite prepared by Prokofieff
from a ballet entitled, “Sur le Borysthène.” Interest attaches to this
ballet because of a significant verdict pronounced by a Paris judge in
Prokofieff’s favor. The ballet had been commissioned by Serge Lifar and
produced at the Paris Opéra in 1933. The contract had stipulated one
hundred thousand francs as payment for the work. Only seventy thousand
francs were paid, and Prokofieff sued for the remainder. Lifar contended
in court that the unfriendly reception accorded the production proved
the ballet was “deficient in artistic merit.” The court’s judgment,
rendered on January 9, 1934, read in part: “Any person acquiring a
musical work puts faith in the composer’s talent. There is no reliable
criterion for evaluation of the quality of a work of art which is
received according to individual taste. History teaches us that the
public is often mistaken in its reaction.”

Prokofieff made his last trip to the United States in February, 1938. In
several interviews with the press he laid particular stress on how
Russia provided “a livelihood and leisure” for composers and musicians
of all categories. Later, the League of Composers invited him to be
guest of honor at a concert devoted entirely to his music. Prokofieff
was to have made still another visit to America late in 1940 on the
invitation of the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Society. The invitation
was accepted, but Prokofieff never came. The reason given was that he
could not secure the required visas. Prokofieff was to have conducted a
series of concerts with the Philharmonic-Symphony. The Society
accordingly asked another distinguished Russian composer to direct the
concerts, a Russian who had not set foot in his native land since the
Revolution—Igor Stravinsky.

Prokofieff was again at work on an opera—“The Duenna”—when his country
once more found itself at war with Germany. Both the opera and a new
ballet, “Cinderella”, were immediately shelved, and Prokofieff dedicated
his energies and talents to expressing in music the determination of the
Soviet people to resist the Nazi invasion and join in the world struggle
to crush Fascism. Instead of light operas and fairy-tale ballets, he now
composed a march, two war songs, and a symphonic suite “1941,” a title
which explains itself. As the war dragged on with its deadening weight
of horror, and its unprecedented drama of resistance, the feelings it
gave rise to inspired Prokofieff to compose an opera based on Tolstoy’s
monumental historical novel, “War and Peace.” America learned of its
completion on January 1, 1943 in a communication that conveyed New
Year’s greetings “to our American friends on behalf of all Soviet

The opera caused Prokofieff considerable trouble because of its
unparalleled length. Cuts and revisions were made, scenes transposed and
replaced, and yet Prokofieff was never quite satisfied with the work.
Excerpts were performed in Moscow, and again the music of Prokofieff
became a bone of lively contention between those who thought he had
captured the spirit of the novel and those who thought he had not. There
was general agreement, however, that Prokofieff had written a
magnificent and stirring tribute to Russian valor and patriotism.
Together with his music for the films “Ivan the Terrible” and “Alexander
Nevsky”, the new opera offered an impressive panorama of Russian
history. There are in “War and Peace” eleven long scenes and sixty
characters. The work was much too long for a single evening, and when it
was finally produced in Moscow in 1946, only the first part was
performed. A stage premiere had been promised in Moscow as early as
1943, but technical difficulties caused its postponement. Plans for a
Metropolitan production for the season of 1944-45 also had to be

In 1945 Prokofieff composed his Fifth Symphony, which is considered by
many critics the greatest single achievement of his symphonic career.
Prokofieff has himself spoken of it as “the culmination of a large part
of my creative life.” The symphony was warmly received both in Russia
and in America. It has generally been assumed that it depicts both the
tragic and heroic phases of the world crisis and an unshaken confidence
in final victory over Nazi barbarism. Prokofieff himself would provide
no clue to its program other than that it was “a symphony about the
spirit of man.”

When Germany was at last defeated, Prokofieff’s pen was again busy
celebrating the event. This time it was an “Ode to the End of the War”,
scored for sixteen double basses, eight harps and four pianos. In 1947
Prokofieff composed his Sixth Symphony, and it was shortly after its
first performance that the Central Committee of the Communist Party
issued its stinging denunciation of certain tendencies in the music of
Prokofieff and six other Soviet composers. The occasion of the official
rebuke was a new opera by Vano Muradeli, “Great Friendship.” This work
was found offensive as a distortion of history and a false and imperfect
exploitation of national material. Having disposed of Muradeli, the
Committee concentrated its attack on the Symphonic Six—Shostakovich,
Prokofieff, Khatchaturian, Shebalin, Popoff, and Miaskovsky.

“We are speaking of composers,” read the statement, “who confine
themselves to the formalist anti-public trend. This trend has found its
fullest manifestation in the works of such composers [naming the six] in
whose compositions the formalist distortions, the anti-democratic
tendencies in music, alien to the Soviet people and to its artistic
taste, are especially graphically represented. Characteristics of such
music are the negation of the basic principles of classical music; a
sermon for atonality, dissonance and disharmony, as if this were an
expression of ‘progress’ and ‘innovation’ in the growth of musical
composition as melody; a passion for confused, neuropathic combinations
which transform music into cacophony, into a chaotic piling up of
sounds. This music reeks strongly of the spirit of the contemporary
modernist bourgeois music of Europe and America, which reflects the
marasmus of bourgeois culture, the full denial of musical art, its

Like the other six composers, Prokofieff accepted the rebuke and made
public acknowledgment that he had pursued paths of sterile
experimentation in some of his more recent music. He declared that the
Resolution of the Central Committee had “separated decayed tissue from
healthy tissue in the composers’ creative production,” and that it had
created the prerequisites “for the return to health of the entire
organism of Soviet music.”

Prokofieff’s _mea culpa_ was first contained in a letter addressed to
Tikhon Khrennikoff, general secretary of the Union of Soviet composers.
It had been Khrennikoff, who, in a semi-official blast at these
“tendencies” had first hurled the charge of “formalism” at Prokofieff
and his colleagues, Khrennikoff evidently had in mind certain patterns
and formulas of the more extreme innovations of modern music, like
Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone row and the many flourishing European
schools of atonality, dissonance, and startling instrumental groupings.

“Composers have become infatuated,” said Khrennikoff, “with formalistic
innovations, artificially inflated and impracticable orchestral
combinations, such as the including of twenty-four trumpets in
Khatchaturian’s ‘Symphonic Poem’ or the incredible scoring for sixteen
double-basses, eight harps, four pianos, and the exclusion of the rest
of the string instruments in Prokofieff’s ‘Ode on the End of War.’”

In pleading guilty to the charge of formalism, Prokofieff attempted to
explain how it had found its way into his music:—

“The resolution is all the more important because it has demonstrated
that the formalist trend is alien to the Soviet people, that it leads to
the impoverishment and decline of music, and has pointed out with
definitive clarity the aims which we must strive to achieve as the best
way to serve the Soviet people. _Speaking of myself, the elements of
formalism were peculiar to my music as long as fifteen or twenty years
ago. The infection was caught apparently from contact with a number of
Western trends._”

The spectacle of one of the world’s most cherished and gifted composers
making apologetic obeisance to political officialdom was hardly a
comfortable one for observers outside Russia. The non-Communist press
pounced righteously on the Central Committee’s resolution as an
arbitrary invasion of the sacred province of art. Charges of
irresponsible government interference with the free workings of creative
endeavor were widely made, and even writers who had been at least
culturally sympathetic to the accomplishments of Soviet art and
education waxed indignant over the episode. Many wondered why
Prokofieff, of advanced musical craftsmen of our time perhaps the most
classical and even the most melodious, should have been singled out at
all. This bewilderment was perhaps best expressed by Robert Sabin, of
the “Musical America” staff:—

“His music is predominantly melodious, harmonically and contrapuntally
clear, formally organic without being pedantic, original but unforced—in
short an expression of the basic principles of classical music.

“Many of the phrases in the Central Committee’s denunciation are
fantastically inappropriate to Prokofieff’s art. Prokofieff has never
espoused atonality. He is eminently a democratic composer. Peter and the
Wolf is loved by children and unspoiled adults the world over. His music
for the film Alexander Nevsky and the cantata he later fashioned from it
have been enormously popular. His suite Lieutenant Kijé, originally
composed for another motion picture, charmed audiences as soon as it was
heard, in 1934. On the contrary, among contemporary masters Prokofieff
is precisely one whom we can salute as being close to the people, able
to write music that is equally appealing to connoisseurs and less
demanding listeners, a man who understands the musical character of
simple human beings.

“Perhaps the outstanding psychological trait of Prokofieff’s music has
been its splendid healthiness. His Classical Symphony of 1916-17 bounds
along with exhilarating energy and spontaneity; and in his works of the
last decade, 1941-51, such as the ballet, ‘Cinderella’, the String
Quartet No. 2, and the Symphony No. 5, we find the same fullness of
creative power, the same acceptance of life and ability to find it good
and wholesome. Prokofieff belongs to the company of Bach and Handel in
this respect—not to that of Scriabin and other composers whose genius
had been tinged with neurotic traits and a tendency to cultism.”

Nothing deterred by this unprecedented official spanking, Prokofieff
went about his business, which was composing. The demands and
necessities of this post-war period of reconstruction in Soviet life
drew him deeper and deeper into the orbit of its community culture. A
large proportion of his music became markedly topical and “national” in
theme and orientation. Yet for all the strictures levelled at his music,
and Khrennikoff was to scold him yet once more for “bourgeois
formalism”, Prokofieff, in most essentials, followed the unhampered bent
of his genius. Ballet music, piano and cello sonatas continued to show
that preoccupation with living and exciting form that in the best art
can be dictated only by the exigencies of the material. It is possible
that towards the very end Prokofieff had found a new synthesis that
brought to full flower the abiding lyricism of his nature. That he was
now determined to achieve an emotional communication through a lyrical
simplicity of idiom about which there could be no mystery or confusion
is clear. How much of this was owing to any official effort to
discipline him and how much to the inevitable direction of his own
creative logic it must remain for later and better informed students to

The Seventh Symphony would seem to be a final testament of Prokofieff’s
return to this serene transparency of style. The new symphony was proof
conclusive to the editors of “Pravda” that Prokofieff “had taken to
heart the criticism directed at his work and succeeded in overcoming the
fatal influence of formalism.” Prokofieff was now seeking “to create
beautiful, delicate music able to satisfy the artistic tastes of the
Soviet people.”

