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Prokofiev's Choral Works by William Braun Braun is ,\ssU(.'iate Prufl'!'.SUf uf ~111sic Olt Ark'IIH,as ('ullcge in Bales\ ille. ,\rk.msas.

The year 1991 marks the centennial binhday

celebration of Sergei Prokofiev. who wou, barn on April 23. 1891. Allhough Prokofiev i, well-known for his balielS. coneenos, film scores. opems. and orchestral and piano works. the same is not true for his choral work . Since relatively liule is known or has been wrillen about Prokofiev's choral music. ihis anicle will brieOy exrunine his major choral works ' in order to œl1cr acquaint America" choral directors wilh the choral music of one

of Ihe 111051 signifiea"1 Russian cOl11poser~ living in Ihe lïrst half of the Iwcntieth century!. Prokotiev's IWO Poems The White Swan and WOI'(J.\'.Op.7.composed in 1911 whilehewas a siudeni at Ihe SI. Petersburg ConservalOry. was written for women'schorus and orcheslm 10 lexIs wrillen by the Russian Symbolist poet. Konstantin Balmont. This was Prokoficv's first excursion into the choral genre al ;:1 lime when he was ~Iarting 10 he recognized as a composer of orchestra and pin no pieces. He wrole these 1wo pieces in the hope Ihal Ihey would be performed by Ihe Conservalory Chorus which he was direcling a~ part of his conducling le~sons under Cherepnin. Prokofiev did conduct Till' White Swan bUI later reca lled the experience wilh sorne consternation in his autobiography, remarking Ihal Ihe songs were "Ioodiffieult 10 sing" forthe student choir. Israel Ncstyev. the official Soviet biographer. dismissed these pieces as "too unusual:" however. Harlow Robinson, anothcr more recenl biogrnpherof Prokofiev disagreed with both assessmenlS:

The year 1991 marks the centennial birthday celebration of Sergei Prokofiev, who was born on April 23, 1891,

demonstrale anolher side of Prokofiev's musical personality\ Prokofiev did not retum to the choral genre until19J 7whenhecomposedSe\'l!lI. TheyAre Sel'en t Op. 30 (a selting ofBahnont's poem of the same name based on an ancient Chaldean invocation) in response to the Revolution. WWl. and the chaos surrounding theseevents. "The texi of the ancient inscription ... gave Balmont the basis for his portrnyal of seven terrible giants who ruled the world". /11 the deep ab)'ss Their Ilumbn is sel'en; 1" the a:ure sk)'. Sel'en. the)' are Se\'(!II! When the)' arise in ,he weSI. They art.' Sl','ell. W/u.'" ,hey loom ill/he easl Tlley are seve,,! Sillillg l!fJ/llrolled. ill Ill(' deep slUldow. "fis the;,. l'oice "ml rises. ml/Ners. a"d roars And ',;s their shape Illai fills immellS;IY


hem'ell 10



the" a,.e Sel'(!IJ.' Snell. ,he\' liN! . Sel,(!"t . Sel'en. ,hey are Sel'I!II!


Prokofiev added a quatrain of his own which contained a veiled '1lIusion 10 conlemporary evenlS: rlley cause hem 'en and eOr/II (() shri"k. They COI/fine. as behilld doo,.s, wllOle

coml/ries, grind IIatiolls as lIat;ollS g,.'-',d ('01'11, Sl'\'en, ,hey are Sel'en! Sel'('II, the)' are Serent Sel'en. Ilrey are Sel'tm!


"Thus the terrible Chaldean giants apparenl ly

symbolized for Prokofiev Ihedread force that had plungcd mankind into the abyss of war and devastation .. , This sinister force rules the world, and it is opposed by nothi ng more lhan the savage pagan incantation , .. 'Oh. Ihou Heavenly Spirit! Curse Them! Curse Them! Curse Them!'''J These lexIS were set in the "primitive" or "barbaric" fashion of Stravinsky's Rilf! of Spr;nR which Prokofiev himsclf had used in his own S,'.wlrian Suite. This expressionistic work was written for a dram:.uic tener so leist (Tel/ore drafllarü'o). a mixed chorus which divides into as many as eigh t different pans. anda large orchestra withamplified bras and percussion sections (four trumpets. eight homs. thrce tenor trombones, one bass trombonc. tuba. contratuba. two timpuni.two bass drums. cymbals. tambourine, snaredrum. tamtam. chimes. xylophone. celesta. and IWO harps). Prokofiev emphasÎzed the incanlalory qualily of the textdividing thissinglemovement work of approximacely sevenandahalf minutes into cight cOlltrasting sections with no repetitions or recapitulations. Melodie and rhythmic ostinatos (Example 1) play an imponant role in the overall structure of the piece. The hannony is extreme ly dense in the tutti section~ where Prokoliev used his technique of cOl11rapuntally layering various descriptive effccts. Some of the unusual effeclS used in the !!.Core include: 1) the whispering of the chorus. 2) the col !egno tapping of the cntire string section. 3) the rising glissando of the full chorus. and 4) the barbarie episode for percussion ajonc, The colorislÎc and descriptive erfects predominme over melodic expressiveness which is more dec1amatory and limi led 10

Eumple 1 cor<> ba •• o









d.1.1. • • 3 pist .

The melody line is denr and unehromatic. while the accompanimenl proceeds in genLle nrpeggios (the tempo marking is andante molto). The vocal slyle is melodic unlike Ihe declamatory idiom of The Ugl,v Duckling and The Gambie,.. Romantic. dreamy. even sentimental. the songs are very diffcrent from the insistent and aggressive piano pieces composed during Ihe same period. and

11IItm;dK)O;lIOw;n1 Bullclm · 1991







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