Classical Music | Violin Music

Sergei Prokofiev

Violin Sonata No. 1 in f minor  Play

Yang Liu Violin
I-Hsuan Tsai Piano

Recorded on 05/02/2006, uploaded on 01/12/2009

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

When the war engulfing the rest of the European continent came to the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany’s brutal hammer stroke in 1941, Sergei Prokofiev, along with many other artists, were evacuated away from the major cities and the Nazi’s ruthless advance. In August of that year, Prokofiev was taken to Nalchik, the capital city of the Kabardino-Balkar Republic in the North Caucasus, some nine hundred miles south of Moscow. While Stalin’s focus was fixed on the threat from the Nazis, the Soviet regime temporary relaxed the restrictions that they had placed on their artists, leaving them to indulge their true creative impulses. Many of the works that flowed from Prokofiev’s pen during this time, as well as those that followed, resonate with “darkly tragic ironies.” On the surface, one may associate these foreboding works with the presence of war in his homeland, but delving deeper, it becomes more apparent that they are artistic outlets for the composer’s critiques of Stalin’s brutal and repressive regime.

Perhaps the most startling of these works is the Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor, op. 80. Composed between 1938 and 1946, which actually places its completion after the Second Violin Sonata, it is one of the composer’s darkest and most brooding compositions. Prokofiev dedicated the work to his friend, the violinist David Oistrakh, who also premiered the work with pianist Lev Oborin. Oistrakh later performed the sonata’s first and third movements at Prokofiev’s funeral. About half an hour in length, the First Violin Sonata is cast in four movements. An ominous and foreboding Andante assai opens the work, which is followed by a diabolical and harsh Allegro brusco. A brief moment of relief comes with the otherworldly opening theme of the Andante third movement, but even its ethereal glow is paled by repressive shadows. The ensuing Finale attempts to bolster the sonata’s spirits and impart a sense of playfulness, but ultimately the ending of the first movement returns to finish the sonata in utter despair.       Joseph DuBose


Violin Sonata No. 1 in f minor          Sergei Prokofiev

Andante assai; Allegro brusco; Andante; Allegrissimo

Sergei Prokofiev is one of the great composers of the first half of the twentieth century. He wrote more than 100 instrumental works that include two violin sonatas, two violin concertos, five piano concertos, nine piano sonatas and numerous chamber works.

This sonata was completed in 1946, seven years before Prokofiev's death, during which time Prokofiev was in poor health and mostly confined to his villa in Nikolina Gora outside Moscow. The reflection of his deteriorating condition is evident in the music. The first movement is meditative with somber reflections. Prokofiev himself described the end of this movement as "the wind in a graveyard". The second movement follows in relentless bombardment and energetic outbursts. The third movement on the contrary is very dreamy and magical, but it is once again ruptured by the strong and forceful final movement.  At the very end, the "wind in a graveyard" comes back to haunt us, which seems to serve as Prokofiev's symbolic representation and prediction of his future.

This piece is dedicated to David Oistrakh, who gave its first performance. Prokofiev maintained a close collaboration with the violinist to ensure this sonata's unforced virtuosity. The piano part too requires substantial demands, since Prokofiev was a concert pianist himself. The following quote by Prokofiev in an interview with Olin Downes in the New York Times in 1941 provides some insights of what his music language intends:

I strive for a greater simplicity and more melody. Of course I have used dissonance in my time, but there has been too much dissonance. Bach used dissonance as good salt for his music. Others applied pepper, seasoned the dishes more and more highly, till all healthy appetites were sick and until the music was nothing but pepper. I think society has had enough of that. We want a simpler and more melodic style, and dissonance once again relegated to its proper place as one element in music, contingent principally upon the meeting of the melodic lines... 

What people usually accept as a melody is that musical phrase which above all is not new as to intervals, rhythm, or style. Thus Puccini is a composer considered especially melodic - that is, his themes fall into the category of intervals and chords to which the human ear has long been accustomed, and which it is in the habit of accepting but it is obvious that with the passage of years the recipe for melody changes...      Yang Liu