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8.550968-69 - PROKOFIEV: Cinderella Suites / Scythian Suite
Sergey Prokofiev (1891 - 1953)
Cinderella Suite No.1, Op. 107
Sergey Prokoliev was born in 1891 at Sontsovka in the Ukraine, the son of a prosperous estate manager. An only child, his musical talents were fostered by his mother, a cultured amateur pianist, and he tried his hand at composition at the age of live, later being tutored at home by the composer Gilère. In 1904, on the advice of Glazunov, his parents allowed him to enter the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he continued his studies as a pianist and as a composer until 1914, owing more to the influence of senior fellow-students Asalyev and Myaskoysky than to the older generation of teachers, represented by Lyadov and Rimsky-Korsakov.
Even as a student Prokofiev had begun to make his name as a composer, arousing enthusiasm and hostility in equal measure, and inducing Glazunov, now director of the Conservatory, to walk out of performance of The Scythian Suite fearing for his sense of hearing. During the war he gained exemption from military service by enrolling as an organ student and after the Revolution was given permission to travel abroad, at first to America, taking with him the scores of The Scythian Suite, arranged from a ballet originally commissioned by Dyagilev, the Classical Symphony and his first Violin Concerto.
Unlike Stravinsky and Rakhamaninov, Prokofiev had left Russia with official permission and with the idea of returning home sooner or later. His stay in the United States of America was at first successful. He appeared as a solo pianist and wrote the opera The Love for Three Oranges for the Chicago Opera. By 1920, however, he had begun to find life more difficult and moved to Paris, where he re-established contact with Dyagilev, for whom he revised The Tale of the Buffoon, a ballet successfully mounted in 1921. He spent much of the next sixteen years in France, returning from time to time to Russia, where his music was still acceptable.
In 1936 Prokofiev decided to settle once more in his native country, taking up residence in Moscow in time for the first official onslaught on music that did not sort well with the political and social policies of the government, aimed in particular at the hitherto successful opera A Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Shostakovich. Twelve years later the name of Prokofiev was to be openly joined with that of Shostakovich in an even more explicit condemnation of formalism, with particular reference now to Prokofiev's opera War and Peace. He died in 1953 on the same day as Joseph Stalin, and thus never benefited from the subsequent relaxation in official policy to the arts.
As a composer Prokofiev was prolific. His operas include the remarkable The Fiery Angel, first performed in its entirety in Paris the year after his death, with ballet-scores in Russia for Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella. The last of his seven symphonies was completed in 1952, the year of his unfinished sixth piano concerto. His piano sonatas form an important addition to the repertoire, in addition to his songs and chamber music, film- scores and much else, some works overtly serving the purposes of the state. In style his music is often astringent in harmony, but with a characteristically Russian turn of melody and, whatever Shostakovich may have thought of it, a certain idiosyncratic gift for orchestration that gives his instrumental music a particular piquancy.
The commission or Cinderella came from the Kirov Ballet in 1940, soon after their production of Romeo and Juliet. In the early part of 1941 Prokofiev was absorbed in the composition of the new ballet, which he explained should be as danceable as possible, conceived in the traditions of the classical ballet, with pas de deux, variations and waltzes. The German invasion of the Soviet Union in June diverted his attention to the composition of an opera based on Tolstoy's War and peace, and Cinderella was not finished until 1944. It was first staged at the Bolshoy Theatre in Moscow on 21st November 1945. Severar months later Prokofiev arranged three orchestral suites from the ballet, basing them largely on the pieces transcribed for solo piano, Opus 95 and Opus 97. He explained that the suites were not simply mechanical excerpts from the original score but had been reworked and recast in symphonic form. Although the basic ideas remain the same, there are changes in orchestration and subtle variations in tempi, with fragmentary ideas from the score condensed into short movements of melodic and virtuosic ingenuity.
Suite No.1 opens with an introduction that presents two of the themes directly associated with Cinderella, the first sad in character and the second suggesting her dreams of happiness. In the Pas de châle and Quarrel the Ugly Sisters are embroidering a shawl for the ball at the Prince's palace. The dance turns into a squabble, as they quarrel as to who should wear it. The Winter Fairy, who completes Cinderella's transformation, is heard before the Fairy Godmother, whose magic changes Cinderella into a beautiful princess. The Mazurka precedes the entry of the Prince at the grand ball in the palace, while Cinderella goes to the ball finds her about to leave for the palace, warned by her Fairy Godmother of the one condition she must remember. Cinderella's Waltz leads to Midnight, as the clock strikes twelve and Cinderella rushes away, realising that the spell is now broken.
