Symphony No. 3 (Prokofiev)
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Sergei Prokofiev wrote his Symphony No. 3 in C minor (Op. 44) in 1928.
The music derives from Prokofiev's opera The Fiery Angel. This opera had been accepted for performance in the 1927-28 season at the Berlin State Opera by Bruno Walter, but this production never materialised; in fact, the opera was never staged in Prokofiev's lifetime. Prokofiev, who had been working on the opera for years, was reluctant to let the music languish unperformed, and after hearing a concert performance of its second act given by Serge Koussevitzky in June 1928, he adapted parts of the opera to make his third symphony (shortly afterwards, he drew on his ballet The Prodigal Son for his Symphony No. 4 in similar fashion).
The symphony occupies a middle ground among Prokofiev's seven symphonies in terms of popularity, not as well known as the Symphony No. 1 (Classical), but not so neglected as the Symphony No. 2 or the first version of the Symphony No. 4. Champions of the symphony include Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Riccardo Chailly, and Michael Tilson Thomas, who substantially raised the symphony's popularity in the recent decade.
Prokofiev dedicated the symphony to Nikolai Myaskovsky.
The symphony is in four movements, lasting around 30–35 minutes.
The first movement, in traditional sonata form, opens with clashing chords played by the whole orchestra, along with tolling bells, setting a mood of threat and unrest. An impassioned first theme enters on strings, while a melancholy second theme on bassoons and lower strings provides contrast. The climactic development section follows, finding space for a third theme, which eventually combines with the first two themes. After a grave climax with gigantic orchestral chords and a last "struggle" in marching rhythms, the ethereal recapitulation ensues, in which the first and second themes are integrated, although much reduced and played softer, as if only the shadow of what was before remains.
The second movement, a meditative andante with a tripartite structure, displays Prokofiev's talent in creating fragile, gossamer textures. The central section is more brooding in nature, with the theme consisting of semitones.
The third movement serves as a scherzo and trio. The scherzo is best remembered for its hysterical, spine-chilling[to whom?] string textures (the strings are divided into 13 parts), while the trio offers a calmer repose from the preceding nervousness. The return of the scherzo is now complemented by threatening thuds from the bass drum and brass.
The grim finale starts off slowly, only to gradually pick up pace. A central calmer section recalls material from the first and third movements, but the initial grimness resumes, eventually rounding up this supernatural-themed symphony with heavy blows from the brass.
The work is scored for the followings: