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Thread: Prokofiev ballets

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    Senior Member TudorMihai's Avatar
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    Default Prokofiev ballets

    I've listened to many Prokofiev works and a few of his operas. But I haven't listened to his ballets yet, except for a few excerpts from Cinderella. What ballets do you recommend from him?
    "The point is not to take the world's opinion as a guiding star but to go one's way in life and working unerringly, neither depressed by failure nor seduced by applause." - Gustav Mahler

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    Cinderella is "very pretty," and the reason for its particular take, i.e. baroque and classical dance-forms, all highly tonal, is a direct reaction to having been called up on the carpet by Stalin's bureaucratic music police goons for "modernism," i.e. not writing music of the people. Prokofiev, certainly one of the most gifted of protean melodists, came up with this very fine and pretty score, as "atonement" (whether sincere or not is more than in doubt) and more to the point to save his butt, I imagine.

    Romeo and Juliet is an integral score throughout, I personally think much more directly linked to both storyline and underscoring the "emotion" of same, and I believe it is his most frequently performed ballet.

    There is a suite from his primitivist project, done after the fact of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, the result of that was the ballet Ala i Lolli, set in pre-christian Russia. Commissioned by Diaghilev, who oddly, rejected the work before it was completed, Prokofiev salvaged what had been done to date:
    that is the Scythian Suite (terrific music.)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjVGLrudHRs

    I'm partial too, to his ballet, Chout. (the buffoon) It is in that more absurdist / satiric side of Prokofiev's varied styles, and another great score. I have no recall as to the specifics of the story of that ballet :-)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaHXglrgVSE
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w47XM8tqXTo
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zs6qSVKM5ZY
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSKk0BODVt8

    Enjoy.
    Last edited by PetrB; Aug-11-2013 at 13:38.

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    Senior Member elgars ghost's Avatar
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    Although I've not heard the music in full I'd suggest listening to the suite from Le pas d'acier (The Step of Steel - 1926). In this case, 'Step' means transition rather than anything terpsichorean. Written for the Ballets Russes in Paris, it was originally supposed to be a reflection of life in the fledgling USSR and the stage setting was suitably contemporary reflecting the in-vogue 'industrial' art culture (this was also about the time of Prokofiev's 'Iron & Steel' 2nd symphony and Mosolov's 'Iron Foundry').

    Although the ballet was well-received, the more Soviet elements of the plot were gradually watered down over the course of its initial three-year run in favour of including more pre-revolution folk elements, possibly to make it more palatable for Paris's Russian 'White'/monarchist emigre community. The music is representative of Prokofiev at that time - spiky and playful in places with modernist elements creeping in here and there.

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    Moderator Huilunsoittaja's Avatar
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    Cinderella in its entirety is probably my favorite ballet by him. Both Romeo & Juliet and Cinderella are products of some spiritual transformation he went through (his conversion to Christian Science), besides Soviet standard-keeping. Cinderella touches my heart the most profoundly.

    Prokofiev's Enfante Terrible ballets (the ones Petr mentioned) are of quite a different sort, but extremely colorful, exciting too.
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    Senior Member Cosmos's Avatar
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    As others have said, Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella are his best. The first is very colorful and has a few reoccurring motifs that make the work cohesive. The latter is somewhat darker, and at time a little whimsical.

    Also, follow PetrB's suggestion and listen to the Scythian Suite. It's grotesque and brilliant fun

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    Senior Member sharik's Avatar
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    Prokofiev - The Stone Flower











    etc.

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Huilunsoittaja View Post
    Both Romeo & Juliet and Cinderella are products of some spiritual transformation he went through (his conversion to Christian Science)
    Funny, I don't hear any trace of a stylistic difference, no new personal traits, expressions as compared to any of his other music, and not a trace of anything smacking of "Christianity" or any other genre of faith coming from those scores.

