Symphony No. 2 (Prokofiev)

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Sergei Prokofiev wrote his Symphony No. 2 in D minor (Op. 40) in Paris in 1924-5, during what he called "nine months of frenzied toil". He characterized this symphony as a work of "iron and steel".

Structure[edit]

Prokofiev modeled the symphony's structure on Beethoven's last piano sonata (Op. 111): a tempestuous minor-key first movement followed by a set of variations. The first movement, in traditional sonata form, is rhythmically unrelenting, harmonically dissonant, and texturally thick. The second movement, twice as long as the first, comprises a set of variations on a plaintive, diatonic theme played on the oboe, which provides strong contrast to the defiant coda of the first movement. The subsequent variations contrast moments of beautiful meditation with cheeky playfulness, yet the tension of the first movement is never far away and contributes an ongoing sense of uneasiness. The last variation integrates the theme with the violence of the first movement, reaching an inevitable climax. The symphony ends with a touching restatement of the initial oboe theme, eventually dispelled by an eerie chord on the strings.[1]

Premiere and public reaction[edit]

The piece was premiered in Paris on June 6, 1925, conducted by its dedicatee Serge Koussevitzky, and was not well received. After the premiere, Prokofiev commented that neither he nor the audience understood the piece. In a letter to Nikolai Myaskovsky, Prokofiev wrote: I have made the music so complex to such an extent that when I listen to it myself I do not fathom its essence, so what can I ask of others?".

Prokofiev later said that this symphony led him to have doubts about his ability as a composer for the first time in his life.[2]

Prokofiev intended to reconstruct the piece in three movements, going so far as to assign the project the opus number 136,[3] but the composer died before he could undertake the revisions. The symphony, little-known and rarely performed, remains among the least-played of Prokofiev's works[citation needed].

Instrumentation[edit]

The work is scored for the following:

Woodwinds

Brass

Percussion

Keyboard

Strings

Movements[edit]

The symphony is in 2 movements, lasting 35–40 minutes:

  • Allegro ben articolato (12 minutes)
  • Theme and Variations (25 minutes)
    • Theme: Andante
    • Variation 1: L'istesso tempo
    • Variation 2: Allegro non troppo
    • Variation 3: Allegro
    • Variation 4: Larghetto
    • Variation 5: Allegro con brio
    • Variation 6: Allegro moderato
    • Theme

Recordings[edit]

Orchestra Conductor Record Company Year of Recording Format
Boston Symphony Orchestra Erich Leinsdorf Sony Classical Records 1968 CD
London Philharmonic Orchestra Walter Weller Decca 1978 CD
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra Zdeněk Košler Supraphon 1980 CD
Scottish National Orchestra Neeme Järvi Chandos Records 1986 CD
Orchestre National de France Mstislav Rostropovich Erato 1988 CD
Berlin Philharmonic Seiji Ozawa Deutsche Grammophon 1990 CD
Scottish National Orchestra Neeme Järvi Chandos 1992 CD
London Symphony Orchestra Valery Gergiev Philips 2004 CD
State Symphony Capella of Russia Valeri Polyansky Chandos Records ? CD
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine Theodore Kuchar Naxos 2004 CD
National Orchestra of the O.R.T.F. Jean Martinon Vox Records CD
USSR Ministry of Culture State Symphony Orchestra Gennadi Rozhdestvensky CD/LP

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Redepenning, Dorothea; L. Macy (editor) (2007). "Prokofiev, Sergey (Sergeyevich)". Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians / Grove Music Online. Retrieved 2007-06-21. 
  2. ^ Prokofiev, Sergei. "quoted in: Prokofiev Biography: America and Europe". www.prokofiev.org. Retrieved 2007-06-21. "Neither I nor the audience understood anything in it. It was too thickly woven. There were too many layers of counterpoint which degenerated into mere figuration... This was perhaps the first time it appeared to me that I might be destined to be a second-rate composer." 
  3. ^ "List of projected compositions." Sergey Prokofiev / Daniel Jaffé. London; New York: Phaidon Press, 2008. pp. 211-212.