Alexander Nevsky (Prokofiev)

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Nikolay Cherkasov as Aleksandr Nevsky

Alexander Nevsky (Russian: Александр Невский) is the score for the 1938 Sergei Eisenstein film Alexander Nevsky, composed by Sergei Prokofiev. He later rearranged the music in the form of a cantata for mezzo-soprano, chorus, and orchestra, with text by the poet Vladimir Lugovskoy and Prokofiev. It has remained one of the most renowned cantatas of the 20th century.

Alexander Nevsky (film music)[edit]

The score was Prokofiev's third for a film, following Lieutenant Kijé (1934) and Pique Dame (1936). It was composed of 23 sections, and Prokofiev was heavily involved not just with the composition, but with the recording as well. He experimented with different microphone distances in order to achieve the desired sound. Horns meant to represent the Teutonic Knights, for instance, were played close enough to the microphones to produce a crackling, distorted sound. The brass and choral groups were recorded in different studios and the separate pieces were later mixed.[1]

Prokofiev employed different sections of the orchestra, as well as different compositional styles, to evoke the necessary imagery. For instance, the Teutonic Knights (seen as the adversary) are represented by heavy brass instruments, playing discordant notes in a martial style. The sympathetic Russian forces are represented predominantly by folk-like instruments such as woodwind and strings,[2] often playing quasi-folksong style music.

In 1993, the first commercial recording of the original film score was made for a new edition of the film, in which Prokofiev's score was entirely re-recorded by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Yuri Temirkanov. While the new version of the film was released in 1995, the score was recorded on March 16 and 17, 1993 in Philharmonic Hall, St. Petersburg and released on the RCA Victor Red Seal label. The first recording of the complete score, reconstructed from the original manuscripts, was recorded by in 2003 Frank Strobel conducting the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and released on Capriccio Records.


  1. The 13th Century
  2. Lake Plescheyevo – Song about Alexander Nevsky
  3. Novgorod – Part 1
  4. The Invaders in Pskov
  5. Arise, Russian people! Part 1
  6. Novgorod – Part 2
  7. Arise, Russian people! Part 2
  8. The camp of the invaders "Peregrinus expectavi"
  9. Waiting
  10. Fanfares
  11. The battle on the ice – April 5, 1242
  12. -Fighting
  13. -Shawms, invaders, and fighting
  14. -Fanfares
  15. -Duel
  16. -Finale
  17. The Field of the Dead
  18. Return to Pskov – Procession
  19. -The court
  20. -The fallen
  21. -"Our Homeland, great land of Russia!"
  22. -Celebration
  23. Final Chorus

Movements (alternative)[edit]

Other recordings (e.g., the 2004 remastering of the recording by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Yuri Temirkanov) have the following movements:

  1. Prelude
  2. The 13th Century
  3. Plescheyevo Lake (Song about Alexander Nevsky)
  4. Pskov in Flames
  5. Death to the Blasphemer! (Peregrinus expectavi)
  6. Arise, People of Russia
  7. The Teutonic Camp (Peregrinus expectavi)
  8. Nevsky's Camp: Night before the Battle
  9. The Battle on the Ice: April 5, 1242 (Peregrinus expectavi)
  10. The Battle on the Ice: Fight for Russia!
  11. The Battle on the Ice: Spears and Arrows (Peregrinus expectavi)
  12. The Battle on the Ice: The Duel with the Grand Master
  13. The Battle on the Ice: The Battle is Won
  14. The Battle on the Ice: The Ice Breaks
  15. The Field of the Dead
  16. Pskov: Procession of the Fallen and Judgement of the Prisoners
  17. And now let's celebrate!
  18. Final Chorus

Alexander Nevsky (cantata)[edit]

The cantata for Alexander Nevsky (Op. 78) debuted in Moscow on May 17, 1939. It was performed under the direction of Prokofiev, and like the film score was well received by the public.[citation needed] It is performed in seven movements, lasting approximately 40 minutes. It is sung in Russian, but Prokofiev utilized Latin for the third and fifth movements.


