Talk:Sergei Prokofiev

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Now here, the natural links are (a)Rimsky as you have (P's teacher) (b)Stravinsky (as you have) and Katchachurian (those two and P are the great "Russian" ballet masters of the 20th century) and (c). Shostakovitch (the other great Soviet composer)

I am going to work out another work list, (there are great works not in there and lesser works included) but I don't have time now. AlanE 18:04, 29 September 2008 (EDT)

Excellent! --User:Joaquín Martínez, talk 19:57, 29 September 2008 (EDT)
If it is good, why are we leaving in all the previous "Information"? If I had known that I would not have wasted so much time!! Joaquín, do you know any of this music? I live and breath it! AlanE 15:52, 1 October 2008 (EDT)
Nicht viel, nur ein wenig. --User:Joaquín Martínez, talk 07:46, 2 October 2008 (EDT)
Fair enough, but not much is better than none if the desire to learn is there. I bet you my knowledge of German is worse than your knowledge of music. In fact you may be able to solve a mystery: what is the difference between lied and gesang? Why are some Brahms or Schubert songs titled lieder and others gesange. If you don't know, do you know any CP German speakers I can ask? I asked this on the Brahms talkpage last year, but no one answered.AlanE 14:44, 2 October 2008 (EDT)
Die selben.... des génies sont fous... capisca? --User:Joaquín Martínez, talk 21:58, 3 October 2008 (EDT)

Great page, Alan! I would like to point out a contradiction in this page which could be easily fixed. You note that much of Prokofiev's music which he composed after immigrating back to the USSR was banal nonsense. This is true, but close to half of the works on your "notable" and "outstanding" works list were also composed in his Soviet period. There's a more interesting dynamic at work, I think.

It would be an interesting topic for a new section or article, the atmosphere for composers under Soviet repression. That's what makes Prokofiev and Shostakovich so interesting.

By the way, to answer your old question about "Lieder" and "Gesang:" The most common meaning of Gesang means voice or singer - you've probably most often seen the term "Lied für Gesang und Klavier." But the word is also used, for example, for epic poetry: First Canto of Dante's Inferno = "Erste Gesang von Dantes Inferno." Birdsong is "Vögelgesang." The Four Serious Songs (Vier ernste Gesänge)by Brahms are on biblical texts. Gesang also refers to hymns and Gregorian chant. While I could be wrong, it might indicate a distinction between a musical setting of poetry and a more ancient tradition of "song."JDWpianist 17:30, 17 March 2009 (EDT)