Prokofieff’s death on March 4, 1953, the announcement of which was
delayed several days perhaps because of the overshadowing illness and
death of Premier Stalin, came with the shock of an irreparable loss to
music-lovers everywhere. A chapter of world music in which a strong and
fastidious classical sense had combined with a healthy and sometimes
startling freshness of novelty, seemed to have closed. Dead at
sixty-two, Serge Prokofieff had now begun that second life in the living
memorial of the permanent repertory that is both the reward and the
legacy of creative genius. It is safe to predict that so long as the
concert hall endures as an institution, a considerable portion of his
music will have a secure place within its hospitable walls.

 [Illustration: _The picture of him with his wife and two children was
                  taken when he was living in Paris._]

                               THE MUSIC


               “_Classical Symphony in D major, Opus 25_”

“If we wished to establish Prokofieff’s genealogy as a composer, we
would probably have to betake ourselves to the eighteenth century, to
Scarlatti and other composers of the good old times, who have inner
simplicity and naivete of creative art in common with him. Prokofieff is
a classicist, not a romantic, and his appearance must be considered a
belated relapse of classicism in Russia.”

So wrote Leonid Sabaneyeff, and it was the “Classical Symphony” more
than any other composition of Prokofieff that inspired his words, as it
has the pronouncements of others who have used this early symphony as an
index of the composer’s predilections. Yet it is dangerous to so
classify Prokofieff, except insofar as he remained loyal to a discipline
of compression and a tradition of craftsmanship that seemed the very
antithesis of the romantic approach to music. Nor was Prokofieff
interested in imitating Mozart or Haydn in his “Classical Symphony.”
Whatever has been written about his implied or assumed intentions, he
made his aim quite explicit. What he set out to do was to compose the
sort of symphony that Mozart might have written had Mozart been a
contemporary of Prokofieff’s; not, it is clear, the other way
around—that is, to compose the sort of symphony he might have written
had he, instead, been a contemporary of Mozart’s.

The symphony was begun in 1916, finished the following year, and first
performed in Leningrad on April 21, 1918. Prokofieff conducted the work
himself when he appeared in Carnegie Hall, New York, at a concert of the
Russian Symphony Society on December 11, 1918. The occasion was its
American premiere, and the “Classical Symphony” speedily became a
favorite of the concert-going public. And no wonder! It is music that
commends itself at once through a limpid style, an endearing precision
of stroke, an unfailing wit of melody, and a general salon-like
atmosphere of courtly gallantry.

I. _Allegro, D major, 2/2._ The first violins give out the sprightly
first theme, the flutes following with a subsidiary theme in a passage
that leads to a development section. The first violins now chant a
second theme, friskier than the first in its wide leaps and mimicked by
a supporting bassoon. Both major themes supply material for the main
development section. There is a general review in C major, leading to
the return of the second theme in D major, the key of the movement.

II. _Larghetto, A major, 3/4._ The chief melody of this movement is
again entrusted to the first violins after a brief preface of four
measures. “Only a certain rigidity in the harmonic changes and a slight
exaggeration in the melodic line betray a non-‘classical’ feeling,”
wrote one annotator. “The middle section is built on a running pizzicato
passage. After rising to a climax, the interest shifts to the woodwinds,
and a surprise modulation brings back the first subject, which, after a
slight interruption by a recall of the middle section, picks up an oboe
counterpoint in triplets. At the end the accompaniment keeps marching on
until it disappears in the distance.”

III. _Gavotte: Non troppo allegro, D major, 4/4._ This replaces the
usual minuet in the classical scheme of things. One senses a scherzo
without glimpsing its shape. The strings and the woodwinds announce the
graceful dance theme in the first part, which is only twelve measures
long in a symphony which lasts, in all, as many minutes. In the G major
Trio that follows, flutes and clarinets join in sustaining a theme over
a pastoral-like organ-point in the cellos and double-basses. A
counter-theme is heard in the oboe. The first part returns, and the
movement is over in a flash.

The Gavotte was a widely used dance form in the music of the eighteenth
century. It was said to stem from the Gavots, the people of the Pays de
Gap. Originally a “danse grave”, it differed from others of its kind in
one respect. The dancers neither walked nor shuffled, but raised their
feet. The gavotte was supposedly introduced to the French court in the
sixteenth century as part of the entertainment enacted by natives in
provincial costumes.

IV. _Finale: Molto vivace, D major, 2/2._ A bright little theme,
chattered by the strings after an emphatic chord, serves as principal
subject of this movement. A bridge-passage leads to a two-part second
subject, in A major, the first part taken up by the woodwinds in a
twittering melody (later passed to the strings), the second a
counter-theme for solo oboe. The material is briefly and lucidly
developed, and a recapitulation brings back the first section, with the
woodwinds assuming the theme over a web of string pizzicati. A miniature
coda follows, and there is a sudden halt to the music, as if at the
precise, split-second moment that its logic and breath have run out.

                       _Symphony No. 5, Op. 100_

Of Prokofieff’s subsequent symphonies it is only the Fifth thus far that
has established itself with any promise of endurance in the concert
repertory. The First, composed in 1908 and not included in the catalogue
of Prokofieff’s works, may be dismissed as a student experiment. The
Second, following sixteen years later, proved a stylistic misfit of
noisy primitivism and even noisier factory-like mechanism. The Third, an
impassioned and dramatic fantasy, dating from 1928, drew on material
from an unproduced opera, “The Flaming Angel.” Prokofieff also tells us
that the stormy scherzo movement derived in part from Chopin’s B-flat
minor Sonata. The symphony was first performed in Paris on May 17, 1929,
and carries a dedication to his life-long friend and colleague, the
composer Miaskovsky. “I feel that in this symphony I have succeeded in
deepening my musical language,” Prokofieff wrote after his return to
Russia and when the work had received its initial performances there. “I
should not want the Soviet listener to judge me solely by the March from
‘The Love of Three Oranges’ and the Gavotte from the ‘Classical
Symphony.’” According to Israel Nestyev, Prokofieff’s Soviet biographer,
the Third Symphony was “something of an echo of the past, being made up
chiefly of materials relating to 1918 and 1919.”

With the Fourth Symphony we come to what might be termed Prokofieff’s
“American” Symphony. This was composed in 1929 for the Fiftieth
Anniversary of the Boston Symphony. Much of the music harks back to the
suave and courtly style of the “Classical” Symphony, without its uniform
elegance of idiom, however. It was certainly a change from an explosion
like the “Scythian” Suite, that had fairly rocked the sedate and
cultivated subscribers of Symphony Hall out of their seats.

                                 * * *

It is the Fifth that constitutes Prokofieff’s most ambitious
contribution to symphonic literature. It is a complex and infinitely
variegated score, yet its composition took a solitary month. Another
month was given over to orchestrating the work, and somewhere in between
Prokofieff managed to begin and complete one of his most enduring film
scores, that to Eisenstein’s “Ivan the Terrible.” The fact is that
Prokofieff had been jotting down themes for this symphony in a special
notebook for several years. “I always work that way,” he explained, “and
that is probably why I write so fast.”

Composed during the summer of 1944, the Fifth Symphony was performed in
America on November 9, 1945, at a concert of the Boston Symphony
Orchestra under the direction of Serge Koussevitzky. Five days later,
under the same auspices, it was introduced to New York at Carnegie Hall.
Prokofieff had himself directed the world premiere in Moscow in January
of that year. At that time Prokofieff, asked about the program or
content of the symphony would only admit that it was a symphony “about
the spirit of man.” The symphony was composed and performed in Moscow at
a time of mounting Soviet victories over the German invaders. It seemed
inevitable that a mood of exultation would find its way into this music.
To Nestyev the symphony captured the listeners “with its healthy mood of
affirmation.” Continuing, this Soviet analyst declared that “in the
heroic, manly images of the first movement, in the holiday jubilation of
the finale, the listeners sensed a living transmutation of that popular
emotional surge ... which we felt in those days of victories over Nazi

In four movements, the Fifth Symphony is of basic traditional structure,
despite its daring lapses from orthodoxy. The predominant mood is heroic
and affirmative, at times tragic in its fervid intensity, sombre
recurringly, but essentially an assertion of joyous strength, with
momentary bursts of sidelong gaiety reserved for the last movement. A
terse and searching analysis of the Fifth Symphony was made by John N.
Burk for the program-book of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It reads:

“I. _Andante._ The opening movement is built on two full-voiced melodic
themes, the first in triple, the second in duple beat. Contrast is found
in the alternate rhythm as both are fully developed. There is an
impressive coda.

“II. _Allegro marcato._ The second movement has earmarks of the
classical scherzo. Under the theme there is a steady reiteration of a
staccato accompaniment, 4/4. The melody, passed by the clarinet to the
other woodwinds and by them variously treated, plays over the marked and
unremitting beat. A bridge passage for a substantial wind choir ushers
in (and is to usher out) the Trio-like middle section, which is in 3/4
time and also rhythmically accented, the clarinet first bearing the
burden of the melody. The first section, returning, is freshly treated.
At the close the rhythm becomes more incisive and intense.

“III. _Adagio. 3/4._ The slow movement has, like the scherzo, a
persistent accompaniment figure. It opens with a melody set forth
_espressivo_ by the woodwinds, carried by the strings into their high
register. The movement is tragic in mood, rich in episodic melody. It
carries the symphony to its deepest point of tragic tension, as
descending scales give a weird effect of outcries. But this tension
suddenly passes, and the reprise is serene.

