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For Sergei Prokofiev’s 130th birthday on 23 April 2021

The music of Sergei Prokofiev is world repertoire. Whether it is the great ballet music for “Romeo and Juliet” or “Cinderella”, the ear-catching march from the “The Love for Three Oranges” opera or “Peter and the Wolf”, whose melodies enchant almost every child and remain with them well into old age, Prokofiev’s works are always present on stages and in the media. The reasons for this are manifold. A central role is certainly played by the sheer boundless inventiveness of one of the most gifted melodists of the 20th century. The virtuosity in the treatment of each individual instrument in chamber music or in an orchestral context, and ultimately the composer’s talent for a gripping dramaturgy, no matter what genre he turns to is matchless. 

Harsh upheavals and changes of mood, almost like the flipping of an imaginary switch characterise Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony, written in 1944, as is the case with many of his works. With the oncoming victory over Nazi Germany, the composer wrote it in a sense of triumph. The expansively lyrical themes it contains are yet reminiscent of his ballet music, especially the ballet music for Cinderella, written in tandem. Featuring huge orchestral outbursts and a hymn-like eulogy dedicated to the defender against Mongol invaders, Swedes and knights of the Teutonic Order who threatened his country in the 13th century, the cantata “Alexander Nevsky” for mezzo-soprano, choir, and orchestra, is based on a film score for Eisenstein’s Nevsky film. Prokofiev’s life during the first tumultuous half of the 20th century, and in particular in the time of Stalin’s Soviet Union, deeply impacted and shaped his personality, yet his musical language was influenced by all this only indirectly.

The Russian composer Alfred Schnittke said of Prokofiev at the 1990 International Prokofiev Festival in Duisburg (published under the title “Thoughts on Prokofiev”): “(...) The non-admission of the ‘surrealistic’ reality of horror, this not bowing, this not allowing tears to be seen, this not giving in to insults - this seemed to be salvation. But this salvation was unfortunately only illusion - the even more important, the invisible, the most essential part of this sportive-businessman personality Prokofiev repressed the insurmountable so deeply that it never let go of him and dragged him to his death at the age of 61. (...)”

Compared to Prokofiev’s instrumental works, which are among the most performed works of the 20th century worldwide, it was some time after Prokofiev’s death in 1953 before his operas were performed with greater frequency and renewed productions in the West. Even as late as the 1960s and 1970s, operas such as “The Fiery Angel” (Boosey & Hawkes) or “The Love for Three Oranges” (Boosey & Hawkes) and, of course, Prokofiev’s extensive adaptation of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” were little known. Prokofiev wrote the early work “The Fiery Angel” from 1919 to 1923 revising it once more in 1926/1927. He himself wrote the libretto based on a historical novel by the Russian symbolist Valery Bryusov. In 2010, the Austrian musicologist Wolfgang Suppan, who died in 2015, prepared a chamber version of Prokofiev’s opera “The Fiery Angel” for small wind ensemble, percussion, and string quintet, which was premiered at the Odeon Theatre in Vienna on 21 April 2010. Philipp Harnoncourt directed this production, Marino Formenti conducted the Ensemble Phace, the Vienna Chamber Choir and the Serapions Ensemble. 

Prokofiev himself also wrote the libretto for the 1949 opera comedy “The Betrothal in a Monastery”, which celebrated an acclaimed premiere at the Staatsoper Berlin on 13 April 2019 under the baton of Daniel Barenboim, with the support of his wife Mira Mendelson. The subject was the comedy “Duenna” by Richard Sheridan, who was at the zenith of his fame at the time. The play tells the story of the rich old fishmonger Mendoza, who not only wants to make a big deal with Don Jeronimo, but also to marry his pretty daughter Luisa ...Finally, the musical epic “War and Peace” is characterised by a simple, almost timeless musical language. An original version of the opera reconstructed by British musicologists Rita McAllister and Katya Ermolaeva, first presented in this form in Glasgow and Rostov-on-Don in 2010 and at the Welsh National Opera in 2018, is to receive its German premiere in the 2021/22 season at the Theater Magdeburg in a co-production with the Welsh National Opera. 

