Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata in C Major: Triumph Over Censorship

In the years following the Second World War, Stalin’s “propagandist-in-chief,” Andrei Zhdanov, drafted a series of resolutions that were designed to censor Soviet art, literature, film, and music. All art had to adhere to the ideals of Soviet “socialist realism.” The Zhdanov Doctrine proclaimed that “The only conflict that is possible in Soviet culture is the conflict between good and best.” First, Zhdanov banned the works of Anna Akhmatova, arguably Russia’s greatest living …

Read more

Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto: Parody and Sardonic Humor

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor is the musical equivalent of a smirking jokester. It is a rule-breaking, Neo-baroque romp filled with sardonic humor, parody, and fleeting musical quotes. Completed by the young Shostakovich in 1933, it is actually a double concerto in which the solo trumpet and piano converse against the backdrop of a string orchestra. (The alternate title is “Concerto for Piano, Trumpet, and String Orchestra”). By …

Read more

Shostakovich’s Second Piano Trio: A Haunting Elegy

Dmitri Shostakovich completed the Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor in 1944, shortly after composing the “wartime” Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. Shostakovich had scarcely finished the first movement when he received word of the sudden death (at age 41) of his close friend, Ivan Sollertinsky, a brilliant musicologist, critic, and artistic director of the Leningrad Philharmonic. For nearly twenty years, Sollertinsky had been one of Shostakovich’s most loyal defenders. His influence included introducing …

Read more

Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata: Five Key Recordings

Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9, Op. 47—better known as the “Kreutzer” Sonata—was first performed on May 24, 1803. 216 years ago today, Beethoven and the Afro-European violinist George Bridgetower (1778-1860) premiered this convention-shattering music at Vienna’s Augarten Theatre. Beethoven was so late in completing the manuscript that Bridgetower was forced to sightread the performance, at times looking over the composer’s shoulder at the full score. Originally, the manuscript was inscribed with the lighthearted …

Read more

The Anxiety of Influence: Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto

Ah, we shall never be able to do anything like that! Apparently, Beethoven made this remark to the pianist-composer Johann Baptist Cramer after hearing Mozart’s stormy Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, a piece we explored last week. Beethoven’s enthusiasm for Mozart’s Concerto is a testament to its sublime, haunting drama and even Romantic foreshadowings. You can hear its influence in the first movement of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, also in C minor. Mozart’s …

Read more

Prokofiev’s Haunting First Violin Sonata

“Wind passing through a graveyard…” This is how Sergei Prokofiev described the hauntingly ethereal passage at the end of the first movement of the Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor. Hushed, wispy scales rise and fall in the violin over a series of numb, ambivalent piano chords. This chilly passage, which is anything but definitive or conclusive, returns later in the final movement. It encapsulates the atmosphere of the Sonata, perhaps the darkest, most …

Read more

Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto: The Greatest C Major Riff of All Time?

Musician, teacher, and producer Rick Beato shares some interesting insights into Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto in a recent video at his channel, Everything Music. He calls this passage from the first movement “the greatest riff of all time written with only the white keys.” It’s a stream of notes which seems as fluid and inevitable as any jazz keyboard riff- an unrelenting, anticipation-building, virtuosic romp, completely in white-key C major until one stray G-sharp sneaks in at the last …

Read more

Send this to a friend