Classical Music | Cello Music

Sergei Prokofiev

Sonata for Cello and Piano in C Major, op.119  Play

Fanny Nemeth-Weiss Cello
David Ballena Piano

Recorded on 04/29/2011, uploaded on 05/19/2011

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

As in all aspects of its tyrannical rule, the Soviet Union kept a close watch on its artists. As early as the 1930s, artists such as Dmitri Shostakovich faced official denunciation from Stalin, voiced through his official press outlet Pravda. With the outbreak of World War II across the European continent and Nazi Germany’s brutal hammer stroke against Russia, Stalin and his government was forced to turn its attention outward. Subsequently, its censorship of Soviet artists was somewhat relaxed. However, it was not long after Hitler’s defeat that the Soviet government quickly turned its focus inward. The Zhdanov Doctrine, formulated in 1946 by the Central Committee secretary Andrei Zhdanov, brought the full might and censorship of the Communist regime against its own artists two years later. Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, and other composers were officially denounced for “formalism,” and witnessed their works banned from being performed. Each was forced to make a public apology before the Composers’ Union. It was during this time that Prokofiev composed his Cello Sonata in C major.

In 1949, Prokofiev attended a concert by the famed Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who performed Nikolai Miaskovsky’s Cello Sonata No. 2 in A minor. Prokofiev was instantly inspired to write his own sonata for Rostropovich, and in that same year he produced the C major Sonata. Yet, the work faced serious obstacles before it would ever be heard by any public audience. According to Sviatoslav Richter, who would eventually be the pianist in the work’s premiere, he and Rostropovich were required to perform the sonata before the Composers’ Union—a part of the Soviet’s attempt to control the output and work of their artists. This was a particularly crucial moment for Prokofiev. So soon after the Zhdanov decree, it was a decision that ultimately could impact the fate of any new works he would thereafter compose. The sonata found favor enough to warrant a second performance before all the composers of the Radio Committee. Finally, the sonata was allowed to be performed publicly by Rostropovich and Richter at the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on March 1, 1950.

Cast in three movements, the Cello Sonata is almost startlingly restrained compared to Prokofiev’s other works, an inevitable outcome of the harsh official criticism against him and his colleagues. Indeed, the work nearly embodies a Classical design. Perhaps also as part of its cleverly restrained manner, the sonata also reveals the early influence of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, indulging in a tradition of rich and expressive lyricism, from which the composer never truly departed. Yet, despite all this, the Cello Sonata is distinctly Prokofievian.     Joseph DuBose


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