Suite No.2 opens with Cinderella's Dreams, as Cinderella dreams of the ball that her sisters have gone to and to which she has not been invited. In Dancing Lesson and Gavotte the Ugly Sisters demonstrate their lack of elegance, as a dancing-master, with two violinists, attempts ineffectually to impose some sense of refinement on them. The Fairy Godmother conjures up the Spring Fairy and Summer Fairy to help transform Cinderella, while at the ball the Bourrée is heard, before the arrival of the Prince. Cinderella at the Palace silences the festivities in the ball-room, as sounds from the distance announce her arrival. The prince is so awestruck by her beauty that he leaves his throne and proposes their first dance, the Grand Watlz. The Galop, after Cinderella's hurried departure, depicts the travels of the Prince, as he searches high and low for the Princess that he must find again.
Suite No.3 starts with a Pavane or Dance of the Courtiers, the first of a series of short dances, while the guests await the arrival of the prince. In Cinderella and the Prince the couple dance a pas de deux, the romantic climax of the ballet. Three Oranges allows Prokofiev a reference to his earlier opera, as the Prince offers Cinderella the rarest delicacies his kingdom can provide. In search of his Princess the Prince heads south in Dance of Temptation, meeting Spanish and Middle Eastern beauties, while Oriental Dance takes him to the Far East, where the slipper will not even fit the fine fool of an oriental princess. The Prince finds Cinderella brings the pair together again, and a Slow Waltz and Amoroso allow them to confide in each other their feelings of love in a final apotheosis.
Prokofiev met the Russian ballet impresario Dyagilev in July 1914 and a collaboration was immediately proposed. At first there were discussions about producing a ballet based on his Second Piano Concerto, but this idea was soon abandoned in favour of a ballet score based on ancient Slavic mythology, with choreography by Nijinsky and a scenario by the poet Sergey Gorodelsky. The setting of Ala and Lolly was in the ancient Scythian Empire, on the steppes of what is now the Ukraine, around 400 B.C. The strong resemblance of the music to Stravinsky caused Dyagilev to regard the work as unsatisfactory and suggest another subject, the result of which was Chout or The Buffoon, based on Russian folk-tales. Prokofiev, however, was confident enough to derive from the ballet-score an orchestral suite, greeted with incomprehension and hostility by the Petrograd audience al its first performance on 29th January 1916. The reaction of Glazunov on this occasion has already been recorded. At a second performance on 11th November 1916 in a programme that included the Second Piano Concerto of Rachmaninov with the composer as soloist, the Scythian Suite had a different and more favourable reception. An orchestral tour de force the suite is scored for quadruple woodwind, eight horns, five trumpets, four trombones and tuba, nine percussionists as well as timpani, two harps, piano and strings.
In the summer of 1930 the Theatre National de l'Opera attempted to capitalize on the success of the preceding works and commissioned a ballet, originally titled On the Dnieper, Op. 50, but because of the difficulty the French had with the pronunciation of the word "Dnieper" the ballet was referred to as Sur le Borysthene, based on the ancient Greek name of the river. The development of the ballet, from its earliest stages, was handled in a most haphazard way. The setting and choreography was to be created by Serge Lifar, formerly one of the people most closely associated with Diagilev. Neither Lifar nor the directors of the Opera attached any significance to the work's dramatic content. In a letter the composer says "We proceeded from the choreographic and musical structure, considering that a ballet's scenario is of only secondary importance, choosing general titles not relating to any specific plot or setting --- a pas de deux in one place, a fast variation in another and so on. Despite the picturesque Ukrainian setting and flavour which eventually found its way into the ballet, it appears as though the lack of a concrete plot and characterization has its effect on the dramatic content of the music. The first performance of the ballet took place on 16th December 1932 and was awaited with much anticipation by the critics, as many hoped that the composer and choreographer would be able to reproduce the style and following success of the legendary Ballets Russes. The critical response immediately following the production represented unanimous disappointment, and although the music was warmly praised by Parisian composers, including Stravinsky and Milhaud, the production was withdrawn after only a few performances. The ballet later 'took its revenge', in the words of the critic René Dumesnil, as an orchestral suite, a selection of the most symphonic portion from the ballet which was created in 1933 and first performed in Paris in 1934. On the Dnieper represented a turning-point in the work of Prokofiev, who up to this time had been most at home as a composer for the theatre, yet would never again write ballet music for performance outside the Soviet Union.
Ukrainian State Symphony Orchestra
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