Recorded on 02/20/2007, uploaded on 01/25/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Sergei Prokofiev composed three piano sonatas during the brutal and unforgiving years of World War II that have become known simply as the War Sonatas. When Nazi Germany unleashed its brutal hammer stroke against the Soviet Union in 1941, Stalin and his government was forced to turn its attention outward. Restrictions on composers and other artists were temporary relaxed, and Prokofiev found a momentary freedom to express his own artistic voice. Many compositions flowed from Prokofiev’s pen during this time, most tinged with biting ironies and tragedy. On the surface, one may view these works, of which the War Sonatas are certainly a part, as the composer’s reflections on a world engulfed in war. Yet, beneath the surface, it is more likely there were a personal criticism, in the only outlet available, of Stalin’s ruthless and oppressive rule. Of these works, the War Sonatas lie in proximity to a particularly tragic story.
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. After feigning such joy and admiration for Stalin, Prokofiev set about later that year to compose his bitterly tragic War Sonatas.
Subtitled “Stalingrad,” the Seventh Piano Sonata is the shortest of the War Sonatas. Composed between 1939 and 1942, it was premiered by Sviatoslav Richter in Moscow on January 18, 1943. Ironically, the sonata later won a Stalin Prize. Cast in three movements, two rhythmic and energetic movements frame the lyrical and sentimental central Andante. Of the three, the toccata-like finale is the most famous, which through its virtuosity manages to bring the sonata to a triumphant conclusion. Joseph DuBose
Prokofiev's reading of Romain Rolland's book on Beethoven strongly influenced his sixth, seventh and eighth sonatas, works that he wrote simultaneously. He completed Sonata No.7 in 1942 and it was first performed the following year by Sviatoslav Richter. Richter wrote of the disorder and uncertainty of death-dealing forces in the sonata set alongside the continuation of what man lives for-love and the affirmation of life.
The first movement starts with an unharmonized opening phrase, suggesting in its conclusion the tonality of B-flat. Before long, two strands of melody diverge, leading to syncopations of greater stridency. A secondary theme appears in an Andantino section of the first movement. The second movement is in E Major, now with a key signature, a feature absent in the first movement. A singing melody in an inner part leads to a central section of varied tonalities and textures, before the final return of the material of the opening. The sonata ends with a movement in 7/8 meter, perceived as 2+3+2. Marked Precipitato, the material is dominated by its asymmetrical rhythmic pattern, and the movement ends in a final affirmative and unambiguous B-flat Major. Michael Cansfield
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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