The Fifth Piano Sonata is the only such work in the genre by Prokofiev that was written during the years of his emigration in Paris. In the sonata there are almost no sharp contrasts between the movements and the experimental language is combined with a neoclassical transparent structure and laconic exposition. This is particularly notable in the first movement with its introverted type of expression and the precise articulation using short constructions. The second movement is an intermezzo with a three-part metric structure. The finale continues the neoclassical line from the first movement; it is based on the traditional pattern of the rondo sonata, while the accompaniment of the first theme refers to the technique of “basso albertino”, so beloved by classicists. At the same time, it is also the most modernistic part of the sonata. Its dissonant harmonies are one of the characteristic elements of Prokofiev’s language in the 1920s, and in the coda there appear unexpected allusions to Stravinsky’s Pétrouchka.
The Sixth Sonata opens Prokofiev’s triad of “military” sonatas. The unique “motto” of the first movement and the entire sonata in general is the tense initial motif of the main theme. In the secondary theme for a while there is a sense of things becoming brighter, though this is later immersed in an atmosphere of conflict. The development is intense in sharp dissonant chords, several of which the composer indicated should be performed by banging the keyboard with the fists.
The outer sections of the second movement are imbued with a gracious dance quality, while the music of the middle passage conveys a sense of concealed tension. The third movement is a slow waltz reminiscent of lyrical themes from Prokofiev’s ballets. The exposition of the finale is permeated with an impetuous toccata movement. In the slow middle section the “motto” motif of the first movement returns in which interrogative intonations emerge. In the reprise and the coda the initial movement returns and the motif again acquires an aggressive character, confirmed by the insistent repetitions.
The Seventh Sonata is the second in a triad of “military” sonatas by Sergei Prokofiev composed in the early 1940s. The moods of this sonata reflect impressions of the first months of war. The perturbed nature of the main theme of the first movement is underscored by the fast but uneven tempo and sharp chord beats. This mood is retained in the secondary theme, although here it is restrained in a more peaceful spirit and measured tempo. In the development there comes an intense growth of tension – the main theme sounds even more dissonant and sharp while the secondary theme is transformed and takes on incredibly menacing qualities. The brief coda seems to burst forth at the merest suggestion. The measured main theme of the second sounds in contrast to that of the first. The lyric mood dissolves in the anxious central movement, the culmination of which comes with an episode with bell-ringing before moving into the reprise. The finale of the sonata is in asymmetrical 7/8 time. The impetuous “perpetuum mobile” together with the sharp, dissonant harmonies reminds us of Prokofiev’s early “barbaric” attempts at piano music.