Classical Music | Music for Viola

Sergei Prokofiev

Five pieces from the ballet Romeo and Juliet for viola and piano  Play

Eric Nowlin Viola
Michael Mizrahi Piano

Recorded on 04/19/2005, uploaded on 01/24/2009

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

Romeo and Juliet. True, it was not his first ballet, as three other works preceded it, but it was his first full-length ballet. Today, besides being ranked among Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker, it is also one of Prokofiev’s greatest creations, matched only by its successor, Cinderella.

While based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name and a synopsis created by the Russian dramaturge Adrian Piotrovsky, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet originally had a “happy” ending. However, the ballet’s composition took place at the beginning of a troubling time for the Soviet Union’s artists. Prokofiev completed the ballet in the latter part of 1935, only a few months before fellow composer, Dmitri Shostakovich, was officially condemned in the first of two scathing editorials in Pravda. Shostakovich, however, was not the sole target of these public rebukes. Other “degenerate modernists,” which included Piotrovsky, were also called out. Hoping to avoid a similar denunciation, Prokofiev, at the strong urging of conductor Yuri Fayer, restored the traditional tragic ending, before his original conception had even received a public performance. The ballet’s premiere took place on December 30, 1938 in Brno, Czechoslovakia, but it is best known in the revised version used at its Leningrad premiere on January 11, 1940.

Besides its many memorable melodies, which includes the “Dance of the Knights” and the love theme of Romeo and Juliet, the ballet is also interesting in Prokofiev’s choice of instrumentation. A tenor saxophone is used, both as a solo instrument and as part of the ensemble, lending a distinct timbre and modern feel to the score. On the other hand, the presence of two mandolins and a viola d’amore (an instrument not used with any frequency since the Baroque period) add not only an Italianate sound, but a touch of antiquatedness in keeping with the story’s setting.       Joseph DuBose


Five pieces from Romeo and Juliet for viola and piano       Sergei Prokofiev

Prokofiev wrote Romeo and Juliet in 1934 at the request of the director of the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad. He had already come from the success of his opera The Love for Three Oranges, and was very interested in doing a Russian ballet production of Shakespeare's most famous play. Prokofiev encountered many difficulties in putting together this opera, but thankfully persevered and produced some of the greatest music of the twentieth century.

Vadim Borisovsky, famed Russian violist and teacher, created this fine transcription by culling five movements from the original structure of the ballet. Prokofiev's masterful writing is perfectly displayed in this set, ranging from his muscular and sarcastic rhythms and harmonies in the Dance of the Knights to his exquisitely beautiful and tender melodic writing in Balcony Scene.Eric Nowlin

Listeners' Comments        (You have to be logged in to leave comments)

Lovely arrangements, sensitive performance.

Submitted by dulleen on Fri, 08/19/2011 - 09:35. Report abuse