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    Moderator Huilunsoittaja's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PetrB View Post
    Funny, I don't hear any trace of a stylistic difference, no new personal traits, expressions as compared to any of his other music, and not a trace of anything smacking of "Christianity" or any other genre of faith coming from those scores.
    Well, if only PetrB wasn't banned for the present. Anyhow, I would respond by saying there is. After 1924, Prokofiev didn't believe in death, evil, or the devil, and so planned to have Romeo & Juliet end with Juliet waking up just in time, and all ending happily ever after (he had to rescind his plan because of how many opposed him). Later in life, Prokofiev wasn't nearly as dissonant as he was in the past, and that's not only because of Soviet socialism ideals. He had his own ideals of perfection and light, and produced something of a "all will end well" in him, especially in those late ballets. He moved to the Soviet Union because he use to think they were a government "moving towards the Light" but he soon saw through it. If you hear the 7th symphony too, it's the same mellow sound as the ballets. The dissonance of his late period is more humorous in a good-natured way than sarcastic. People can say all they want about how manipulated by the government he was, but much of what he did was sincere. Sincere enough that he let himself get banned sometimes, but other times genuinely not banned, if you know what I mean.
    Last edited by Huilunsoittaja; Aug-13-2013 at 01:35.
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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Huilunsoittaja View Post
    [...]
    People can say all they want about how manipulated by the government he was, but much of what he did was sincere. Sincere enough that he let himself get banned sometimes, but other times genuinely not banned, if you know what I mean.
    [I have no opinion re the ballets.] Huilun, your posts lead me to believe that you are not adept at extracting nuances.

    I spent a fortune on deodorant before I realized that people don't like me anyway.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hilltroll72 View Post
    [I have no opinion re the ballets.] Huilun, your posts lead me to believe that you are not adept at extracting nuances.

    Well, you better be joking. I've studied his music for several years now, and my knowledge of him is only going to grow. I'm more intuitive than you think... I wouldn't say such comments back to you either...
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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Huilunsoittaja View Post
    Well, you better be joking. I've studied his music for several years now, and my knowledge of him is only going to grow. I'm more intuitive than you think... I wouldn't say such comments back to you either...
    No, no, you misunderstand (probably). If you have been studying his music 'in situ', including his interactions with the commissars and Big Bad Joe, you should have detected nuances that are, ah, other than happy acceptance of official pronouncements. The 'standard example' (the one often offered) is the Symphonie Concertante. The nuances also can be detected (you think imagined?) in his symphonies, notably in the 5-6-7 progression considered together.

    BTW intuition is not the process I am referring to; men don't possess that, y'know.

    [I hope this isn't evolving into an argument with a moderator - I avoid those assiduously]

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    Moderator Huilunsoittaja's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hilltroll72 View Post
    No, no, you misunderstand (probably). If you have been studying his music 'in situ', including his interactions with the commissars and Big Bad Joe, you should have detected nuances that are, ah, other than happy acceptance of official pronouncements. The 'standard example' (the one often offered) is the Symphonie Concertante. The nuances also can be detected (you think imagined?) in his symphonies, notably in the 5-6-7 progression considered together.

    BTW intuition is not the process I am referring to; men don't possess that, y'know.

    [I hope this isn't evolving into an argument with a moderator - I avoid those assiduously]

    Indeed, I know of some of those incidents, though I don't know the one about the Symphonie Concertante. I know about the 7th symphony incident, and the Piano Sonatas 6&8.

    Looks like I have more history to read into, which is good. Some of my favorite stuff.
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    Senior Member TxllxT's Avatar
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    Of Prokofiev's ballets I prefer The Stone Flower as no.1, probably because I discovered it long after the to me wellknown Romeo+Juliet & Cinderella. I do not notice any sweetishness (commented on above in this thread) in Prokofiev's music, because Gennady Rozhdestvensky, my favorite Prokofiev-conductor, interprets this steadfastly into bittersweetness. Whether it is intended to be sweet or bitter or inbetween, who can tell? This is the reason why I prefer Russian interpretations: they make you aware of Prokofiev's multifacetedness. Soviet composers often hid their personal misery into sugary wrappings. I do not like most of the 'western' interpretations of Prokofiev's music, because they fill all those sugary wrappings with sugar and nothing but sugar. (Sugariness is a typical American vice, I'm afraid.) It's this one-dimensional interpretation of multifaceted compositions, that has created a saccharin Prokofiev. Listen to the difference in sound of Russian brass (Marinsky, Rozhdestvensky) and say, Cleveland brass (Maazel). This is revealing, especially in Prokoviev's ballets.

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    Senior Member sharik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TxllxT View Post
    Soviet composers often hid their personal misery into sugary wrappings
    er, what 'misery'?.. all of them were well off and had no personal problems to hide or complain about.. for example here's a list of awards Prokofiev got from the State - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prokofi...urs_and_awards - six Stalin Prizes, not bad at all.
    Last edited by sharik; Aug-15-2013 at 20:10.

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    Senior Member elgars ghost's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sharik View Post
    er, what 'misery'?.. all of them were well off and had no personal problems to hide or complain about.. for example here's a list of awards Prokofiev got from the State - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prokofi...urs_and_awards - six Stalin Prizes, not bad at all.

    Come off it. Medals and the attendant cash prizes were nothing more than glorified doggy treats.

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