Thank you...I think I was almost there actually...This morning, coincidently, I was listening to a new recording of Brahms Op.57 which is 8 Lieder und Gesange". So I had it on the brain again this morning.
I just did a little reading, as I wasn't satisfied with the answer I gave you. According to Imogen Fellinger in the book "Brahms Studies" (ed. Bozarth), Brahms tended to use the title "Lieder" for strophic verses, and "Gesänge" for more elevated or artificial styles. Also, earlier in his career he titled everything "Gesänge," and whenever he published a collection, he called it "Lieder und Gesänge" by default.
That's just Brahms though, who usually followed his own logic for assigning names -- it gets ridiculous in the piano music. For other composers, there could be other reasons.JDWpianist 18:13, 17 March 2009 (EDT)
I'll get back to you later on the Prokofiev...I'm about to go out for the morning. Cheers AlanE 17:42, 17 March 2009 (EDT)
I have toned down the first line. The article has a history, I replaced Joaquín's "Outstanding works" with the the mini-essay which I have to admit is what I think is important, taken from the music I know (and have here on the shelves across from me) or know of. Joaquín wanted his edits put back, and as he is a senior sysop, I did. So we have two "lists" that at times seem to be at cross purposes. (I have never got round to doing a potted biography.) The same sort of thing happened with Rachmaninov but I managed to delete the other list, and did the biography. AlanE 15:13, 18 March 2009 (EDT)
On the subject of what you call the "dynamic" at work in the music of Prokofiev and Shosh. and others who somehow managed to tread the line between the Soviet establishment and their own artistic "necessities" I gave up trying to work it out many years ago. (I said "necessities" because often I find it necessary for my emotional/intellectual being to listen to this music - so it must have been just so much more "necessary" for them to have written the stuff. Do you know what I mean?) I bought "Testimony" when it came out here in about 1980 and have copied the various documentaries that have appeared on TV over the years - and read the 40 or 50 record covers and CD booklets I have; but I have ceased to wonder at the wonder of it (so to speak). I have also ceased to wonder (and this is the other side of the same coin) why America, with all that it has going for it in terms of wealth and education (especially music education in schools) whilst churning out world class performers in all the musical fields, has not yet had a great "classical" composer that can come anywhere matching these men and, for that matter, Europe generally. Where's the great opera in its traditional sense, the ballet, the symphony? I think of Barber's Adagio and put it amongst other 20th century music for strings - “Verklärte Nacht”, "Tallis Fantasia" Strauss' Metamorphosen, Shosh's 8th quartet in its chamber symph. guise. Even (from left field) Walton's Sonata for Strings and VW's partita. I had better stop this!! CheersAlanE 00:07, 19 March 2009 (EDT)
I'm in complete agreement with the "necessity" to listen to their music -- of course, I also feel the necessity to play it as well. You come from an interesting perspective, having followed the "Testimony" controversy from the beginning. I actually did a lot of research on the whole topic of Soviet composers as an undergrad (around 8 years ago), reading everything I could get my hands on -- including Testimony. I read all of the major biographies, including the one by Laurel Fay, who wrote the article that accused Volkov of dishonesty. What's amazing is how Fay wrote it as blase and drily as possible, but still it makes for harrowing reading. It reads like "On April the 25th, Shost. received news that his student had been executed. His wife reports that he 'cried all evening.'" There's just no getting around the bleak facts.
I've come to the conclusion that part of the controversy is a reaction by scholars to the co-opting by the west of Prokofiev and especially Shostakovich and as anti-communist heroes, when the facts are hard to reconcile with this characterization. I've always thought that overly politicizing Shostakovich's work is tawdry and belies the music's true power to move. However, one can't deny that he was swept up in the idealism of the communist state as a young man, and I find a connection between this idealism and his later sincerity in attempting to communicate with the everyman through his music, though at that time subversively against the system which was perpretating the horrors that they suffered through.
Prokofiev is quite a different case altogether. Even today, his reasons for returning to the Soviet Union, as his popularity was finally growing in the West, are hard to factually ascertain. He seemed to have an ambivalence about the system altogether, and gave every appearance not to care when his work was denounced. In the documentary about Sviatoslav Richter ("The Enigma"), the pianist calls him ruthless and unprincipled, and noted that the cantata "Zdravitsa," ostensibly written for Stalin's birthday, was a "monument to Prokofiev's own glory." Given all of that, I still hear the same "graveyards" in Prokofiev's music as I do in Shostakovich's, especially in the first violin sonata and in the war sonatas' slow movements. I played the last two movements of the sixth sonata once for a masterclass, and the teacher grew incredibly angry because he said I played the slow movement's waltz melody "too beautifully." He gave me the image of an empty, but ghost-filled ballroom. Since then, I've heard the same thing all over the place in Prokofiev's music.
By the way, have you read this article [1] about Prokofiev? I find it very thought-provoking, though I disagree with plenty of it.
As for why the USA hasn't produced a comparably compelling composer, I see two forces at work. First of all, it's pretty clearly borne out by history that societies steeped in comfort don't produce essential music. Secondly, one has to admit that the greatest composers America has produced weren't writing classical music. I'd pin Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington as two candidates for the title myself, both of them from a culture that had its share of suffering.JDWpianist 09:13, 19 March 2009 (EDT)

I am listening to Freddy Kempf play the valzer lentissimo (and trying NOT to let another ghostly ballroom impinge (Sibelius) because it's like marshmallow compared to this; I have just read the Lebrecht, article, I am on my second coffee,; and I don't know where to start so I will start at the end instead of the beginning.

  • I'll agree about Monk and Ellington (Percy Grainger agreed with you on the Duke - he had him joining Delius and Beethoven as the top three ever....but Percy was a bit weird.) I also think that the enormous effort that went into those American institutions "Broadway" and Hollywood" diverted those that may have become great. I think that if Bernstein had stuck to "classical" he would have possibly written great "classical" music - not that we can complain; he just became a great conductor and teacher, and song writer and Broadway composer and......! I think that popular American culture and its money seduces. Think of Korngold, Weill, etc. (Aren't we lucky Rachmaninov, Bartock etc stayed true to their art?) I think Gershwin was one of the greatest ever, but not as a "classical" composer. I find nothing compelling at all in his "art" music - but oh the songs!
  • I am not sure about a country being "steeped" in comfort having too much effect except for the "money seduces" effect above. You may disagree on the "quality" of some of the following, but from the affluent England of 1850 to the Great War were born Delius, Elgar, RVW, Holst, Walton and of course, Britten, who I think are above any of the American born composers of their generations and they all grew up in some degree of comfort, and all of them (with the possible exception of Elgar who never quite shook off the Brahms/Wagner thing that infected the era) wrote music distinctly their own. I know they went through wars, and two of them were ill, but none of them was an example of the struggling artist.
  • There is a possible cat among the pigeons in all this - Copland.
  • Necessity - you are very fortunate; God has blessed you with a gift of love of music and the mental strength and physical ability to have learnt to become a conduit for it.... and if one has to go through life needing something then it is wonderful to have the means of satisfying it at your fingertips - pun intended. I envy you because I have 10 thumbs and a voice that decades of smoking and wood dust have turned into a croak and I turn on the car radio in the middle of a capriccio-intermezzo-fantasia (who cares) and ache to be able to do that, and have been known to rush home and grab one of my CDs of Brahms in his autumnal ramblings because I really do need to hear it again there and then.
  • I am out of time again. I also think I am off-subject. If (and only if) you want to continue this at any time time at leisure without a "too-much talktalktalk" from someone, an email address is on my userpage below the opening spiel. AlanE 17:18, 19 March 2009 (EDT)