“IV. _Allegro giocoso._ The finale opens _Allegro giocoso_, and after a
brief tranquil passage for the divided cellos and basses, gives its
light, rondo-like theme. There is a quasi-gaiety in the development,
but, as throughout the symphony, something ominous seems always to lurk
around the corner. The awareness of brutal warfare broods over it and
comes forth in sharp dissonance—at the end.”

            _The Sixth Symphony, in E-flat minor, Opus 111_

In a letter to his American publishers dated September 6, 1946,
Prokofieff announced that he was working on two major compositions—a
sonata for violin and piano and a Sixth Symphony. “The symphony will be
in three movements,” he wrote. “Two of them were sketched last summer
and at present I am working on the third. I am planning to orchestrate
the whole symphony in the autumn.”

The various emotional states or moods of the symphony Prokofieff
described as follows:—“The first movement is agitated in character,
lyrical in places, and austere in others. The second movement,
_andante_, is lighter and more songful. The finale, lighter and major in
its character, would be like the finale of my Fifth Symphony but for the
austere reminiscences of the first movement.”

How active and productive a worker Prokofieff was may be gathered from
other disclosures in the same letter. Besides the Symphony and Sonata,
he was applying the finishing touches to a “Symphonic Suite of Waltzes,”
drawn from his ballet, “Cinderella”, his opera, “War and Peace” (based
on Tolstoy’s historical novel), and his score for the film biography of
the Russian poet Lermontov. Earlier that summer he had completed three
separate suites from “Cinderella” and a “big new scene” for “War and
Peace”. No idler he!

The first performance of Prokofieff’s Sixth Symphony occurred in Moscow
on October 10, 1947. Four months later, on February 11, 1948, the
Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union issued its
resolution denouncing Prokofieff and six other Soviet composers for
their failure to “permeate themselves with a consciousness of the high
demands made of musical creation by the Soviet people.” The seven
composers were charged with “formalist distortions and anti-democratic
tendencies in music” in several of their more recent symphonic and
operatic works. It has been assumed that the Sixth Symphony was among
the offending scores which the Central Committee had in mind. While it
was not placed under the official ban, it did not figure subsequently in
the active repertory. To Leopold Stokowski, who conducted its American
premiere with the New York Philharmonic on November 24, 1949, in
Carnegie Hall, we owe the perceptive analysis of the Sixth Symphony that

I. “The first part has two themes—the first in a rather fast dance
rhythm, the second a slower songlike melody, a little modal in
character, recalling the old Russian and Byzantine scales. Later this
music becomes gradually more animated as the themes are developed, and
after a climax of the development there is a slower transition to the
second part.”

II. “I think this second part will need several hearings to be fully
understood. The harmonies and texture of the music are extremely
complex. Later there is a theme for horns which is simpler and sounds
like voices singing. This leads to a warm _cantilena_ of the violins and
a slower transition to the third part.”

III. “This is rhythmic and full of humor, verging on the satirical. The
rhythms are clear-cut, and while the thematic lines are simple, they are
accompanied by most original harmonic sequences, alert and rapid. Near
the end a remembrance sounds like an echo of the pensive melancholy of
the first part of the symphony, followed by a rushing, tumultuous end.”

Mr. Stokowski has also stated that the Sixth Symphony represents a
natural development of Prokofieff’s extraordinary gifts as an original
creative artist. “I knew Prokofieff well in Paris and in Russia,” he
writes, “and I feel that this symphony is an eloquent expression of the
full range of his personality. It is the creation of a master artist,
serene in the use and control of his medium.”

                    _The Seventh Symphony, Opus 131_

At this writing the Seventh Symphony has yet to be heard in New York.
Its American premiere by the Philadelphia Orchestra has been announced
for April 10, to be followed by its first performance in Carnegie Hall,
by the same orchestra, on April 21, with Eugene Ormandy to conduct on
both occasions. The work was composed in 1952 and performed for the
first time in Moscow on October 11, 1952, under the direction of Samuel
Samosud. It is a comparatively short symphony as the symphonies of our
time go, lasting no more than thirty minutes. For Prokofieff the
orchestration is relatively modest and the division of the symphony is
in the four traditional movements:—

  I. Moderato
  II. Allegretto
  III. Andante espressivo
  IV. Vivace

From first note to last it is a transparent score, lyrical, melodic, and
easily grasped and assimilated. Recurring themes are readily identified.
“The harmonic structure could hardly be called modern in this _anno
domini_ 1953,” writes Donald Engle, “and the scoring is generally open
and concise, at times even spare and lean.”

The overall impression is that the music has two inevitable points of
being, its beginning and its end, and that the symphony is the shortest
possible distance between them. Such, in a sense, has been the classical
ideal, and thus we find Prokofieff completing the symphonic cycle of his
career by returning once more, whether by inner compulsion or outer
necessity, to a classical symphony.

                            PIANO CONCERTOS

  _Concerto No. 1, in D-flat major, Opus 10, for Piano and Orchestra_

Prokofieff’s first piano concerto was his declaration of maturity,
according to Nestyev. It followed the composition in 1911 of a one-act
opera, “Magdalene” that proved little more than an advanced student
exercise for the operatic writing that was to come later. That same year
Prokofieff completed his concerto and dedicated it to Nicolai
Tcherepnine. Its performance in Moscow early the following year,
followed by a performance in St. Petersburg, served to establish his
name as one to conjure with among Russia’s rising new generation of
composers. The work suggested the tradition of Franz Liszt in its
propulsive energy and strictly pianistic language. But it revealed the
compactness of idiom and phrase, the pointed turn of phrase, and lithe
rhythmic tension that were to develop and characterize so much of
Prokofieff’s subsequent music. The Concerto brought a fervid response,
but not all of it was on Prokofieff’s side. “Harsh, coarse, primitive
cacophony” was the verdict of one Moscow critic. Another proposed a
straitjacket for its young composer. On the other side of the ledger,
critics in both cities welcomed its humor and wit and imaginative
quality, not to mention “its freedom from the mildew of decadence.” A
particularly prophetic voice had this to say: “Prokofieff might even
mark a stage in Russian musical development, Glinka and Rubinstein being
the first, Tschaikowsky and Rimsky-Korsakoff the second, Glazounoff and
Arensky the third, and Scriabin and Prokofieff the fourth.” Daringly
this prophet asked: “Why not?”[1]

Prokofieff was his own soloist on these occasions, and it was soon
apparent that besides being a composer of emphatic power and
originality, he was a pianist of prodigious virtuosity. “Under his
fingers,” ran one report, “the piano does not so much sing and vibrate
as speak in the stern and convincing tone of a percussion instrument,
the tone of the old-fashioned harpsichord. Yet it was precisely this
convincing freedom of execution and these clear-cut rhythms that won the
author such enthusiastic applause from the public.” Most confident and
discerning of all at this time was Miaskovsky, who, reviewing a set of
Four Etudes by Prokofieff, challengingly stated: “What pleasure and
surprise it affords one to come across this vivid and wholesome
phenomenon amid the morass of effeminacy, spinelessness, and anemia of

The First Piano Concerto was introduced to America at a concert of the
Chicago Symphony Orchestra on December 11, 1918. The conductor was Eric
De Lamarter, and the soloist was again Prokofieff himself.

The Concerto is in one uninterrupted movement, Prokofieff considering
the whole “an allegro movement in sonata form.” While the music ventures
among many tonalities before its journey is over, it ends the way it
began, in the key of D flat major. One gains the impression, though only
in passing, of a three-movement structure because of two sections
marked, respectively, _Andante_ and _Allegro scherzando_, which follow
the opening _Allegro brioso_. Actually the _Andante_, a sustained
lyrical discourse, featuring, by turn, strings, solo clarinet, solo
piano, and finally piano and orchestra, is a songful pause between the
exposition and development of this sonata plan. When the _Andante_ has
reached its peak, the _Allegro scherzando_ begins, developing themes
already presented in the earlier section. One is reminded of the
cyclical recurrence of theme adopted by Liszt in his piano concertos,
both of which are also in one movement, though subdivided within the
unbroken continuity of the music.

     _Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Opus 16, for Piano and Orchestra_

The Second Piano Concerto of Prokofieff belongs to the lost and found
department of music. It was written early in 1913, that is, two years
after the First Concerto, and performed for the first time, with
Prokofieff at the keyboard, on August 23 at Pavlovsk, a town not far
from St. Petersburg. A performance, with the same soloist, took place at
a concert of the Russian Musical Society on January 24, 1915. Early the
following month Prokofieff left for Italy at the invitation of Sergei
Diaghileff, who liked the Concerto and for a while even toyed with the
possibility of using it for a ballet. On March 7, 1915 Prokofieff,
through the intervention of Diaghileff, performed his Second Concerto at
the Augusteo, Rome, the conductor being Bernardino Molinari. The
reaction of the Italian press was pretty much that of the Russian
press—divided. There were again those who decried Prokofieff’s bold
innovations of color and rhythm and harmony, and there were those who
hailed these very things. There was one point of unanimity, however. One
and all, in both countries, acclaimed Prokofieff as a pianist of
brilliance and distinction.

Now, when Prokofieff left Russia for the United States in 1918, the
score of the Second Piano Concerto remained behind in his apartment in
the city that became Leningrad. This score, together with the orchestral
parts and other manuscripts, were lost when Prokofieff’s apartment was
confiscated during the revolutionary exigencies of the period. Luckily,
sketches of the piano part were salvaged by Prokofieff’s mother, and
returned to him in 1921. Working from these sketches, Prokofieff partly
reconstructed and partly rewrote his Second Piano Concerto. There is
considerable difference between the two versions. Both the basic
structure and the themes of the original were retained, but the concerto
could now boast whatever Prokofieff had gained in imaginative and
technical resource in the intervening years. Thus reshaped, the Second
Piano Concerto was first performed in Paris with the composer as
soloist, and Serge Koussevitzky conducting. The following analysis, used
on that occasion, and later translated by Philip Hale and extensively
quoted in this country, was probably the work of Prokofieff, who was
generally quite hospitable to requests for technical expositions of his

I. _Andantino-Allegretto-Andantino._ The movement begins with the
announcement of the first theme, to which is opposed a second episode of
a faster pace in A minor. The piano enters solo in a technically
complicated cadenza, with a repetition of the first episode in the first

II. _Scherzo._ This _Scherzo_ is in the nature of a _moto perpetuo_ in
16th notes by the two hands in the interval of an octave, while the
orchestral accompaniment furnishes the background.

