Sergei Prokofiev. Piano Concerto No 3
Three years after moving abroad (on a performing tour that lasted no more and no less than fifteen years) the thirty-year-old Sergei Prokofiev brought to life a longstanding vision – to write a “very passage-like” piano concerto, his third work in this genre. Having received a “poisonous” review, as the composer himself said, from the American press, the concerto nevertheless soon became one of Prokofiev the composer’s most famous pieces and the jewel in the crown of Prokofiev the pianist’s numerous concert performances. Possibly the reason behind the immense popularity of the Third Piano Concerto lies in the fact that the work was composed at the height of his creative career and combined “the still fervent ardour of his youthful temperament … with his emergent maturity and wisdom” (Boris Asafiev). The impetuous flow of contrasting themes that the audience hears – energetic and impassioned, sparkling with energy and mischief, lush and tangibly clear – form a classically strict and proportionate composition of three sections that are ideally structured in terms of form. A supporter of “the new simplicity” in music, Prokofiev succeeded in expounding all of his musical discoveries and inventions, thanks to which his imagination was so rich and filled with such incredible elegance and laconic brevity: there are no prolixities, general spaces or predictable turns in the concerto, and each musical idea is as if marked by the symbol nota bene and makes us listen to the twists and turns of Prokofiev’s inexhaustible imagination with unfailing interest.
Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Symphony No 4 in F Minor
“I can say with confidence that this is my greatest work.”
Always extremely sincere in his music, Tchaikovsky composed his Fourth Symphony at one of the most critical periods of his life, after which he was left with “general recollections of passion, the terror of sensations I have felt.” Impressions of his disastrous marriage and hasty divorce came to form a feeling of general disappointment and lack of self-confidence in the composer’s mind. The acuteness of his personal sufferings made the composition of the symphony an incredibly difficult process which required almost a year of intense work (in comparison, Tchaikovsky wrote the opera The Queen of Spades in just forty-four days). As a result, a work emerged where the eternal problem of mankind – the uneven battle of the individual against external circumstances that are indifferent to his wishes and needs – was portrayed with hitherto unknown power. In the symphony’s introduction, during the threatening theme of Fate, Tchaikovsky presents the circumstances in such a way that it becomes clear that victory is impossible for friendless human volition, “there is no landing-stage … sail over this sea until grasps you and drags you to its depths.” The musical development of the first movement reflects the succession of natural psychological reactions at the recognition of the inevitability of Fate: anguish, confusion leading to despair and, lastly, the attempt to forget oneself, to leave one’s problems behind in a world of serene illusions. The increasing distance from conflict can be sensed in the development of the subsequent movements of the symphonic cycle which led Taneyev to make the association with “a symphonic poem to which three movements were joined by chance and thus created the symphony.” If traces of the composer’s subjective emotions can be felt in the second movement, then the genre images of the scherzo and the finale may in no sense be likened to attempts to struggle against Fate, as for Tchaikovsky the futility of such endeavours had been evident from the very start.