REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 1, 'Classical' / Symphony No. 5
Symphony No. 1 in D
major, Opus 25 (Classical Symphony)
Symphony No. 5 in B
flat major, Opus 100
Sergey Prokofiev belongs to the generation of Russian musicians who
completed their studies before the Communist Revolution of 1917. His early
education had been at home, where he had tuition from Glière, before entering
the St. Petersburg Conservatory on the advice of Glazunov at the age of
thirteen. For whatever reason, whether of character, age or as the only child of
his parents, he was to prove a recalcitrant student, finding little to his
taste either in the composition class of Lyadov or in the orchestration class
of Rimsky-Korsakov, but meeting encouragement, at least, from Nikolay
Myaskovsky and Boris Asaf'yev, fellow students nearer his own age.
In 1909 Prokofiev graduated in the composition class but decided to
continue at the Conservatory as a student of the piano, acquiring a new sense
of technical discipline under some duress and completing these studies in 1914.
Military service was to be avoided by enrollment as an organ student.
Throughout his time at the Conservatory he had written music that often
impressed his contemporaries and shocked his elders, an effect that was
doubtless achieved by design.
For some years after 1917 Prokofiev was to live abroad, winning
increasing success as a composer and as a pianist. The Soviet authorities, who
had given him leave to travel, encouraged him to maintain connection with
Russia through return visits, rewarded in foreign currency, and finally
welcomed his return to live permanently in his native country in 1936, in the
words of Shostakovich "to fall like a chicken into the soup".
The year 1936 brought the first official attack in Russia on formalism
and modernism in music, attacks to be renewed in 1948, when Prokofiev was
condemned by name. The effect was socially and artistically traumatic, and
unfortunately, since he died on the same day as Stalin in 1953, he was never to
experience the partial relaxation that then took place.
In his Classical Symphony Prokofiev deliberately attempted a
modern approximation of the style of Haydn, at the same time experimenting with
composition away from the piano. The result was a work of idiosyncratic charm,
clear in its formal neoclassical outline and demanding all the meticulous
attention to detail that the eighteenth century was able to give. The first
performance took place in St Petersburg in the early months of 1918, when he
was heard by the new People's Commissar for Education, a representative of the
Bolsheviks, who had seized power the preceding November. It was in part the
success of this work that enabled Prokofiev to carry out his intention of
leaving Russia with official permission. The Classical Symphony re-interprets
the eighteenth century with wit and elegance. The lyrical slow movement is
followed by a wayward Gavotte, its principal melody with a strange twist
in the tail, and a final movement of great brilliance.
The fifth of Prokofiev's seven symphonies, discounting two very early
attempts at the genre, was written in 1944, culminating, as he suggested, a
long period in his creative life. The Fourth Symphony, which uses
material from the ballet The Prodigal Son, had been completed in 1930.
The new work, which bears some resemblance in thematic material to the Flute
Sonata of the previous year, is in four movements, grandiose and unified in
conception. Its first performance coincided with the advance of Russian troops
over the Vistula into Germany and, the first symphony that Prokofiev had
written since his return to Russia, expressed the feelings of the time. The
work, in short, proved acceptable to its first audience, who greeted it with
enthusiasm, and to the authorities.
The first movement couples considerable strength with unexpected twists
of melody that are highly characteristic of the composer. The scherzo that
follows has an equally characteristic melody over a constant accompanying
pattern, with a touch of that other condemned formalist Khachaturian about its
trio. The Adagio is a movement of sustained lyricism, with a fiercely dramatic
middle section, and the final movement, with its initial reminiscence of the
opening of the symphony, brings the work to an ebullient and triumphant close.
Last Albums Viewed
PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 1, 'Classical' / Symphony ...