III. _Intermezzo._ This movement, _moderato_, is conceived in a strictly
classical form.

IV. _Finale._ After several measures in quick movement the first subject
is given to the piano. The second is of a calmer, more cantabile
nature—piano solo at first—followed by several canons for piano and
orchestra. Later the two themes are joined, the piano playing one, the
orchestra the other. There is a short coda based chiefly upon the first

     _Concerto No. 3, in C major, Opus 26, for Piano and Orchestra_

Prokofieff did not begin work on his Third Piano Concerto till four
years after he had completed the first version of his Second Concerto.
This was in 1917 in the St. Petersburg that was now Petrograd and was
soon to be Leningrad. However, a combination of war and revolution, plus
a departure for America in 1918, and the busy schedule that followed,
delayed completion of the work. It was not until October, 1921, in fact,
that the score was ready for performance, and that event took place at a
concert of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on the following December 17.
Prokofieff was again the soloist, as he is once more his own annotator
in the analysis that follows.

I. The first movement opens quietly with a short introduction, Andante,
4-4. The theme is announced by an unaccompanied clarinet, and is
continued by the violins for a few bars. Soon the tempo changes to
Allegro, the strings having a passage in semiquavers which leads to the
statement of the principal subject by the piano. Discussion of this
theme is carried on in a lively manner, both the piano and the orchestra
having a good deal to say on the matter. A passage in chords for the
piano alone leads to the more expressive second subject, heard in the
oboe with a pizzicato accompaniment. This is taken up by the piano and
developed at some length, eventually giving way to a bravura passage in
triplets. At the climax of this section, the tempo reverts to Andante,
and the orchestra gives out the first theme, ff. The piano joins in, and
the theme is subjected to an impressively broad treatment. On resuming
the Allegro, the chief theme and the second subject are developed with
increased brilliance, and the movement ends with an exciting crescendo.

II. The second movement consists of a theme with five variations. The
theme is announced by the orchestra alone, _Andantino_.

In the first variation, the piano treats the opening of the theme in
quasi-sentimental fashion, and resolves into a chain of trills, as the
orchestra repeats the closing phrase. The tempo changes to Allegro for
the second and the third variations, and the piano has brilliant
figures, while snatches of the theme are introduced here and there in
the orchestra. In variation Four the tempo is once again _Andante_, and
the piano and orchestra discourse on the theme in a quiet and meditative
fashion. Variation Five is energetic (Allegro giusto). It leads without
pause into a restatement of the theme by the orchestra, with delicate
chordal embroidery in the piano.

III. The Finale begins (Allegro ma non troppo, 3-4) with a staccato
theme for bassoons and pizzicato strings, which is interrupted by the
blustering entry of the piano. The orchestra holds its own with the
opening theme, however, and there is a good deal of argument, with
frequent differences of opinion as regards key. Eventually the piano
takes up the first theme, and develops it to a climax.

IV. With a reduction of tone and slackening of tempo, an alternative
theme is introduced in the woodwind. The piano replies with a theme that
is more in keeping with the caustic humor of the work. This material is
developed and there is a brilliant coda.

                                 * * *

It was Prokofieff’s Third Piano Concerto that launched a young Greek
musician by the name of Dimitri Mitropoulos on a brilliant international
career. Mr. Mitropoulos had been invited to Berlin in 1930 to conduct
the Berlin Philharmonic. Egon Petri, the celebrated Dutch pianist, was
scheduled to appear as soloist in the Prokofieff Third. But Mr. Petri
was indisposed and no other pianist was available to replace him in time
for the concert. To save the situation Mr. Mitropoulos volunteered to
play the concerto himself. The result was a spectacular double debut in
Berlin for the young musician as conductor and pianist. Engaged to
conduct in Paris soon after, Mr. Mitropoulos again billed Prokofieff’s
Third Piano Concerto, with himself once more as soloist. This time he
was heard by Prokofieff, who stated publicly that the Greek played it
better than he himself could ever hope to. Word of Mr. Mitropoulos’s
European triumphs reached Serge Koussevitzky, who immediately invited
him to come to America as guest conductor of the Boston Symphony
Orchestra. It is no wonder that Dimitri Mitropoulos often refers to this
concerto as “the lucky Prokofieff Third.”

           _Concerto No. 5, Opus 55, for Piano and Orchestra_

Before concerning ourselves with Prokofieff’s Fifth Piano Concerto, a
few words are needed to explain this leap from No. 3 to No. 5. A fourth
piano concerto is listed in the catalogue as Opus 53, dating from 1931,
consisting of four movements, and still in manuscript. A significant
reference to its being “for the left hand” begins to tell us a story.
Prokofieff wrote it for a popular Austrian pianist, Paul Wittgenstein,
who had lost his right arm in the First World War. Wittgenstein had
already been armed with special scores by such versatile worthies as
Richard Strauss, Erich Korngold, and Franz Schmidt. Prokofieff responded
with alacrity when Wittgenstein approached him too. The Concerto,
bristling with titanic difficulties and a complex stylistic scheme that
would have baffled two hands if not two brains, was submitted for
inspection to the one-armed virtuoso. Wittgenstein disliked it
cordially, refused to perform it, and thus consigned it to the silence
of a manuscript.

Maurice Ravel, approached in due course for a similar work, was the only
composer to emerge with an enduring work from contact with this gifted
casualty of the war. However, he too had trouble. When completed, the
Concerto was virtually deeded to the pianist. Wittgenstein now proceeded
to object to numerous passages and to insist on alterations. Ravel
angrily refused, and was anything but mollified to discover that
Wittgenstein was taking “unpardonable liberties” in public performances
of the concerto.... Perhaps it was just as well that Prokofieff’s Fourth
Piano Concerto remained in its unperformed innocence—a concerto for no

It was not long before the mood to compose a piano concerto was upon
Prokofieff again. This became his Fifth, finished in the summer of 1932
and performed for the first time in Berlin at a Philharmonic Concert
conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler. Prokofieff was the soloist. It is
interesting to note that the program contained another soloist—the
gentleman playing the viola part in Berlioz’s “Childe Harold Symphony,”
a gentleman by the name of Paul Hindemith. There was a performance of
the Concerto in Paris two months later.

When the concerto and the composer reached Boston together the following
year, Prokofieff gave an interviewer from the “Transcript” both a
description of the way he composed and an analysis of the score. About
his method Prokofieff had this to say:—

“I am always on the lookout for new melodic themes. These I write in a
notebook, as they come to me, for future use. All my work is founded on
melodies. When I begin a work of major proportions I usually have
accumulated enough themes to make half-a-dozen symphonies. Then the work
of selection and arrangement begins. The composition of this Fifth
Concerto began with such melodies. I had enough of them to make three

His analysis follows:—

“The emphasis in this concerto is entirely on the melodic. There are
five movements, and each movement contains at least four themes or
melodies. The development of these themes is exceedingly compact and
concise. This will be evident when I tell you that the entire five
movements do not take over twenty minutes in performance. Please do not
misunderstand me. The themes are not without development. In a work such
as Schumann’s ‘Carnival’ there are also many themes, enough to make a
considerable number of symphonies or concertos. But they are not
developed at all. They are merely stated. In my new Concerto there is
actual development of the themes, but this development is as compressed
and condensed as possible. Of course there is no program, not a sign or
suggestion of a program. But neither is there any movement so expansive
as to be a complete sonata-form.

I. _Allegro con brio: meno mosso._ “The first movement is an _Allegro
con brio_, with a _meno mosso_ as middle section. Though not in a
sonata-form, it is the main movement of the Concerto, fulfills the
functions of a sonata-form and is in the spirit of the usual

II. _Moderato ben accentuato._ “This movement has a march-like rhythm,
but we must be cautious in the use of this term. I would not think of
calling it a march because it has none of the vulgarity or commonness
which is so often associated with the idea of a march and which actually
exists in most popular marches.

III. _Allegro con fuoco._ “The third movement is a Toccata. This is a
precipitate, displayful movement of much technical brilliance and
requiring a large virtuosity—as difficult for orchestra as for the
soloist. It is a Toccata for orchestra as much as for piano.

IV. _Larghetto._ “The fourth movement is the lyrical movement of the
Concerto. It starts off with a soft, soothing theme: grows more and more
intense in the middle portion, develops breadth and tension, then
returns to the music of the beginning. German commentators have
mistakenly called it a theme and variations.

V. _Vivo: Piu Mosso: Coda._ “The Finale has a decidedly classical
flavor. The Coda is based on a new theme which is joined by the other
themes of the Finale.”

Summing up his own view of the Concerto, Prokofieff concluded:—

“The Concerto is not cyclic in the Franckian sense of developing several
movements out of the theme or set of themes. Each movement has its own
independent themes. But there is reference to some of the material of
the First Movement in the Third; and also reference to the material of
the Third Movement in the Finale. The piano part is treated in
_concertante_ fashion. The piano always has the leading part which is
closely interwoven with significant music in the orchestra.”

After this rather mild and dispassionate self-appraisal, it comes as
something of a shock to read the slashing commentary of Prokofieff’s
Soviet biographer Nestyev:—

“The machine-like Toccata, in the athletic style of the earlier
Prokofieff, presents his bold jumps, hand-crossing, and Scarlatti
technic in highly exaggerated form. The tendency to wide skips à la
Scarlatti is carried to monstrous extremes. Sheer feats of piano
acrobatics completely dominate the principal movements of the Concerto.
In the precipitate Toccata this dynamic quality degenerates into mere
lifeless mechanical movement, with the result that the orchestra itself
seems to be transformed into a huge mechanism with fly-wheels, pistons,
and transmission belts.”