Our catalogues contain a selection of remarkable arrangements of Prokofiev’s works for a wide variety of instrumentations. The arrangement of several movements from Prokofiev’s ballet music to Cinderella for two pianos by the Russian pianist Mikhail Pletnev is highly accomplished and demanding in terms of interpretation. Although technically extremely difficult to play, Pletnev’s arrangement dispenses with superficial virtuosity. The arrangements for two pianos by the US-based Russian pianist Sergei Babayan are also very special Prokofiev works. For his concert programme with Martha Argerich and a resulting CD recording on the DG label (“Prokofiev for Two”), Babayan arranged selected pieces from “Hamlet”, “Eugene Onegin”, “Queen of Spades” and “War and Peace” as well as twelve movements from “Romeo and Juliet” for two pianos in 2017. Andreas Tarkmann has also arranged parts of “Romeo and Juliet” for woodwind quintet and brass ensemble. The music publishers Sikorski and Boosey & Hawkes have taken the occasion of Prokofiev’s 130th birthday to publish the first complete catalogue of this composer’s works, which will appear in autumn this year.

 

Arrangements of Prokofiev works:

 

“Cinderella Suite” for two pianos (Mikhail Pletnev).

“Eugene Onegin”. Mazurka and Polka for two pianos (Sergei Babayan)

“Hamlet. “The Ghost of Hamlet’s Father” for two pianos (Sergei Babayan)

Chamber Symphony for string orchestra (op. 92) (Daniel Sánchez Velasco)

“War and Peace”. “Natasha and Andrei’s Waltz” for two pianos (Sergei Babayan)

“Peter and the Wolf” for narrator and wind quintet (Joachim Linckelmann)

“Peter and the Wolf” for narrator and accordion orchestra (Ezzat Nashashibi)

“Peter and the Wolf” for narrator and jazz ensemble or big band (Katharina Thomsen / text adaptation by Hella von Sinnen)

“Peter and the Wolf” for narrator and brass ensemble (Andreas Tarkmann)

“Peter and the Wolf”. Suite for piano (Tatjana Nikolajewa)

“Peter and the Wolf” (new version of the text by Loriot)

“Pique Dame”. Polonaise and “Idée fixe” for two pianos (Sergei Babayan)

“Pushkiniana”. Suite for orchestra (Gennadi Roschdestwenski)

“Romeo and Juliet”. Reduced version (Tobias Leppert)

“Romeo and Juliet”. Twelve movements for two pianos (Sergei Babayan)

“Romeo and Juliet”. Suite for woodwind octet (Andreas Tarkmann)

“Romeo and Juliet. Suite for brass ensemble (Andreas Tarkmann)

“Romeo and Juliet”. Suite for ensemble (Joolz Gale)

“Romeo and Juliet”. Ballet Scenes for Orchestra (Rudolf Barshai)

Scherzo from Symphony No. 5 for piano (Anatol Wedernikow)

Symphony No. 5 for ensemble (Joolz Gale)

Sonata for flute solo (op. 115) (Gian-Luca Petrucci)

Sonata for flute and orchestra (op. 94) (Christopher Palmer)

Sonata for flute (violin) and orchestra (op. 94) (Yoel Gamzou)

Sonata for flute (violin) and string orchestra (op. 94) (Andreas Tarkmann)

Sonata for violoncello, wind ensemble and double bass (op. 119) (Alexander Raskatov)

Sonata op. 80. arrangement for violin, strings, and percussion (Andrei Pushkarev)

Trio for violin (oboe), violoncello and piano (op. 94) (Lera Auerbach)

Two Pushkin Waltzes for two pianos (Sergei Babayan)

Two Pushkin Waltzes for Violoncello and Piano (David Geringas)

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