Video of a performance of "Song About Alexander Nevsky", second movement of Alexander Nevsky cantata. Performers: St Matthew's Concert Choir. length: 2 min 54 sec
  1. "Russia under the Mongolian Yoke" (Русь под игом монгольским) – The opening movement begins slowly, and in C minor. It is meant to evoke an image of destruction, as brought to Russia by the invading Mongols.
  2. "Song about Alexander Nevsky" (Песня об Александре Невском) – This movement (B flat) represents Prince Alexander Yaroslavich's victory over the Swedish army at the Battle of the Neva in 1240. Alexander received the name 'Nevsky' (a form of Neva) in tribute.
  3. "The Crusaders in Pskov" (Крестоносцы во Пскове) – For this movement (C-sharp minor), Prokofiev's initial intention was to use genuine 13th century church music; however, the examples he found in the Moscow Conservatoire sounded so cold, dull and alien to the 20th century ear that he abandoned the idea and instead composed an original theme "better suited to our modern conception" to evoke the brutality of the Teutonic Knights.[3]
  4. "Arise, ye Russian People" (Вставайте, люди русские) – This movement (E flat) represents a call to arms for the people of Russia. It is composed with folk overtones.
  5. "The Battle on the Ice" (Ледовое побоище) – The fifth (and longest) movement is arguably the climax of the cantata. It represents the final clash between Nevsky's forces and the Teutonic Knights on the frozen surface of Lake Peipus in 1242. The serene beginning (representing dawn on the day of battle) is contrasted by the jarring middle section, which is cacophonous in style.
  6. "The Field of the Dead" (Мертвое поле) – Composed in C minor, the sixth movement is the lament of a girl seeking her lost lover, as well as kissing the eyelids of all the dead. The vocal solo is performed by a mezzo-soprano.
  7. "Alexander's Entry into Pskov" (Въезд Александра во Псков) – The seventh and final movement (B flat) echoes the second movement in parts, and recalls Alexander's triumphant return to Pskov.


The work is scored for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 soprano clarinets, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, tambourine, maracas, wood blocks, triangle, tubular bells, tamtam, glockenspiel, xylophone, harp, strings, and chorus.


The Latin words chanted by the Teutonic knights—"Peregrinus expectavi, pedes meos in cymbalis (A pilgrim – I waited – my feet – upon the cymbals)"—seem at first sight to be meaningless. Prokofiev himself referred to the knights as "sing[ing] Catholic psalms, as they march into battle".[3] The words are indeed from the Psalms, specifically from the Vulgate texts chosen by Igor Stravinsky for his 1930 Symphony of Psalms. An explanation for this choice may be found in the lifelong rivalry between the two Russian composers, specifically in the younger man (Prokofiev's) dismissal of Stravinsky's idiom as backward-looking "pseudo-Bachism",[4] and his disdain for Stravinsky's choice to remain in western Europe, in contrast to Prokofiev's own return to Stalinist Russia in 1935. As has been observed by Dr Morag G. Kerr, then a soprano with the BBC Symphony Chorus, he may have felt a temptation to put the words of his long-time rival into the mouths of the one-dimensional Teutonic villains of Eisenstein's film.[5]

The suggestion is implicitly accepted by the BBC: "Even their words are gibberish, with Prokofiev rather mischievously creating them by chopping up Latin texts from Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and then randomly stringing them together".[6]

The Latin Peregrinus phrase Prokofiev concocted ends with 'est' which is not found in Symphony of Psalms, but possibly is a pun on the first letters of Stravinsky's surname in Latin (Prokofiev enjoyed such games). Dr Kerr's observation is acknowledged as the first in print, and is accepted and developed.[7]


The world premiere of the cantata took place on May 17, 1939, in Moscow. Sergei Prokofiev led the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, with Valentina Gagrina, mezzo-soprano.

