Recorded on 05/23/2009, uploaded on 08/08/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Sergei Prokofiev began his Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Piano Sonatas in 1939. The composer had the habit of assigning opus numbers to his works immediately upon starting them, and these three sonatas appear consecutively as his opp. 82, 83, and 84. Each sonata, however, took progressively longer for the composer to finish. While the Sixth Sonata was completed the following year, the Seventh was not finished until 1942, and the Eighth until 1944.
Collectively, the these sonatas have become known as the War Sonatas because their period of composition overlaps with the years of World War II, though technically, the Sixth was completed before the Soviet Union was drug into the conflict by Nazi Germany’s ruthless invasion in 1941. The epithet is perhaps somewhat fitting as these sonatas indulge in darker ironies and possess a profound sense of tragedy that would temper many of the composer’s later works. Certainly, one can find in them the emotional outpourings of a composer whose world is engulfed in war. However, the composition of these sonatas followed a particularly tragic story that had little to do with the war.
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. It was soon after this official requirement to feign joy and admiration for Stalin that Prokofiev began the War Sonatas. Thus, in this light, the Sonatas appear more as critiques of a brutal and oppressive government, particularly given that the Sixth was completed before the war had come to Prokofiev’s homeland.
The Sixth Sonata in A major is the largest, as well as most emotionally charged and tumultuous of Prokofiev’s piano sonatas. Spanning four movements, the sonata opens with a principal motif that simultaneously outlines both the chords of A major and A minor. Immediately, the sonata is thrown into an unsettled state by the juxtaposition of major and minor modes. Following this thunderous movement is an Allegretto scherzo-like movement that attempts in vain to capture a lighter mood. The third movement takes on the semblance of the waltz, but is overpowered by the dismal shadows cast by the previous movements. Lastly, the Finale returns to the tortured emotions of the first movement and works to completion its biting modal conflict. Joseph DuBose
Recorded live at San Francisco Conservatory of Music
1. Allegro moderato
3. Tempo di valzer lentissimo
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