Saturday, December 24, 2011

Prokofiev - Piano Concerto No. 3

Sergei Prokofiev was one of the original Russian 'bad boys' of music.  His early compositions were fraught with dissonance and did not sit well with the musical establishment. But there was something more to his music than just noise and cacophony. He used dissonance as a great chef uses seasonings. He could be bold and innovative, and he could also be very subtle and subdued. He had a great gift of melody, and was highly imaginative.

He was born in 1892 and heard his mother play the works of Beethoven and Chopin in his early childhood. After studying privately with Reinhold Gliere  he was introduced to Alexander Glazunov who was so impressed by some of Prokofiev's compositions that he persuaded his mother to enroll him at the St. Petersburg Conservatory at the age of 12.

He wrote in most genres of music; opera, symphony, ballet, but he is most well -known for his compositions for piano. He was a virtuoso pianist himself and debuted his first 3 piano concertos as soloist with orchestra. The Piano concerto No. 3 is his most popular out of the five he wrote.  It was first played in Chicago, IL with Prokofiev as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Frederick Stock conducting.

The first movement has the piano and orchestra in a dialog that shows Prokofiev's ability to use dissonance as a 'seasoning' in his music. The second movement is a theme and variations that show off the composer's wit and sarcastic nature. Prokofiev himself called the third movement an argument between piano and orchestra. The movement has a middle section that is lyrical and peaceful (perhaps a moment of agreement between the arguing parties) and then the disagreement begins again which leads to the ending of the argument.

Prokofiev not only 'stretched' the ears of his listeners with his music, but he added some new technical challenges to piano playing. Considering Prokofiev debuted much of his own music for piano he must have had a virtuoso technique.  If his music no longer seems so radical, consider all that has gone since. The same can be said about Beethoven, who in his own way appeared just as radical and 'bad boy' to many of his contemporaries.  To get any kind of sense of any composer's innovations, there must be a basic knowledge of what went on before them, what their own era of music was like, and how much of an influence they had on later composers. That is why I continue to read about composers and music, so that I can get a basic historical perspective. For someone who enjoys music more than just musical 'wallpaper' or something to dance to, gaining an historical perspective heightens the enjoyment for me. And I'm not disparaging musical wallpaper or dance music in the least. The world of music is wide and vast, there is room enough in it to welcome anyone who loves music, no matter what kind it is or what is done to enjoy it.


1 comment:

  1. Near the end of the last movement, there is a short passage where the pianist plays arpeggios on the white notes, striking two keys each time a finger lands. That is, the pianist plays in the cracks between the keys in order to play two notes with every finger-touch. The arpeggios are very rapid, and the effect (when the pianist does not fake it) is quite original.

    I heard an interview with a virtuoso pianist on the radio. The interviewer asked him if it was difficult to play between the keys. "Not at all," he said. "I do it by accident all the time."

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