Symphony No. 5 (Prokofiev)

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Sergei Prokofiev wrote his Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major (Op. 100) in Soviet Russia in one month in the summer of 1944.

Background[edit]

Fourteen years had passed since Prokofiev's last symphony.

World War II was still raging during the symphony's gestation, and Prokofiev composed it in a safe haven run by the Soviet Union. He gave out in a statement at the time that he intended it as "a hymn to free and happy Man, to his mighty powers, his pure and noble spirit."[1] He added "I cannot say that I deliberately chose this theme. It was born in me and clamoured for expression. The music matured within me. It filled my soul."

Movements[edit]

The piece is in four movements, lasting 40–45 minutes:

  1. Andante (in B-flat major)
  2. Allegro marcato (in D minor)
  3. Adagio (in F major)
  4. Allegro giocoso (in B-flat major)

The first movement embodies what Prokofiev envisioned as the glory of the human spirit. In a tightly argued sonata form, there is an elaborate and climactic development of the two themes - one calm and sustained, the other soaring with tremolo accompaniment from strings - after the exposition section. It represents the pinnacle in Prokofiev's symphonic thought. The movement is wrapped up with an electrifying coda, punctuated by a roaring tam-tam and low piano tremolos.

The second movement is an insistent scherzo in Prokofiev's typical toccata mode, framing a central country dance in triple time.

The third movement is a dreamy slow movement, full of nostalgia, which nevertheless builds up to a tortured climax, before receding back to dreaminess.

The finale starts with a cello choir playing a slow introduction containing elements from the first theme of the first movement, which then launches into the movement proper, a rondo. The playful ("giocoso") main theme is contrasted with two calmer episodes, one played by the flute, the other a chorale on strings. At the end, just as the movement is striving to end in a victorious tone, the music unexpectedly degenerates into a manic frenzy (rehearsal mark 111), which is then interrupted by a string quartet playing staccato "wrong notes" (rehearsal mark 113) with rude interjections from low trumpets, making the ultimate B-flat major chord sound all the more ironic.

Instrumentation[edit]

The work is scored for the following:

Woodwind

Brass

Percussion

Keyboard

Strings

Premiere[edit]

The symphony was premiered on January 13, 1945 in the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory by the USSR State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Prokofiev himself. The premiere was very well received, and the symphony has remained one of the composer's most popular works. Then, in November of that year, Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra introduced the score to America and recorded it in Boston's Symphony Hall on February 6 and 7, 1946, for RCA Victor, using an optical sound film process introduced by RCA in 1941; it was initially issued on 78-rpm discs and later on LP and CD.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Schwarz, Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia, p.196, cited in Preston Stedman, The Symphony, p.290

Notable recordings[edit]

Orchestra Conductor Record Company Year of Recording Format
Boston Symphony Orchestra Sergei Koussevitzky RCA, Dutton 1946 CD
Philadelphia Orchestra Eugene Ormandy Sony 1957 CD
Philharmonia Orchestra Thomas Schippers Angel 1957 LP
Cleveland Orchestra George Szell Sony 1959 CD/LP
Boston Symphony Orchestra Erich Leinsdorf RCA 1963 CD
New York Philharmonic Leonard Bernstein Sony 1966 CD
Berlin Philharmonic Herbert von Karajan Deutsche Grammophon 1968 CD
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra Evgeny Mravinsky Russian Disc, Leningrad Masters 1968 CD
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra Gennadi Rozhdestvensky BBC 1971 CD
Philadelphia Orchestra Eugene Ormandy RCA 1975 CD (Japan only)
London Symphony Orchestra Walter Weller Decca 1976 CD
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra Zdeněk Košler Supraphon 1979 CD
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Vladimir Ashkenazy Decca 1985 CD
Scottish National Orchestra Neeme Järvi Chandos 1985 CD
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra Mariss Jansons Chandos 1987 CD
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra Dmitri Kitajenko RCA 1987 CD
Orchestre National de France Mstislav Rostropovich Erato 1988 CD
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra Stephen Gunzenhauser Naxos 1989 CD
Berlin Philharmonic Seiji Ozawa Deutsche Grammophon 1990 CD
Philadelphia Orchestra Riccardo Muti Philips 1990 CD
St. Petersburg Philharmonic Yuri Temirkanov RCA 1991 CD
Chicago Symphony Orchestra James Levine Deutsche Grammophon 1992 CD
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Simon Rattle EMI 1992 CD
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine Theodore Kuchar Naxos 1995 CD
London Symphony Orchestra Valery Gergiev Philips 2004 CD
Concerts Colonne Orchestra Jascha Horenstein Vox CD/LP
National Orchestra of the O.R.T.F. Jean Martinon Vox CD
USSR Ministry of Culture State Symphony Orchestra Gennadi Rozhdestvensky ? CD/LP