To Nestyev it was further proof of the “brittle, urbanistic” sterility
of Prokofieff’s “bourgeois” wanderings.

                            VIOLIN CONCERTOS

    _Concerto in D major, No. 1, Opus 19, for Violin and Orchestra_

Although composed in Russia between 1913 and 1917, Prokofieff’s First
Violin Concerto did not see the light of day till October 18, 1923, that
is to say, shortly after he had taken up residence in Paris. It was on
that date that the work was first performed in the French capital at a
concert conducted by Serge Koussevitzky, who entrusted the solo part to
his concertmaster Marcel Darrieux. The same violinist was soloist at a
subsequent concert in the Colonne concert series, on November 25. It is
said that the work was assigned to a concertmaster after Mr.
Koussevitzky had been rebuffed by several established artists, among
them the celebrated Bronislaw Hubermann, who relished neither its idiom
nor its technic. This attitude was shared by the Paris critics, who
expressed an almost uniform hostility to the concerto. Prokofieff’s
arrival in Paris had already been prepared by his “Scythian Suite” and
Third Piano Concerto. The new work must evidently have struck Parisian
ears as rather mild and Mendelssohnian by comparison. In any case, the
Violin Concerto did not gain serious recognition till it was performed
in Prague on June 1 of the following year at a festival of the
International Society for Contemporary Music. The soloist this time was
Joseph Szigeti, and it was thanks in large part to his working
sponsorship of the Concerto that it began to gather momentum on the
international concert circuit. Serge Koussevitzky was again the
conductor when the work was given its American premiere by the Boston
Symphony Orchestra on April 24, 1925, and once more the soloist was a
concertmaster—Richard Burgin.

The D major Violin Concerto shows the period of its composition in its
frequent traces of the national school of Rimsky-Korsakoff and
Glazounoff. Despite the bustling intricacies of the second movement, it
is not a virtuoso’s paradise by any means. Bravura of the rampant kind
is absent, and of cadenzas there is no sign. Neither is the orchestra an
accompaniment in the traditional sense, but rather part of the same
integrated scheme of which the solo-violin is merely a prominent

I. _Andantino._ The solo violin chants a gentle theme against which the
strings and clarinet weave in equally gentle background. There is a
spirited change of mood as the melody is followed by rhythmic
passage-work sustained over a marked bass. The first theme returns as
the movement draws to a close, more deliberate now. The flute takes it
up as the violin embroiders richly around it.

II. _Vivacissimo._ This is a swiftly moving scherzo, bristling with
accented rhythms, long leaps, double-stop slides and harmonics, and
down-bow strokes, “none of which,” Robert Bagar shrewdly points out,
“may be construed as display music.”

III. _Moderato._ More lyrical than the preceding movement, the finale
allows the violin frolic to continue to some extent. Scale passages are
developed and high-flown trills give the violin some heady moments. The
bassoon offers a coy theme before the violin introduces the main subject
in a sequence of staccato and legato phrases. There are pointed comments
from a restless orchestra as the material is developed. Soon the soft
melody of the opening movement is heard again, among the massed violins
now. Above it the solo instrument soars in trills on a parallel line of
notes an octave above, coming to rest on high D.

     _Concerto in G minor, No. 2, Op. 63, for Violin and Orchestra_

Composed during the summer and autumn of 1935, Prokofieff’s second
violin concerto was premiered in Madrid on December 1 of that year.
Enrique Arbos conducted the Madrid Symphony Orchestra, with the Belgian
violinist Robert Soetens playing the solo part. Prokofieff himself was
present and later directed the same orchestra in his “Classical
Symphony.” Jascha Heifetz was the soloist when Serge Koussevitzky and
the Boston Symphony Orchestra first performed the new concerto in

Twenty-two years had elapsed since Prokofieff had composed his first
violin concerto in D, so comparisons were promptly made between the
styles and idioms manifested by the two scores. Apart from the normal
development and change expected over so long a period, another factor
was emphasized by many. The G minor concerto marked Prokofieff’s return
to his homeland after a long Odyssey abroad. He was now a Soviet citizen
and once more a participant in the social and cultural life of his

The new concerto revealed a warmth and lyricism, even a romantic spirit,
that contrasted with the witty glitter and grotesquerie of the early
concerto. The old terseness, rigorous logic, and clear-cut form were
still observable, though less pronounced. There were even flashes of the
“familiar Prokofieffian naughtiness,” as Gerald Abraham pointed out. But
the new mood was inescapable. “So far as the violin concerto form is
concerned,” wrote the English musicologist, “Prokofieff’s formula for
turning himself into a Soviet composer has been to emphasize the lyrical
side of his nature at the expense of the witty and grotesque and
brilliant sides.”

The daring thrusts, the crisp waggishness, the fiendish cleverness and
steely glitter seemed now to be giving way to warmer, deeper
preoccupations, at least in the first two movements. “The renascence of
lyricism, warm melody, and simple emotionality is the essence of the
second violin concerto,” writes Abraham Veinus. The earlier spirit of
mockery and tart irreverence was almost lost in the new surge of
romantic melody.

I. _Allegro moderato, G minor, 4/4._ The solo instrument, unaccompanied,
gives out a readily remembered first theme which forms the basis of the
subsequent development and the coda. The appealing second theme is also
announced by the violin, this time against soft rhythmic figures in the
string section. Abraham finds a “distant affinity” between this second
theme and the Gavotte of Prokofieff’s “Classical Symphony.”

II. _Andante assai, E-flat major, 12/8._ The shift to frank melodic
appeal is especially noticeable in the slow movement. Here the mood is
almost steadily lyrical and romantic from the moment the violin sings
the theme which forms the basic material of the movement. There is
varied treatment and some shifting in tonality before the chief melody
returns to the key of E-flat.

III. _Allegro ben marcato, G minor, 3/4._ In the finale the old
Prokofieff is back in a brilliant Rondo of incisive rhythms and flashing
melodic fragments. There are bold staccato effects, tricky shifts in
rhythm, and brisk repartee between violin and orchestra. If there is any
obvious link with the earlier concerto in D it is here in this
virtuoso’s playground.


     _“Ala and Lolly”, Scythian Suite for Large Orchestra, Opus 20_

It has been supposed that, consciously or not, Prokofieff was influenced
by Stravinsky’s “Sacre de Printemps” in his choice and treatment of
material for the “Scythian Suite.” Both scores have an earthy, barbaric
quality, a stark rhythmic pulsation and an atmosphere of remote pagan
ritualism that establish a strong kinship, whether direct or not. In
each instance, moreover, the subject matter allowed the composer ample
scope for exploiting fresh devices of harmony and color. Another point
of contact between the two scores was the figure of Serge Diaghileff,
that fabulous patron and gadfly of modern art. Stravinsky had already
been brought into the camp of Russian ballet by this most persuasive of
all ballet impressarios. Soon it was Prokofieff’s turn. Diaghileff’s
commission was a ballet “on Russian fairy-tale or prehistoric themes.”
The “Scythian” music was Prokofieff’s answer. The encounter with
Diaghileff had occurred in June, 1914. With the outbreak of war later
that year, an unavoidable delay set in, and it was evidently not till
early the next year that Prokofieff submitted what was ready to
Diaghileff, who liked neither the plot nor the music. To compensate him
for his pains Diaghileff did two things: The first was to arrange for
Prokofieff to play his Second Piano Concerto in Rome, an experience that
proved profitable in every sense. The second was to commission another
ballet, with the injunction to “write music that will be truly Russian.”
To which the candid Diaghileff added:—“They’ve forgotten how to write
music in that rotten St. Petersburg of yours.” The result was “The
Buffoon,” a ballet which proved more palatable to Diaghileff and led to
a mutually fruitful association of many years.

What was to have been the “Scythian” ballet became instead, an
orchestral suite, the premiere of which took place in St. Petersburg on
January 29, 1916, Prokofieff himself conducting. More than any other
score of Prokofieff’s, the “Scythian Suite” was responsible for the
acrimonious note that long remained in the reaction of the press to his
music. “Cacophony” became a frequent word in the vocabulary of invective
favored by hostile critics. Prokofieff was accused of breaking every
musical law and violating every tenet of good taste. His music was
“noisy,” “rowdy,” “barbarous,” an expression of irresponsible
hooliganism in symphonic form. Glazounoff, friend and teacher and guide,
walked out on the first performance of “The Scythian Suite.” But there
were those among the critics and public who recognized the confident
power and proclamative freedom of this music, and so a merry war of
words, written and spoken, brewed over a score that Diaghileff, in a
moment of singular insensitivity, had dismissed as “dull.” Whatever else
this music was—and it was almost everything from a signal for angry
stampedes from the concert hall to an open declaration of war—it was
emphatically not dull! Even the word “Bolshevism” was hurled at the
score when it reached these placid shores late in 1918. In Chicago, one
critic wrote: “The red flag of anarchy waved tempestuously over old
Orchestra Hall yesterday as Bolshevist melodies floated over the waves
of a sea of sound in breath-taking cacophony.” Dull, indeed!

Of the original Scythians whose strange customs were the subject of
Prokofieff’s controversial suite, Robert Bagar tells us succinctly:

“First believed to have been mentioned by the poet Hesiod (800 B.C.),
the Scythians were a nomadic people dwelling along the north shore of
the Black Sea. Probably of Mongol blood, this race vanished about 100
B.C. Herodotus tells us that they were rather an evil lot, given to very
primitive customs, fat and flabby in appearance, and living under a
despotic rule whose laws, such as they may have been, were enforced
through the ever-present threat of assassination.

