Scythian Suite

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The Scythian Suite, Op. 20 is an orchestral suite by Sergei Prokofiev written in 1915.

Background[edit]

Prokofiev originally wrote the music for the ballet "Ala i Lolli" ("Ala i Lolliy"), whose story takes place among the Scythians. Commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev, the ballet was written to a scenario by Russian poet Sergey Gorodetsky.[1][2] But when Diaghilev rejected the score even before its completion,[3] the composer reworked the music into a suite for concert performance.[4]

The suite was premiered on 16/29 January 1916 at the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, conducted by the composer.[5]

A scheduled Moscow performance of the suite that December was cancelled at the last minute due to the difficulty of finding musicians to play the piece;[6] it called for an enlarged orchestra and, as many performers had been mobilized due to World War I, enough players could not be found. Nevertheless, the Moscow music critic Leonid Sabaneyev gave the music a scathing review.[7] Prokofiev responded that the supposed performance must have been a product of Sabaneyev's imagination, as the only copy of the score was in the composer's hands and thus he had not even been able to see it.

Movements[edit]

The suite is in four movements, and lasts around 20 minutes.

  1. Invocation to Veles and Ala - barbaric and colorful music describing the Scythians' invocation of the sun
  2. The Evil God and the Dance of the Pagan Monsters (also known as "The Alien God and the Dance of the Evil Spirits"[2])—as the Scythians make a sacrifice to Ala, daughter of Veles, the Evil God performs a violent dance surrounded by seven monsters
  3. Night - the Evil God harms Ala; the Moon Maidens descend to console her
  4. The Glorious Departure of Lolli and the Cortège of the Sun - Lolli, the hero, comes to save Ala; the Sun God assists him in defeating the Evil God. They are victorious, and the suite ends with a musical picture of the sunrise.

Instrumentation[edit]

The music is scored for a very large orchestra consisting of piccolo, 3 flutes (3rd doubling alto flute), 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets (3rd doubling E-flat clarinet), bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 8 horns, 4 (optionally 5) trumpets (3rd doubling E-flat trumpet), 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, glockenspiel, xylophone, 2 cymbals, tamtam, triangle, bass drum, snare drum, tambourine, 2 harps, celesta, piano and strings.

Adaptations[edit]

The track "The Enemy God Dances with the Black Spirits" on Works Volume 1 by progressive rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer is an arrangement of the 2nd movement.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Sleeve note of the CD (RADIOSERVIS CR0360-2)[1]
  2. ^ Prokofiev, Sergei. "Autobiography" in Soviet Diary 1927 and Other Writings: p. 249-50.
  3. ^ Prokofiev "Autobiography": p. 251
  4. ^ Prokofiev "Autobiography": p. 252-53
  5. ^ Prokofiev Diaries 1915-1923: p. 74
  6. ^ Prokofiev Diaries 1915-1923: p. 172
  7. ^ Prokofiev "Autobiography": p. 256-57

References[edit]

  • David Ewen. Encyclopedia of Concert Music. New York: Hill and Wang, 1959.
  • Nicolas Slonimsky. Slonimsky's Book of Musical Anecdotes. New York: Schirmer Books, 1998.
  • Sergei Prokofiev. Soviet Diary 1927 and Other Writings. London: Faber, 1991.
  • Sergei Prokofiev. Diaries 1915-1923: Behind the Mask, trans. Anthony Phillips. London: Faber, 2008.