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and sul ponticello (playing close to the bridge of the instrument). The orchestration snaps back with the resourcefulness of rushing clarinet figurations, pulsing horns and the baleful rearing of the tuba. Although the finale soon gives the impression of treading water before the work’s initial haven can be reached again, its opening sets up a curious tension between the violinist’s cantabile melody and the dry, tick-tocking accompaniment – anticipating the ambiguous slow movement of the Second Violin Concerto by nearly two decades. The affecting elaborations of clarinet and flute in the final vision were added in 1924 after early performances, Prokofiev told Myaskovsky, ‘because without some sort of divertissement like that it sounded dreadfully like the overture [Wagner’s Prelude] to Lohengrin’.

Programme note © David Nice

David Nice writes, lectures and broadcasts on music, notably for BBC Radio 3 and BBC Music Magazine. The first volume of his Prokofiev biograph , From Russia to the West 1891–1935, was published in 2003 by Yale University Press.

Composer Notes

A brief guide to Prokofiev

Prokofiev was born in the Ukraine and from an early age showed a prodigious ability both as composer and pianist. He gained a place at the St Petersburg Conservatory at the age of 13 and shortly thereafter acquired a reputation for the uncompromising nature of his music. According to one critic, the audience at the 1913 premiere of the composer’s Second Piano Concerto were left ‘frozen with fright, hair standing on end’. He left Russia after the 1917 Revolution, but decided to return to Moscow with his wife and family 19 years later, apparently unaware of Stalin’s repressive regime. Before he left for exile, Prokofiev completed his ‘Classical’ Symphony, a bold and appealing work that revived aspects of 18th-century musical form, clarity and elegance. He received commissions from arts organisations in the United States and France, composing his sparkling opera The Love for Three Oranges for the Chicago Opera Company in 1919–20. His engagements as a recitalist and concerto soloist brought Prokofiev to a wide audience in Europe and the USA, and he was in great demand to perform his own Piano Concerto No 3. The ballet Romeo and Juliet and the score for Feinzimmer’s film Lieutenant Kijé were among Prokofiev’s first Soviet commissions. Both scores were subsequently cast as concert suites, which have become cornerstones of the orchestral repertoire. ‘The Fifth Symphony was intended as a hymn to free and happy Man, to his mighty powers, his pure and noble spirit.’ Prokofiev’s comments, written in 1944 as the Russian army began to march towards Berlin, reflected his sense of hope in the future. Sadly, his later years were overshadowed by illness and the denunciation of his works as ‘formalist’ by the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1948.

Profile © Andrew Stewart

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