Showcase Sep-Nov 2014 - page 70

be measured, it is also inexorable, and the music gathers
force as it proceeds. In its closing moments, skies blacken
over what had been a generally serene landscape, and
the climax is shattering, one of the most impressive in
all symphonic music: tunes that had seemed genial now
explode as the strength pent up in those simple figures is
allegro marcato.
The almost demonic ticking accompaniment
heard at the very beginning of the second movement
continues throughout—so pervasive that the ear seems to
hear it even when it is not there. Solo clarinet leads the
way in this music, full of rhythmic energy and instrumental
color, thanks to Prokofiev’s imaginative handling of
percussion. Oboe and clarinet herald the arrival of the
good-natured trio, but the return of the opening material
brings a surprise: over the halting sound of staccato
trumpets, timpani and pizzicato strings, the opening theme
now sounds lugubrious. Gradually the tempo accelerates,
and the scherzo smashes its way to the close.
While Prokofiev would not link this symphony
with the war that raged while it was written, it is hard not
to feel that the third movement is touched by the events
of those years. This grieving music opens with a simple
clarinet melody that quickly turns impassioned, and a
range of melodic material follows, including a theme
that rises up over a span of four octaves and a grotesque
march that sounds like something plucked from a Mahler
symphony. Much of the writing here, particularly for the
strings, is very high, yet for all this movement’s pain, its
quiet closing moments are among the most beautiful in
the symphony.
allegro giocoso.
The concluding finale is well named, for
this truly is fast and happy music. Prokofiev re-introduces,
transformed, several themes from the first movement—
the once-poised ideas now are rollicking. Violas lead
the way, full of sweep and high spirits, and it takes little
imagination to hear the sound of laughter at moments
in this music of celebration. The ending is particularly
effective. With the music racing along, Prokofiev suddenly
reduces his forces to just a handful of players, and for a
few moments this mighty symphony becomes chamber
music. In the last seconds, the entire orchestra leaps
back in for the ear-splitting rush up the scale that drives
Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony to its exultant close.
2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes,
English horn, 2 clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet,
2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets,
3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, wood
block, snare drum, tambourine, suspended cymbal,
tamtam, triangle, harp, piano and strings
Program note by
Eric Bromberger
Sergei Prokofiev
April 23, 1891, Sontsovka
March 5, 1953, Moscow
Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Opus 100
he premiere of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony on
January 13, 1945, in Moscow, was one of those
storybook tales, almost too good to be true. As
Prokofiev mounted the podium, the sound of distant
artillery rumbled through the hall. The news had just
arrived that the Russian army had smashed across the
Vistula River in Poland and was preparing for its final
assault on Nazi Germany. That artillery barrage was
the sound of the garrison in Moscow celebrating the
nowinevitable victory. And so it was that Prokofiev’s Fifth
Symphony was heard for the first time with a prelude of
artillery thunder.
Prokofiev composed this music in the space of one month
during the summer of 1944 in Ivanovo, at an artists’
retreat 150 miles northeast of Moscow. Like Stravinsky
and Copland, Prokofiev was not by nature a symphonist,
finding himself more comfortable with dance scores and
smaller forms. Now, however—in the face of a defining
national moment—Prokofiev turned to the most serious
of orchestral forms and wrote with vision and force.
The Fifth Symphony builds across an effective sequence
in its four movements: a broad-scaled and conflicted first
movement gives way to a propulsive scherzo, followed
by a painful adagio; the symphony concludes with an
almost happy-go-lucky finale that transforms themes
from the first movement to suit its mood of celebration.
The symphony’s themes are simple, even singable, its
orchestration masterful. The combination of dramatic
content, attractive themes, skillful orchestration and
formal control makes this music almost unique among
Prokofiev’s works.
The very beginning is deceptively innocent:
Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony opens with the pastel sound
of two flutes and a bassoon playing the simple opening
idea, and the other themes, all introduced quietly and
lyrically, appear quickly. This movement is an andante
rather than the expected allegro, but while the pace may
Program Notes
13, 14, 15
1...,60,61,62,63,64,65,66,67,68,69 71,72,73,74,75,76,77,78,79,80,...92
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