Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 5 in C Major: Cool and Classical

An enticing coolness and classicism surrounds Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 5 in C Major, Op. 38. Brilliant and austere, it is the music of a composer who, early on, developed a reputation as a brash enfant terrible with piano-playing fingers of steel. Here, as in much of his music, Prokofiev, the cunning and aggressive master chess player, plays the game of quirky extended melodies, which often seem to reach a harmonic dead …

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Prokofiev’s Toccata, Op. 11 for Solo Piano: An Exhilarating Musical Motor

Sergei Prokofiev’s Toccata, Op. 11 for solo piano is music of the Machine Age. Launched into motion with a volley of repeated D’s, the brief and blazing piece hurtles forward as an indomitable, perpetual motor. Edgy and seemingly demonic, it takes us on an exhilarating, increasingly terrifying ride, punctuated with quirky melodic leaps, jarring dissonances, and torrents of chromaticism. Composed in 1912, this is music of the 23-year-old Prokofiev. Shocking, previously unimaginable …

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Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante: A Grand Hybrid for Cello and Orchestra

The Sinfonia Concertante, Op. 125 (or Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, as it is also known), was among the last orchestral works composed by Sergei Prokofiev. The dramatic, spirited musical hybrid was conceived at a time when Prokofiev faced declining health and professional adversity. In 1948, he was censured, along with other prominent composers, by the Central Committee of the Communist Party for writing music “marked with formalist perversions…alien to the Soviet …

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Remembering Yuri Temirkanov

Yuri Temirkanov, the renowned Russian conductor, passed away last Thursday, November 2, in St. Petersburg. He was 84. From the time of his appointment as artistic director in 1988, Temirkanov was credited with restoring the brilliance of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Between 2000 and 2006, he served as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Additional titles included principal guest conductor of …

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Prokofiev’s Fifth Piano Concerto: A Quirky Drama With a Mind of Its Own

Usually, we assume that, when writing a piece of music, the composer is firmly in control of the process as musical ideas are organized, refined, and developed. Yet, on occasion, the music seemingly comes alive, takes on a mind of its own, and dictates to the composer what it wants to be. This was Sergei Prokofiev’s experience when composing the Piano Concerto No. 5 in G Major, Op. 55. “Having accumulated a …

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Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet”: From Ballet Score to Concert Suite

Character lies at the heart of Sergei Prokofiev’s 1935 ballet score, Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64. In the opening bars, the alternating forces of darkness and light become metaphysical “characters.” Demonic dissonances in the brass roar and subside, revealing an angelic string “choir” which seems to have been present all along. It is this battle between the baseness of the world and transcendent higher powers which underlies Shakespeare’s story. A heavy, groaning …

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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 …

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