“There were gods, of course, each in charge of some aspect or other of
spiritual or human or moral conduct—a sun god, a health god, a heaven
god, an evil god and quite a few others. Veles, the god of the sun, was
their supreme deity. His daughter was Ala, and Lolli was one of their
great heroes.”

Prokofieff’s Suite is based on the story of Ala, her suffering in the
toils of the Evil God, and her deliverance by Lolli. The suite is
divided into four movements, brief outlines of which are furnished in
the score.

I. “_Invocation to Veles and Ala._” (_Allegro feroce, 4/4._) The music
describes an invocation to the sun, worshipped by the Scythians as their
highest deity, named Veles. This invocation is followed by the sacrifice
to the beloved idol, Ala, the daughter of Veles.

II. “_The Evil-God and dance of the pagan monsters._” (_Allegro
sostenuto, 4-4_.) The Evil-God summons the seven pagan monsters from
their subterranean realms and, surrounded by them, dances a delirious

III. “_Night._” (_Andantino, 4-4._) The Evil-God comes to Ala in the
darkness. Great harm befalls her. The moon rays fall upon Ala, and the
moon-maidens descend to bring her consolation.

IV. “_Lolli’s pursuit of the Evil-God and the sunrise._” (_Tempestuoso,
4-4._) Lolli, a Scythian hero, went forth to save Ala. He fights the
Evil-God. In the uneven battle with the latter, Lolli would have
perished, but the sun-god rises with the passing of night and smites the
evil deity. With the description of the sunrise the Suite comes to an

      _Orchestral Suite from the Film, “Lieutenant Kije,” Opus 60_

The Soviet film, “Lieutenant Kije”, was produced by the Belgoskino
Studios of Leningrad in 1933, after a story by Y. Tynyanov that had
become a classic of the new literature. The director was A. Feinzimmer.
For Prokofieff, who supplied the music, it represented the first
important work of his return to Russia. The music belongs with that for
“Alexander Nevsky” and “Ivan the Terrible” as the most effective and
characteristic Prokofieff composed for the Soviet screen. From that
score Prokofieff assembled an orchestral suite which was published early
in 1934 and performed later that year in Moscow. Prokofieff himself
conducted its Parisian premiere at a Lamoureux concert on February 20,
1937, when, according to an English correspondent, it “made a stunning
impression.” Serge Koussevitzky introduced it to America at a concert of
the Boston Symphony Orchestra on October 15 of the same year.

The film tells an ironic and amusing story of a Russian officer, who
because of a clerical error, existed only on paper. The setting is that
of St. Petersburg during the reign of Czar Paul. The Czar misreads the
report of one of his military aides, and without meaning to, evolves the
name of a non-existent lieutenant. He does this by inadvertently linking
the “ki” at the end of another officer’s name to the Russian expletive
“je.” The result is the birth—on paper—of a new officer in the Russian
Army, “Lieutenant Kije.” Since no one dares to tell the Czar of his
absurd blunder, his courtiers are obliged to invent a “Lieutenant Kije”
to go with the name. Such being the situation, the film is an
enlargement on the expedients and subterfuges arising from it. There are
five sections:—

I. _Birth of Kije._ (_Allegro._) A combination of off-stage cornet
fanfare, military drum-roll, and squealings from a fife proclaim that
Lieutenant Kije is born—in the brain of blundering Czar. The solemn
announcement is taken up by other instruments, followed by a short
_Andante_ section, and presently the military clatter of the opening is

II. _Romance._ (_Andante._) This section contains a song, assigned
optionally to baritone voice or tenor saxophone. The text of the song,
in translation, reads:—

  “Heart be calm, do not flutter;
  Don’t keep flying like a butterfly.
  Well, what has my heart decided?
  Where will we in summer rest?
  But my heart could answer nothing,
  Beating fast in my poor breast.
  My grey dove is full of sorrow—
  Moaning is she day and night.
  For her dear companion left her,
  Having vanished out of sight,
  Sad and dull has gotten my grey dove.”

III. _Kije’s Wedding._ (_Allegro._) This section reminds us that
although our hero is truly a soldier, like so many of his calling he is
also susceptible to the claims of the heart. In fact, he is quite a
dashing lover, not without a touch of sentimentality.

IV. _Troika._ (_Moderato._) The Russian word “Troika” means a set of
three, then, by extension, a team of three horses abreast, finally, a
three-horse sleigh. This section is so named because the orchestra
pictures such a vehicle as accompaniment to a second song, in this case
a Russian tavern song. Its words, as rendered from the Russian, go:

  “A woman’s heart is like an inn:
  All those who wish go in,
  And they who roam about
  Day and night go in and out.
  Come here, I say; come here, I say,
  And have no fear with me.
  Be you bachelor or not,
  Be you shy or be you bold,
  I call you all to come here.
  So all those who are about,
  Keep going in and coming out,
  Night and day they roam about.”

V. _Burial of Kije._ (_Andante assai_.) Thus ends the paper career of
our valiant hero. The music recalls his birth to a flourish of military
sounds, his romance, his wedding. And now the cornet that had blithely
announced his coming in an off-stage fanfare is muted to his going, as
Lieutenant Kije dwindles to his final silence.

     _Music for the Ballet, “Romeo and Juliet,” Opus 64-A and 64-B_

As a ballet in four acts and nine tableaux, Prokofieff’s “Romeo and
Juliet” was first produced by the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1935.
Like many standard Russian ballets, the performance took a whole
evening. Prokofieff assembled two Suites from the music, the first
premiered in Moscow on November 24, 1936, under the direction of Nicolas
Semjonowitsch Golowanow. The premiere of the second suite followed less
than a month later.

Prokofieff himself directed the American premieres of both Suites, of
Suite No. 1 as guest of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on January 21,
1937, and of Suite No. 2 as guest of the Boston Symphony Orchestra on
March 25, 1938. Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston unit introduced the
Suite to New York on March 31 following.

After a trial performance of the ballet in Moscow V. V. Konin reported
to the “Musical Courier” that Soviet critics present were “left in
dismay at the awkward incongruity between the realistic idiom of the
musical language, a language which successfully characterizes the
individualism of the Shakespearean images, and the blind submission to
the worst traditions of the old form, as revealed in the libretto.”

Fault was also found because “the social atmosphere of the period and
the natural evolution of its tragic elements had been robbed of their
logical culmination and brought to the ridiculously dissonant ‘happy
end’ of the conventional ballet. This inconsistency in the development
of the libretto has had an unfortunate effect, not only upon the general
structure, but even upon the otherwise excellent musical score.”

Critical reaction to both Suites has varied, some reviewers finding the
music dry and insipid for such a romantic theme; others hailing its
pungency and color. Prokofieff’s classicism was compared with his
romanticism. If we are prepared to accept the “Classical” Symphony as
truly classical, said one critic, then we must accept the “Romeo and
Juliet” music as truly romantic. The cold, cheerless, dreary music “is
certainly not love music,” read one verdict. Prokofieff was taken to
task for describing a love story “as if it were an algebraic problem.”

Said Olin Downes of “The New York Times” in his review of the Boston
Symphony concert of March 31, 1938:—“The music is predominantly
satirical.... There is the partial suggestion of that which is poignant
and tragic, but there is little of the sensuous or emotional, and in the
main the music could bear almost any title and still serve the ballet
evolutions and have nothing to do with Romeo and Juliet.”

Others extolled Prokofieff for the “fundamental simplicity and buoyancy”
of the music, finding it typically rooted in the “plane, tangible
realities of tone, design, and color.” Prokofieff himself answered the
repeated charge that his score lacked feeling and melody:—

“Every now and then somebody or other starts urging me to put more
feeling, more emotion, more melody in my music. My own conviction is
that there is plenty of all that in it. I have never shunned the
expression of feeling and have always been intent on creating melody—but
new melody, which perhaps certain listeners do not recognize as such
simply because it does not resemble closely enough the kind of melody to
which they are accustomed.

“In ‘Romeo and Juliet’ I have taken special pains to achieve a
simplicity which will, I hope, reach the hearts of all listeners. If
people find no melody and no emotion in this work, I shall be very
sorry. But I feel sure that sooner or later they will.”

In the First Suite which Prokofieff prepared for concert purposes, there
are seven numbers, outlined as follows:—1) “Folk Dance”; 2) “Scene”; 3)
“Madrigal”; 4) “Minuet”; 5) “Masques”; 6) “Romeo and Juliet”; and 7)
“The Death of Tybalt”. Perhaps the most significant and absorbing of
these is “Masques”, an _Andante marciale_ of majestic sweep and power,
which accompanies the action at the Capulet ball, leading to the
unobserved entrance into the palace of Romeo and two friends, wearing
masks. One senses a brooding, sinister prophecy in the measured
stateliness of the music. Searing and incisive in its pitiless evocation
is “The Death of Tybalt”, marked _Precipitato_ in the score. Both street
duels are depicted in this section, the first in which Tybalt slays
Mercutio, the other in which Romeo, in revenge, slays Tybalt. Capulet’s
denunciation follows. This First Suite is listed as Opus 64-A in the
catalogue of Prokofieff’s works.

The Second Suite, Opus 64-B, also consists of seven numbers:—

1) “_Montagues and Capulets_”. (_Allegro pesante_). This is intended to
portray satirically the proud, haughty characters of the noblemen. There
is a _Trio_ in which Juliet and Paris are pictured as dancing.

2) “_Juliet, the Maiden_”. (_Vivace_). The main theme portrays the
innocent and lighthearted Juliet, tender and free of suspicion. As the
section develops we sense a gradual deepening of her feelings.

3) “_Friar Laurence_”. (_Andante espressivo_). Two themes are used to
identify the Friar—bassoons, tuba, and harps announce the first;
’cellos, the second.

4) “_Dance_”. (_Vivo_).

5) “_The Parting of Romeo and Juliet_”. (_Lento. Poco piu animato_). An
elaborately worked out fabric woven mainly from the theme of Romeo’s
love for Juliet.

