Sergei Prokofiev

(1891 - 1953)

COMMENTARY



We tend to play a lot of Prokofiev — WHY? A couple of important reasons come to mind:

     1)     He generally calls for large orchestras with comprehensive percussion sections, which keeps our percussionists busy back there.

     2)     His music is both accessible to the general public and rewarding and demanding for players, making for a win-win combination.


Next: Prokofiev and His Contemporaries

I think it quite important for all musicians to be aware of Prokofiev’s own analysis of his style characteristics. Here was a composer who was not afraid to analyze his own music and his attitudes towards his art. According to the composer, there were five major characteristics of his works that were either completely overlooked or misunderstood by his critics:


“The first”, he said, “was the classical, born in my childhood when I heard my mother play Beethoven sonatas.  It took a neoclassical turn in my gavottes and sonatas.

Click on the PLAY button below to hear a beautiful example of Prokofiev's "Classical" style: the Gavotte from his famous Classical Symphony. Prokofiev remarked that he was trying to write a work that Haydn might have composed had he been alive in 1917.

The second — innovation, which started after Taneyev’s (his teacher) mocking remark about my ‘much too simple’ harmony.  At first it led to a search for harmonies to suit my own language, and later to a search for a language to express strong emotions.

Click on the PLAY button below for a totally different type of music than the Classical Symphony: Prokofiev's savage Scythian Suite, composed in 1915. A very different style and typical of the "progressive" Prokofiev.

The third — toccata-like character, or if you prefer to call it so, machine, or motorlike.  This had its roots in Schumann’s Toccata, which made a great impression on me at the time and is expressed in my Etudes, Toccata, Scherzo, and in the Scherzo in the Second Piano Concerto.  This characteristic is of less importance.

Click on the PLAY button below to hear Yuja Wang perform Prokofiev's very motoric and machine-like Toccata, typical of his "toccata" style.

The fourth — a lyrical principal.  This characteristic was never noticed, or not until much later.  For a long time, my critics denied me any lyricism, and without any encouragement it developed very slowly.  But later I paid more attention to it.

Click on the PLAY button below to hear Prokofiev's masterpiece Romeo and Juliet (Balcony Scene), which typifies his incredible lyric gift and soaring melodic writing. This type of writing comes to the fore in his middle and later periods.

The fifth — the so-called grotesque, is a sideline of the four.  In fact, I am very much against this term ‘grotesque’, which in Russian is a mistranslation of the original French word.  In referring to my work I would prefer to use ‘scherzando’, meaning simply an effort to express a joke, laughter, or mockery.”

Click on the PLAY button below for a brilliant performance of the Scherzo from Prokofiev's Symphony no. 5, which demonstrates the so-called "grotesque" or "mocking-sardonic" style of Prokofiev. One can also simply think of it as "scherzando" or "joking" style: tongue-in-cheek....