Recorded on 03/12/2008, uploaded on 03/12/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Sergei Prokofiev finished his Eighth Piano Sonata in 1944, but the work was actually begun much earlier. In June of 1939, Prokofiev’s close friend and colleague. Vsevolod Meyerhold, was arrested by Stalin’s Secret Police just before he was to begin rehearsing the composer’s latest opera Semyon Kotko. The following year, on February 2, Meyerhold was shot. His death was never publicly acknowledged, let alone even known about until after Stalin’s oppressive rule had ended. However, only a month after Meyerhold’s arrest, his wife was brutally murdered, and was not so neatly swept under the rug. In the wake of losing a close friend and the news of his widow’s murder, Prokofiev received an official request to compose a celebratory piece for Stalin’s sixtieth birthday. Soon after feigning such joy and admiration for Stalin, Prokofiev set down to compose his Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Piano Sonatas.
Prokofiev worked at a particularly rapid pace and often turned out compositions in a very short amount of time. The long period of time it took for the Eight Piano Sonata to appear was in part due to the two previous sonatas being completed in their turn—the Sixth in 1940 and the Seventh in 1942—as well as the composition of the first version of his opera on Tolstoy’s classic War and Peace and the ballet Cinderella. Profound, yet mired by an emotional torment like its companion pieces, the Eighth Sonata comprises two lengthy outer movements that frame a brief central Andante. The first movement, the lengthiest Prokofiev had yet written, is lyrical, yet melancholy with a sense of eternal wandering. During the development section, the movement builds to a powerful climax but returns once again to the desolate feeling with which it began. In stark contrast to the opening movement is the brief middle movement. Borrowing a theme from his abandoned score for Eugene Onegin, it is charming, if not even playful. The Finale begins with it an incessant driving force. Venturing through a myriad of keys, the movement manages to turn more docile, yet maintains a sense of mystery, and then becomes heroic and grandiose as it reaches its conclusion. Joseph DuBose
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