6) “_Dance of the West Indian Slave Girls_”. (_Andante con eleganza_).
The section accompanies both the action of Paris presenting pearls to
Juliet and slave girls dancing with the pearls.

7) “_Romeo at Juliet’s Grave_”. (_Adagio funebre_). Prokofieff captures
the anguish and pathos of the heartbreaking blunder that is the ultimate
in tragedy: Juliet is not really dead, and her tomb is only that in
appearance—but for Romeo the illusion is reality and his grief is

Prokofieff’s original plan was to give “Romeo and Juliet” a happy
ending, its first since the time of Shakespeare. Juliet was to be
awakened in time to prevent Romeo’s suicide, and the ballet would end
with a dance of jubilation by the reunited lovers. Criticism was
widespread and sharp when this modification of Shakespeare’s drama was
exhibited at a trial showing. All thought of a happy ending was promptly
abandoned, and Prokofieff put the tragic seal of death on the finale of
his ballet.

                           CHILDREN’S CORNER

 _“Peter and the Wolf,” An Orchestral Fairy Tale for Children, Opus 67_

As early in his career as 1914 Prokofieff made his first venture in the
enchanted world of children’s entertainment. This was a cycle for voice
and piano (or orchestra) grouped under the general title of “The Ugly
Duckling,” after Andersen’s fairy-tale. It was not till twenty-two years
later that he returned to this vein and achieved a masterpiece for the
young of all ages, all times, and all countries, the so-called
“orchestral fairy tale for children”—“Peter and the Wolf”.

Completed in Moscow on April 24, 1936, the score was performed for the
first time anywhere at a children’s concert of the Moscow Philharmonic
the following month. Two years later, on March 25, 1938, the Boston
Symphony Orchestra gave the music its first performance outside of
Russia. On January 13, 1940, the work was produced by the Ballet Theatre
at the Center Theatre, New York, with choreography by Adolph Bolm, and
Eugene Loring starring in the role of Peter. Its success as a ballet was
long and emphatic, particularly with the younger matinee element.
Prominent in the general effectiveness of Prokofieff’s work is the role
of the Narrator, for whom Prokofieff supplied a simple and deliciously
child-like text, with flashes of delicate humor, very much in the animal
story tradition of Grimm and Andersen.

By way of introduction, Prokofieff has himself identified the
“characters” of his “orchestral fairy tale” on the first page of the

“Each character of this Tale is represented by a corresponding
instrument in the orchestra: the bird by the flute, the duck by an oboe,
the cat by a clarinet in the low register, the grandfather by a bassoon,
the wolf by three horns, Peter by the string quartet, the shooting of
the hunters by the kettle-drums and the bass drum. Before an orchestral
performance it is desirable to show these instruments to the children
and to play on them the corresponding leitmotives. Thereby the children
learn to distinguish the sonorities of the instruments during the
performance of this Tale.”

The characters having been duly tagged and labelled, the Narrator, in a
tone that is by turns casual, confiding and awesome, begins to tell of
the adventures of Peter....

“Early one morning Peter opened the gate and went out into the big green
meadow. On a branch of a big tree sat a little Bird, Peter’s friend.
‘All is quiet,’ chirped the Bird gaily.

“Just then a Duck came waddling round. She was glad that Peter had not
closed the gate, and decided to take a nice swim in the deep pond in the

“Seeing the Duck, the little Bird flew down upon the grass, settled next
to her, and shrugged his shoulders: ‘What kind of a bird are you, if you
can’t fly?’ said he. To this the Duck replied: ‘What kind of a bird are
you, if you can’t swim?’ and dived into the pond. They argued and
argued, the Duck swimming in the pond, the little Bird hopping along the

“Suddenly, something caught Peter’s attention. He noticed a Cat crawling
through the grass. The Cat thought: ‘The Bird is busy arguing, I will
just grab him.’ Stealthily she crept toward him on her velvet paws.
‘Look out!’ shouted Peter, and the Bird immediately flew up into the
tree while the Duck quacked angrily at the Cat from the middle of the
pond. The Cat walked around the tree and thought: ‘Is it worth climbing
up so high? By the time I get there the Bird will have flown away.’

“Grandfather came out. He was angry because Peter had gone into the
meadow. ‘It is a dangerous place. If a Wolf should come out of the
forest, then what would you do?’ Peter paid no attention to
Grandfather’s words. Boys like him are not afraid of Wolves, but
Grandfather took Peter by the hand, locked the gate, and led him home.

“No sooner had Peter gone than a big gray Wolf came out of the forest.
In a twinkling the Cat climbed up the tree. The Duck quacked, and in her
excitement jumped out of the pond. But no matter how hard the Duck tried
to run, she couldn’t escape the Wolf. He was getting nearer ... nearer
... catching up with her ... and then he got her and, with one gulp,
swallowed her.

“And now, this is how things stand: the Cat was sitting on one branch,
the Bird on another—not too close to the Cat—and the Wolf walked round
and round the tree looking at them with greedy eyes.

“In the meantime, Peter, without the slightest fear, stood behind the
closed gate watching all that was going on. He ran home, got a strong
rope, and climbed up the high stone wall. One of the branches of the
tree, round which the Wolf was walking, stretched out over the wall.
Grabbing hold of the branch, Peter lightly climbed over onto the tree.

“Peter said to the Bird: ‘Fly down and circle round the Wolf’s head;
only take care that he doesn’t catch you.’ The Bird almost touched the
Wolf’s head with his wings while the Wolf snapped angrily at him from
this side and that. How the Bird did worry the wolf! How he wanted to
catch him! But the Bird was cleverer, and the Wolf simply couldn’t do
anything about it.

“Meanwhile, Peter made a lasso and, carefully letting it down, caught
the Wolf by the tail and pulled with all his might. Feeling himself
caught, the Wolf began to jump wildly, trying to get loose. But Peter
tied the other end of the rope to the tree, and the Wolf’s jumping only
made the rope around his tail tighter.

“Just then, the hunters came out of the woods following the Wolf’s trail
and shooting as they went. But Peter, sitting in the tree, said: ‘Don’t
shoot! Birdie and I have caught the Wolf. Now help us to take him to the

“And there ... imagine the procession: Peter at the head; after him the
hunters leading the Wolf; and winding up the procession, Grandfather and
the Cat. Grandfather tossed his head discontentedly! ‘Well, and if Peter
hadn’t caught the Wolf? What then?’

“Above them flew Birdie chirping merrily: ‘My, what brave fellows we
are, Peter and I! Look what we have caught!’ And if one would listen
very carefully he could hear the Duck quacking inside the Wolf; because
the Wolf in his hurry had swallowed her alive.”

To Prokofieff’s biographer Nestyev “Peter and the Wolf” represents a
“gallery of clever and amusing animal portraits as vividly depicted as
though painted from nature by an animal artist.” Certainly, this
ingenious assortment of chirping and purring and clucking and howling,
translated into terms of a masterly orchestral speech, is the tender and
loving work of a story-teller patient and tolerant of the claims of
children, and awed by their infinite imaginative capacity.

    _“Summer Day,” Children’s Suite for Little Symphony, Opus 65-B_

Five years after completing “Peter and the Wolf” Prokofieff returned
once again to the children’s corner. This time it was a suite for little
symphony called “Summer Day.” Actually the suite had begun as a series
of piano pieces, entitled “Children’s Music,” that Prokofieff had
written and published shortly before he turned his thoughts to “Peter
and the Wolf.” The chances are that it was this very “Children’s Music”
that precipitated him into the child’s world of wonder and fantasy from
which were to emerge Peter’s adventures in the animal kingdom. It was
not till 1941, however, that he assembled an assortment of these piano
pieces and arranged them for orchestra. Credit for their first
performance in America belongs to the New York Philharmonic-Symphony,
which included them on its program of October 25, 1945. Artur Rodzinski
conducted. At that time Robert Bagar and I were the society’s program
annotators, and the analysis given below was written by him for our
program-book of that date.

I. “_Morning_” (_Andante tranquillo, C major, 4-4_). An odd little
phrase is played by the first flute with occasional reinforcement from
the second, while the other woodwinds engage in a mild counterpoint and
the strings and bass drum supply the rhythmic anchorage. In a middle
part the bassoons, horns, ’cellos and (later) the violas and bass sing a
rather serious melody, as violins and flutes offer accompanying figures.

II. “_Tag_” (_Vivo, F major, 6-8_). A bright, tripping melody begins in
the violins and flutes and is soon shared by bassoons. It is repeated,
this time leading to the key of E-flat where the oboes play it in a
modified form. There follows a short intermediary passage in the same
tripping spirit, although the rhythm is stressed more. After some
additional modulations the section ends with the opening strain.

III. “_Waltz_” (_Allegretto, A major, 3-4_). A tart and tangy waltz
theme, introduced by the violins, has an unusual “feel” about it because
of the unexpected intervals in the melody. In a more subdued manner the
violins usher in a second theme, which, however, is given a
Prokofieffian touch by the interspersed woodwind chords in octave skips.
As before, the opening idea serves as the section’s close.

IV. “_Regrets_” (_Moderato, F major, 4-4_). An expressive,
straightforward melody starts in the ’cellos. Oboes pick it up in a
slightly revised form and they and the first violins conclude it. Next
the violins and clarinets give it a simple variation. In the meantime,
there are some subsidiary figures in the other instruments. All ends in
just the slightest kind of finale.

V. “_March_” (_Tempo di marcia, C major, 4-4_). Clarinets and oboes each
take half of the chief melody. The horns then play it and, following a
brief middle sequence with unusual leaps, the tune ends in a harmonic
combination of flutes, oboes, horns and trumpets.

