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ClassicsOnline Home » PROKOFIEV: Cinderella Suites / TCHAIKOVSKY: Sleeping Beauty (Children's Classics)
By Geoffrey Norris
The Daily Telegraph (Australia)
Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953)
narrated by Brian Cant
Sergey Prokofiev was born in 1891 at Sontsovka in the Ukraine, the son of a prosperous estate manager. An only child, his musical talents were fostered by his mother, a cultured amateur pianist, and he tried his hand at composition at the age of five, later being tutored at home by the composer Glière. In 1904, on the advice of Glazunov, his parents allowed him to enter the St Petersburg Conservatory, where he continued his studies as a pianist and as a composer until 1914, owing more to the influence of senior fellow-students Asafyev and Myaskovsky than to the older generation of teachers. Even as a student Prokofiev had begun to make his name as a composer, arousing enthusiasm and hostility in equal measure, and inducing Glazunov, now director of the Conservatory, to walk out of a performance of The Scythian Suite fearing for his sense of hearing.
After the 1917 Revolution Prokofiev was given permission to travel abroad, spending most of his time in America and then Paris until 1936. This was at the time of the first official onslaught on music that did not sort well with the political and social policies of the government, aimed in particular at Shostakovich. Twelve years later the name of Prokofiev was openly joined with that of Shostakovich in an even more explicit condemnation of formalism, with particular reference now to Prokofiev's opera War and Peace. He died in 1953 on the same day as Joseph Stalin, and thus never benefitted from the subsequent relaxation in official policy to the arts.
As a composer Prokofiev was prolific. His operas include the remarkable The Fiery Angel, first performed in its entirety in Paris the year after his death, with ballet-scores in Russia for Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella. The last of his seven symphonies was completed in 1952, the year of his unfinished Piano Concerto No. 6. His piano sonatas form an important addition to the repertoire, in addition to his songs and chamber music, film-scores and much else, some works overtly serving the purposes of the state. His music is often astringent in harmony, but with a characteristically Russian turn of melody and a certain idiosyncratic gift for orchestration that gives his instrumental music a particular piquancy.
The commission for Cinderella came from the Kirov Ballet in 1940, soon after their production of Romeo and Juliet. In the early part of 1941 Prokofiev was absorbed in the composition of the new ballet which, he explained, should be as danceable as possible, conceived in the traditions of the classical ballet, with pas de deux, variations and waltzes. The German invasion of the Soviet Union in June diverted his attention to the composition of an opera based on Tolstoy's War and Peace, and Cinderella was not finished until 1944. It was first staged at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on 21 November 1945. Several months later Prokofiev arranged three orchestral suites from the ballet, basing them largely on the pieces transcribed for solo piano, Opus 95 and Opus 97. He explained that the suites were not simply mechanical excerpts from the original score but had been reworked and recast in symphonic form. Although the basic ideas remain the same, there are changes in orchestration and subtle variations in tempi, with fragmentary ideas from the score condensed into short movements of melodic and virtuosic ingenuity.
The Suite presented here draws on music from all three suites, beginning with the Introduction from Suite No. 1 that presents two of the themes directly associated with Cinderella, the first sad in character and the second suggesting her dreams of happiness. In the Dance of the Shawl the Ugly Sisters are embroidering a shawl for the ball at the Prince's palace. The dance turns into a squabble, as they quarrel as to who should wear it. In The Fairy Godmother Cinderella is changed by magic into a beautiful princess, while Cinderella goes to the ball finds her about to leave for the palace, warned by her Fairy Godmother of the one condition she must remember. Cinderella's Waltz leads to Midnight, as the clock strikes twelve and Cinderella rushes away, realising that the spell is now broken. The Galop from Suite No. 2, after Cinderella's hurried departure, depicts the travels of the Prince, as he searches high and low for the Princess that he must find again. The present suite concludes with the Amoroso from Suite No. 3 in which the Prince and Cinderella are reunited and confide in each other their feelings of love in a final apotheosis.
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840-1891)
Sleeping Beauty Suite
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky must be regarded as the most popular of all Russian composers, with his attractive melodies, rich orchestral colours and much more. Born in 1840, the second son of a mining engineer, Tchaikovsky had his early education, in music as in everything else, at home, under the care of his mother and of a beloved governess. He was one of the earliest students of the St Petersburg Conservatory established by Anton Rubinstein. On completing his studies he became a member of the teaching staff of a similar institution in Moscow, continuing there for some ten years, before financial assistance from a rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck, enabled him to leave the Conservatory and devote himself entirely to composition. He died in 1893.
Tchaikovsky was a master of the miniature forms necessary for ballet. The Sleeping Beauty was written in 1888 and 1889 and staged at the Mariinsky Theatre in January 1890 at an alleged cost of 80,000 roubles. Choreography was by Petipa, who was largely responsible for the achievements of Russian ballet in the second half of the nineteenth century, with costumes by Vsevolozhsky and sets designed by a number of artists. It has since come to be regarded as the greatest achievement of Russian ballet in the nineteenth century.
The Suite presented here comprises six episodes from the complete ballet. King Florestan XXIV is celebrating the christening of his first child, Princess Aurore. To the sound of a March he enters, followed by his courtiers. The six Good Fairies come to the Christening, bringing their own magic gifts. Each Fairy offers her own present to the child. Carabosse, the Wicked Fairy, has not been invited, and arrives to express her displeasure. The Master of Ceremonies Catalabutte takes the blame for this omission, but Carabosse will not be pacified: the princess shall prick her finger and sleep for ever ( The Old Fairy's Spell ). Carabosse dances, with her attendants and her rats. The Lilac Fairy modifies the curse of Carabosse: the princess will sleep a hundred years and be woken by the kiss of a young prince ( The Young Fairy's Spell ). Carabosse storms out in anger. As we know, on Princess Aurore's fifteenth birthday she is given a spindle by an old woman and immediately pricks her finger on it. Carabosse reveals herself: the spindle is her gift to the Princess and now her curse is fulfilled. A hundred years pass and Prince Désiré is hunting in the forest where Aurore lies sleeping. In The Sleep the music depicts the stillness of the sleeping forest and palace, while Panorama: The Prince approaches the palace depicts the moonlight journey of the Prince and the Lilac Fairy. He approaches the sleeping Princess and wakens her with a kiss. The Princess, King, Queen and courtiers now come to life again and celebrate the breaking of the spell. Finally the Wedding Feast is depicted in the closing Apotheosis, in which a traditional French melody, 'Vive Henri Quatre', is used as solemn assurance that the couple will live happily ever after.
Keith Anderson & Anthony Anderson
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