The American premiere took place on March 7, 1943 and was a broadcast performance of the NBC Symphony Orchestra and Westminster College Choir led by Leopold Stokowski, with Jennie Tourel as the soloist.[8]


Year Conductor Orchestra and choir Soloist Version
1949 Eugene Ormandy Philadelphia Orchestra,
Westminster Choir
Jennie Tourel (mezzo-soprano) Cantata (English)
1959 Fritz Reiner Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Rosalind Elias (mezzo-soprano) Cantata (English)
1962 Thomas Schippers New York Philharmonic Orchestra,
Westminster Choir
Lili Chookasian (contralto) Cantata
1966 Yevgeny Svetlanov USSR Symphony Orchestra,
RSFSR Chorus
Larisa Avdeyeva (mezzo-soprano) Cantata
1971 André Previn London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Anna Reynolds (mezzo-soprano) Cantata
1979 Leonard Slatkin St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Claudine Carlson (mezzo-soprano) Cantata
1980 Claudio Abbado London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Elena Obraztsova (mezzo-soprano) Cantata
1984 Riccardo Chailly Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus Irina Arkhipova (mezzo-soprano) Cantata
1987 André Previn Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra,
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Christine Cairns (mezzo-soprano) Cantata
1988 Neeme Järvi Scottish National Orchestra and Chorus Linda Finnie (mezzo-soprano) Cantata
1991 Dmitri Kitayenko Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Lyudmila Shemchuk (mezzo-soprano) Cantata
1992 Charles Dutoit Choeur et orchestre symphonique de Montréal Jard van Nes (mezzo-soprano) Cantata
1992 Kurt Masur Gewandhausorchester Leipzig,
Latvija Choir
Carolyn Watkinson (mezzo-soprano) Cantata
1993 Eduardo Mata Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Mariana Paunova (mezzo-soprano) Cantata
1994 Semyon Bychkov Choeur et orchestre de Paris Marjana Lipovšek (mezzo-soprano) Cantata
1995 Yuri Temirkanov St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra,
Chorus of the St. Petersburg Teleradio Company,
Chamber Chorus of St. Petersburg,
St. Petersburg Chorus Capella "LIK"
Yevgeniya Gorokhovskaya (mezzo-soprano) Film score
2002 Valery Gergiev Kirov Orchestra and Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre Olga Borodina (mezzo-soprano) Cantata
2002 Dmitry Yablonsky Russian State Symphony Orchestra,
Stanislavskiy Chorus
Irina Gelakhova (mezzo-soprano) Cantata
2003 Frank Strobel Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin,
Ernst Senff Chor
Marina Domashenko (mezzo-soprano) Film score


  1. ^ The score of Alexander Nevsky is published by Schirmer, ISBN 0-634-03481-2
  2. ^ Herbert Glass. "About the piece: Cantata, Alexander Nevsky, Op. 78". LA Phil. Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Sergei Prokofiev, "Can There Be an End to Melody?", Pioneer magazine (1939), translation in Sergei Prokofiev, Autobiography, Articles, Reminiscences, compiled by S. Shlifstein, translated by Rose Prokofieva (Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific, 2000, ISBN 0-89875-149-7), 115–17 ).
  4. ^ Sergei Prokofiev, Autobiography, Articles, Reminiscences, compiled by S. Shlifstein, translated by Rose Prokofieva (Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific, 2000, ISBN 0-89875-149-7), [1] 61)
  5. ^ Morag G. Kerr, "Prokofiev and His Cymbals", Musical Times 135 (1994), 608–609
  6. ^ Daniel Jaffe, BBC Prom concert programme, 29 July 2006, page 17
  7. ^ Simon Morrison, The people's artist: Prokofiev's Soviet years, OUP, 2009, 228–9, 448
  8. ^ Olin Downes, "Stokowski Offers Prokofieff Work," New York Times (March 8, 1943), p. 10.

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