VI. “_Evening_” (_Andante teneroso, F major, 3-8_). Prokofieff’s knack
of making unusual melodic intervals sound perfectly natural is here well
illustrated. A solo flute intones the opening bars of a pleasant
song-like tune, the rest of which is given to the solo clarinet. Still
in the same reflective mood, the music continues with a passage of
orchestral arpeggios, while the first violins take their turn with the
melody. A middle portion in A-flat major presents some measures of
syncopation. With a change of key to C major and again to F major, the
section ends tranquilly with a snatch of the opening tune.

VII. “_Moonlit Meadows_” (_Andantino, D major, 2-4_). The solo flute
opens this section with a smooth-flowing melody which rather makes the
rounds, though in more or less altered form. The section ends quite
simply with three chords.

This transcription departs but slightly from the piano originals, and
when it does so it is because the composer has obviously felt the need
of a stronger accent here or some figure there, unimportant in
themselves, which might serve to bolster up the Suite.

     _March from the Opera, “The Love of Three Oranges”, Opus 33-A_

It was Cleofonte Campanini, leading conductor of the Chicago Opera
Company, who approached Prokofieff early in 1919 for an opera.
Prokofieff first offered “The Gambler”, of which he possessed only the
piano part, having left the orchestral score behind in the library of
the Maryinsky Theatre of Leningrad. The offer was put aside for a second
proposal—a project Prokofieff had already been toying with in Russia.
This was an opera inspired in part by a device prominent in the Italian
tradition of Commedia dell’Arte and based, as a story, on an Italian
classic. The idea excited Campanini, and a contract was speedily signed.
The piano score was completed by the following June, and in October the
orchestral score was ready for submission. Preparations were made for a
production in Chicago, when Campanini suddenly died. An entire season
went by before its world premiere was finally achieved under the
directorship of Mary Garden. This occurred on December 30, 1921, at the
Chicago Auditorium, with Prokofieff conducting and Nina Koshetz making
her American debut as the Fata Morgana. A French version was used,
prepared by Prokofieff and Vera Janacoupolos from the original Russian
text of the composer. Press and public were friendly, if not

Less than two months later, on February 14, 1922, the Chicago Opera
Company presented the opera for the first time in New York, at the
Manhattan Opera House, with Prokofieff himself again conducting. This
time the critics were far from friendly. One of them remarked waspishly:
“The cost of the production is $130,000, which is $43,000 for each
orange. The opera fell so flat that its repetition would spell financial
ruin.” There were no further performances that season. Indeed it was not
till November 1, 1949, that “The Love of Three Oranges” returned to
American currency. It was on that night that Laszlo Halasz introduced
the work into the repertory of the New York City Opera Company at the
City Center of Music and Drama. The opera was presented in a skilful
English version made by Victor Seroff. The production was “an almost
startling success,” in the words of Olin Downes. “The opera became
overnight the talk of the town and took a permanent place in the
repertory of the company. This was due in large part to the character of
the production itself, which so well became the fantasy and satire of
the libretto, and the dynamic power of Prokofieff’s score. An additional
factor in the success was, without doubt, the development of taste and
receptivity to modern music on the part of the public which had taken
place in the intervening odd quarter of a century since the opera first
saw the light.”

Prokofieff based his libretto on Carlo Gossi’s “Fiaba dell’amore delle
tre melarancie” (The Tale of the Love of the Three Oranges). Gozzi, an
eighteenth-century dramatist and story-teller, had a genius for giving
fresh form to old tales and legends and for devising new ones. The tales
were called _fiabe_, or fables. Later dramatists found them a fertile
source of suggestions for plot, and opera composers have been no less
indebted to this gifted teller of tales. Puccini’s “Turandot” is only
one of at least six operas founded on Gozzi’s masterly little _fiaba_ of
legendary China. The vein of satire running through Gozzi’s _fiabe_ has
also attracted subsequent writers and composers. It is not surprising
that Prokofieff, no mean satirist himself, found inspiration for an
opera in one of these delicious _fiabe_.

In view of the great popularity which “The Love of Three Oranges” has
won in recent seasons in America, it may be of some practical use and
interest to the readers of this monograph to provide them with an
outline of the plot. I originally wrote the synopsis that follows for
“The Victor Book of Operas” in the 1949 issue revised and edited for
Simon & Schuster by myself and Robert Bagar. “The Love of Three Oranges”
is divided into a Prologue and Four Acts.


SCENE: _Stage, with Lowered Curtain and Grand Proscenium, on Each Side
of Which are Little Balconies and Balustrades._ An artistic discussion
is under way among four sets of personages on which kind of play should
be enacted on the present occasion. The Glooms, clad in appropriately
somber roles, argue for tragedy. The Joys, in costumes befitting their
temperament, hold out for romantic comedy. The Empty-heads disagree with
both and call for frank farce. At last, the Jesters (also called the
Cynics) enter, and succeed in silencing the squabbling groups. Presently
a Herald enters to announce that the King of Clubs is grieving because
his son never smiles. The various personages now take refuge in
balconies at the sides of the stage, and from there make comments on the
play that is enacted. But for their lack of poise and dignity, they
would remind one of the chorus in Greek drama.

                                 ACT I

SCENE: _The King’s Palace._ The King of Clubs, in despair over his son’s
hopeless defection, has summoned physicians to diagnose the ailment.
After elaborate consultation, the doctors inform the King that to be
cured the Prince must learn to laugh. The Prince, alas, like most
hypochondriacs, has no sense of humor. The King resolves to try the
prescribed remedy. Truffaldino, one of the comic figures, is now
assigned the task of preparing a gay festival and masquerade to bring
cheer into the Prince’s smileless life. All signify approval of the plan
except the Prime Minister Leander, who is plotting with the King’s niece
Clarisse to seize the throne after slaying the Prince. In a sudden
evocation of fire and smoke, the wicked witch, Fata Morgana, appears,
followed by a swarm of little devils. As a fiendish game of cards ensues
between the witch, who is aiding Leander’s plot, and Tchelio, the court
magician, attendant demons burst into a wild dance. The Fata Morgana
wins and, with a peal of diabolical laughter, vanishes. The jester
vainly tries to make the lugubrious Prince laugh, and as festival music
comes from afar, the two go off in that direction.

                                 ACT II

SCENE: _The Main Courtroom of the Royal Palace._ In the grand court of
the palace, merrymakers are busy trying to make the Prince laugh, but
their efforts are unavailing for two reasons: the Prince’s nature is
adamant to gaiety and the evil Fata Morgana is among them, spoiling the
fun. Recognizing her, guards seize the sorceress and attempt to eject
her. In the struggle that ensues she turns an awkward somersault, a
sight so ridiculous that even the Prince is forced to laugh out loud.
All rejoice, for the Prince, at long last, is cured! In revenge, the
Fata Morgana now pronounces a dire curse on the recovered Prince: he
shall again be miserable until he has won the “love of the three

                                ACT III

SCENE: _A Desert._ In the desert the magician Tchelio meets the Prince
and pronounces an incantation against the cook who guards the three
oranges in the near-by castle. As the Prince and his companion, the
jester Truffaldino, head for the castle, the orchestra plays a scherzo,
fascinating in its ingeniously woven web of fantasy. Arriving at the
castle, the Prince and Truffaldino obtain the coveted oranges after
overcoming many hazards. Fatigued, the Prince now goes to sleep. A few
moments later Truffaldino is seized by thirst and, as he cuts open one
of the oranges, a beautiful Princess steps out, begging for water. Since
it is decreed that the oranges must be opened at the water’s edge, the
helpless Princess promptly dies of thirst. Startled, Truffaldino at
length works up courage enough to open a second orange, and, lo! another
Princess steps out, only to meet the same fate. Truffaldino rushes out.
The spectators in the balconies at the sides of the stage argue
excitedly over the fate of the Princess in the third orange. When the
Prince awakens, he takes the third orange and cautiously proceeds to
open it. The Princess Ninette emerges this time, begs for water, and is
about to succumb to a deadly thirst, when the Jesters rush to her rescue
with a bucket of water.

                                 ACT IV

SCENE: _The Throne Room of the Royal Palace._ The Prince and the
Princess Ninette are forced to endure many more trials through the evil
power of the Fata Morgana. At one juncture the Princess is even changed
into a mouse. The couple finally overcome all the hardships the witch
has devised, and in the end are happily married. Thus foiled in her
wicked sorcery, the Fata Morgana is captured and led away, leaving
traitorous Leander and Clarisse to face the King’s ire without the aid
of her magic powers.

                                 * * *

Typical in this “burlesque opera” is Prokofieff’s penchant for witty,
sardonic writing. This cleverly evoked world of satiric sorcery is
perhaps far removed from Prokofieff’s main areas of operatic interest,
which were Russian history and literature. The pungent note of modernism
is readily heard in this music, though compared with the more dissonant
writing of Prokofieff’s piano and violin concertos, it is a kind of
modified modernism, diverting in its sophisticated discourse on the
child’s world of fairyland wonder. If, as Nestyev says, the work is “a
subtle parody of the old romantic opera with its false pathos and sham
fantasy,” it is primarily what it purports to be—a fairy tale, as gay
and sparkling and wondrous as any in the whole realm of opera.

                                 * * *

The brilliant and bizarre “March” from this opera has become one of the
best known and most widely exploited symphonic themes of our time. It
comes as an exhilarating orchestral interlude in the first act at the
point where the straight-faced Prince and his Jester wander off in the
direction of the festival music. The “March” is built around a swaying
theme of irresistible appeal that mounts in power as it is repeated and
comes to a sudden and forceful halt, as if at the crack of a whip.


[1]I quote from Nestyev’s biography, translated by Rose Prokofieva and
    published in this country by Alfred A. Knopf (1946).

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                          Transcriber’s Notes

--A few palpable typos were silently corrected.

--Retained transliteration of foreign names, including “Prokofieff”
  rather than the currently-more-common “Prokofiev”

--Copyright notice is from the printed exemplar. (U.S. copyright was not
  renewed: this ebook is in the public domain.)

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