Ghoulish Prokofiev: “Suggestion Diabolique”

There’s nothing more exhilarating than raw terror. If you aren’t convinced, take a moment and listen to Sergei Prokofiev’s Suggestion Diabolique, the ghoulishly demonic final movement of the 1908 Four Pieces for Piano, Op. 4. It’s a thrilling ride, along the lines of Schubert’s Erlkönig. Opening in the growling lowest register of the piano, this music resides just on the edge of tonality. You can sense the young Prokofiev flexing his compositional muscles and rebelling against rigid rules and convention. Those deep melodic interjections remained a part of Prokofiev’s later vocabulary. For example, listen to the way those lines suggest a sense of breadth and massive scale in this excerpt from Romeo and Juliet. 

Here is a live concert clip with Evgeny Kissin:


  • Prokofiev: Complete Piano Music, Vol. 1, Boris Berman iTunes
  • Prokofiev: Piano Works, Jenny Lin iTunes
  • Evgeny Kissin’s complete discography iTunes

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

3 thoughts on “Ghoulish Prokofiev: “Suggestion Diabolique””

  1. What was the original inspiration for the piece, do we know? Is there any religious context, or is it more about, as you say, ‘raw terror’ and kinetic (balletic?) energy?

    • Prokofiev wrote his Op. 4 backwards, and the Suggestion Diabolique was written in January/February 1908 when the composer was only 16. To the best of my knowledge, part of the inspiration was a particularly fierce winter storm in St. Petersburg, and the other part was pure spite (Prokofiev in his compositions actively rebelled against the staid, conservative teachings of Anatoly Lyadov, his professor of harmony and counterpoint at the St. Petersburg Conservatory).

      • Thank you, Kevin, for your reply!
        I had overlooked the Op. Number – hadn’t twigged that this is clearly early, juvenilia… I love that the urge was out of pure contempt and spite and the inspiration natural. It’s an evocative foretaste of the maestro’s adult career …


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