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Sonata No.1 in F minor for violin and piano Op.80

Sergei Prokofiev (b. 1891 - d. 1953)

Nicola Benedetti (photo credit: Simon Fowler)

Nicola Benedetti (photo credit: Simon Fowler)

Composer
Sergei Prokofiev (b. 1891 - d. 1953)
Composition Year
1946
Work Movements
1. Andante assai
2. Allegro brusco
3. Andante
4. Allegrissimo
Artists
Alexei Grynyuk [piano], Nicola Benedetti [violin]

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

Prokofiev established himself as enfant terrible in the second decade of the last century. His first two piano concertos caused a furore, the second reputedly left listeners frozen with fright, hair standing on end. The critics had a field day, scarcely able to find strong enough terms of condemnation. After the Revolution he lived mainly in the USA, then Paris, and his style gradually settled down. The last seventeen years of his life he spent in the USSR, initially stimulated but later drastically restricted by Stalin's cultural policies. Throughout his life he wrote music for the stage and his compositions always have a sharp sense of drama, even after he had stopped trying to shock his audience into paralysis.

The F minor Sonata was begun in 1938, after his return to Russia, but it took him eight years to finish it. Although known as the First Sonata it was actually the second to be finished. The first movement has the sombre atmosphere of a funeral march and Prokofiev himself compared a famous passage to the wind in a graveyard, a passage that returns to haunt us at the end of the last movement. Prokofiev is said to have told his wife that the work was directly inspired by Handel's D major Sonata, which certainly explains the typical baroque four-movement plan of slow-fast-slow-fast. At Prokofiev’s funeral, ironically on the same day as Stalin’s, David Oistrakh played the two Andantes from this Sonata, the wind in the graveyard now sounding over the composer’s coffin.

The second movement unleashes demons with all the ferocity of a Shostakovich; jagged, coruscating chords drive the music forward with unrelenting savagery, reflecting the terrible times in which they lived. Despite several attempts to soften the impact, the power of this music leaves an indelible impression of anger and horror that the composer is quite unable to mitigate. The second Andante begins gently before developing an intensely felt lyricism, but towards the end the mood darkens and the music seems to disintegrate in front of us.

The finale finally lifts us out of the darkness into something approaching the excitement generated by Prokofiev's old role as rule-breaker and innovator. The rhythmic scheme begins to complicate and the tempo increases, although the episodes make an attempt to slow down the hectic dance. Once again the end is signalled by the pace slackening and we meet again the funeral tread and the wind in the graveyard from the first movement, returning unassuaged until we reach a kind of consolation in the final bars.  

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Sonata No.1 in F minor for violin and piano Op.80

Composer: Sergei Prokofiev (b. 1891 - d. 1953)
Performance date: Saturday 26th June 2010
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer Sergei Prokofiev (b. 1891 - d. 1953)
Work Title Sonata No.1 in F minor for violin and piano Op.80
Composition Year 1946
Work Movements 1. Andante assai
2. Allegro brusco
3. Andante
4. Allegrissimo
Artist(s) Alexei Grynyuk [piano], Nicola Benedetti [violin]
Performance Date Saturday 26th June 2010
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Stars in the Afternoon
Duration 00:29:47
Recording Engineer Anton Timoney, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Duo
Instrumentation vn, pf
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

Prokofiev established himself as enfant terrible in the second decade of the last century. His first two piano concertos caused a furore, the second reputedly left listeners frozen with fright, hair standing on end. The critics had a field day, scarcely able to find strong enough terms of condemnation. After the Revolution he lived mainly in the USA, then Paris, and his style gradually settled down. The last seventeen years of his life he spent in the USSR, initially stimulated but later drastically restricted by Stalin's cultural policies. Throughout his life he wrote music for the stage and his compositions always have a sharp sense of drama, even after he had stopped trying to shock his audience into paralysis.

The F minor Sonata was begun in 1938, after his return to Russia, but it took him eight years to finish it. Although known as the First Sonata it was actually the second to be finished. The first movement has the sombre atmosphere of a funeral march and Prokofiev himself compared a famous passage to the wind in a graveyard, a passage that returns to haunt us at the end of the last movement. Prokofiev is said to have told his wife that the work was directly inspired by Handel's D major Sonata, which certainly explains the typical baroque four-movement plan of slow-fast-slow-fast. At Prokofiev’s funeral, ironically on the same day as Stalin’s, David Oistrakh played the two Andantes from this Sonata, the wind in the graveyard now sounding over the composer’s coffin.

The second movement unleashes demons with all the ferocity of a Shostakovich; jagged, coruscating chords drive the music forward with unrelenting savagery, reflecting the terrible times in which they lived. Despite several attempts to soften the impact, the power of this music leaves an indelible impression of anger and horror that the composer is quite unable to mitigate. The second Andante begins gently before developing an intensely felt lyricism, but towards the end the mood darkens and the music seems to disintegrate in front of us.

The finale finally lifts us out of the darkness into something approaching the excitement generated by Prokofiev's old role as rule-breaker and innovator. The rhythmic scheme begins to complicate and the tempo increases, although the episodes make an attempt to slow down the hectic dance. Once again the end is signalled by the pace slackening and we meet again the funeral tread and the wind in the graveyard from the first movement, returning unassuaged until we reach a kind of consolation in the final bars.