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The original score was premiered on August 23, 1913 at Pavlovsk near St. Petersburg with the composer as soloist. The reconstructed and reworked score (the original was lost in a fire) was premiered in Paris on May 8, 1924 with Serge Koussevitzky conducting and Prokofiev as soloist. On the platform appeared a youth looking like a high school student. It was Sergei Prokofiev. He sat down at the piano and appeared to be either dusting the keyboard or tapping it at random, with a sharp dry touch. The public did not know what to make of it. Some indignant murmurs were heard. One couple got up and hurried to the exit: “Such music can drive you mad!” The hall emptied. The young artist ended his concerto with a relentlessly discordant combination of brasses. The audience was scandalized. The majority hissed. With a mocking bow, Prokofiev sat down again and played an encore. “The hell with this futurist music!” people were heard to exclaim. “We came here for pleasure. The cats on the roof make better music!”

DID YOU KNOW? Despite the scandal of his Second Piano Concerto, Prokofiev would emerge as the winner from the annual “Battle of the Piano” and receive the coveted Rubinstein Prize for outstanding graduate.

Such was the reaction to the premiere of Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto in September 1913, as reported by the St. Petersburg Gazette. Prokofiev was finishing his studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, having gained the reputation as an aloof “enfant terrible.” His outstanding pianistic abilities, however, afforded him a career that would take him from Europe to the US and back to Russia. The technical demands of his Second Piano Concerto are staggering, underscoring his exceptional skills. The concerto’s movement design is unusual on several levels. Not only did Prokofiev choose to add a fourth movement, but neither of the inner movements are slow—yet the opening movement is marked Andante. The only lyrical part of the whole concerto is found in the opening theme. The movement then builds towards a monstrous cadenza in which Prokofiev develops the movement’s main ideas. The ensuing scherzo is extremely short and difficult, as both hands play about 1,500 sixteenth-notes each without any rests. Music critic Robert Layton describes the pianist as “some virtuoso footballer who retains the initiative while the opposing theme (the orchestra) all charge after him.” The intermezzo sounds like a grotesque march without offering any relief. The last movement is the counterpart to the first, both in length and substance. The intensity of the first movement’s cadenza is matched in a fierce and discordant dialogue between soloist and orchestra. After a tranquil middle section based on a folk-like tune, the concerto rumbles toward a breathtaking finish.

Shostakovich knows a thing or two about writing descriptive music. Having many film scores to his name—not to mention his crushing Leningrad Symphony—Shostakovich understands how to express complex programs in a subtle and clear manner. Symphony No. 11, “The Year 1905,” offers a powerful description of one of the most fateful days in Russian history. And the movement titles leave no doubt about the program. “The Palace Square” depicts the snow-covered St. Petersburg palace square at daybreak. There is an uneasy calm as revolutionary songs emerge. Distant bugle calls and Russian Orthodox prayers for the dead foreshadow the tragedy. “The Ninth of January” is a cinematic description of the horrific events, as peaceful demonstrators, led by the priest Georgy Gapon, are attacked by the imperial forces, killing and wounding hundreds. “Eternal Memory” laments the fallen victims, sometimes resigned, other times defiant. “The Tocsin” (an alarm bell) expresses the unbroken spirit of resistance, anticipating future uprisings. Shostakovich was born one year after the described events, yet he had the vivid memories of his father and uncle, who had been eyewitnesses: Our family discussed the Revolution of 1905 constantly. […] The stories deeply affected my imagination. When I was older I read much about how it all happened. […] They were carting a mound of murdered children on a sleigh. The boys had been sitting in the trees, looking at the soldiers, and the soldiers shot them—just like that, for fun. They then loaded them on the sleigh and drove off. A sleigh loaded with children’s bodies. And the dead children were smiling. They had been killed so suddenly that they hadn’t time to be frightened. Composed for the 40th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony is a vivid reminder of the horrors that led to the revolution. The Soviet regime embraced it as an expression of their revolutionary ideals, and many audience members felt betrayed by the composer, who seemed to have succumbed to Soviet pressures. Yet others were pointing to a broader meaning and another possible inspiration for the piece: the Hungarian uprising of 1956, which was squelched by Soviet troops, killing an estimated 2,500 Hungarians in the process. In Solomon Volkov’s uncorroborated book Testimony (1979), the author offers the following statement by Shostakovich about his Eleventh Symphony: I think that many things repeat themselves in Russian history. Of course the same event can’t repeat itself exactly, there must be differences, but many things are repeated nevertheless. People think and act similarly in many things. […] I wanted to show this recurrence in the Eleventh Symphony. I wrote it in 1957 and it deals with contemporary themes even though it’s called “1905.” It’s about the people, who have stopped believing because the cup of evil has run over. That’s how the impressions of my childhood and my adult life come together. And naturally, the events of my mature years are more meaningful. - Siegwart Reichwald

2019 Summer Institute & Festival

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ORCHESTRA

SERGEI PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 103, “The Year 1905” Premiered on October 30, 1957 in Moscow by the USSR State Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Natan Rakhlin.

JUNE 28

ABOUT THE MUSIC

Profile for Brevard Music Center

2019 BMC Overture Magazine  

The seasonal publication for the annual Brevard Music Center Summer Festival. Overture includes all festival programming and program notes,...

2019 BMC Overture Magazine  

The seasonal publication for the annual Brevard Music Center Summer Festival. Overture includes all festival programming and program notes,...