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Piano Sonata No 8 in B flat Op 84

Sergei Prokofiev (b. 1891 - d. 1953)

Composer
Sergei Prokofiev (b. 1891 - d. 1953)
Composition Year
1939-44
Work Movements
1. Andante dolce
2. Andante sognando
3. Vivace
Artists
Alexei Grynyuk [piano]

Programme Note Writer:
© Michael Dervan

Although he's not widely celebrated as such, Prokofiev was a child prodigy, and his catalogue of juvenilia begins with works written at the age of five. Throughout his life he was full of surprises, both as an artist and as a man. His early reputation was built on those elements of his style which he identified as grotesque and motoric, and which, easily and predictably, raised the hackles of conservative listeners. But while still in his twenties he showed a readiness to undertake chameleon-like changes.

 
His First, Classical  Symphony [1916-17] took a totally unexpected direction for an enfant terrible. It was influenced by 18th-century models. The spectacular dissonances of many of his works from the 1920s were followed in the mid 1930s by one of the most successfully tuneful of 20th-century ballets, Romeo and Juliet. Although Prokofiev left his native Russia after the Revolution of 1917, unlike Rachmaninov and Stravinsky, he did not stay away, but returned of his own volition to spend the last seventeen years of his life in the Soviet Union, with all that implied in terms of managing a relationship with a state intent on imposing very limiting strictures on the freedom of creative artists.

 
In Prokofiev's case the intrusions went rather further. In 1947 he petitioned for divorce from his estranged wife, Carolina Codina, known as Lina. In the wake of his petition, the marriage was declared illegal under Soviet law (the specifics of the case are like a bureaucratic nightmare), and in 1948 Lina was arrested on trumped-up charges, convicted, in the words of her son Sviatoslav, of espionage and betrayal of the homeland, and given a twenty-year sentence, of which she actually served eight years. (She went on to outlive Prokofiev, and died in 1989.)


Prokofiev came to know the writer Maria-Cecilia Abramovna Mendelson (known as Mira) in 1939, and it was at that time that the seeds of his marital troubles were properly sown. Two years after meeting Mira, who was 24 years his junior, he left his wife and two sons to live with her, although he continued to support his first family.

 
Mira has left accounts of how the composer returned to the genre of the piano sonata in 1939 after a 16-year gap. She remembers him as having been influenced by the Nobel Prize-winning French writer Romain Rolland's book on Beethoven (this has been credited with sparking a heroic streak in the music), and also how he began working on three piano sonatas, his Sixth, Seventh and Eighth at the same time. He liked to have a number of pieces on the go at the same time, and, according to Mira, was happy to flit between all ten movements which make up the three sonatas.

 
The sonatas are often viewed as a war trilogy, although Germany didn't actually invade the Soviet Union until June 1941, more than a year after the première of the Sixth Sonata. The association with war has filtered into many commentators' views on the three pieces. Writing of the Eighth Sonata's first movement, Leslie Gerber suggests that The emotional content of this movement is bleak and desolate, almost like a meditation on the destruction wrought by war. There is however nothing in the composer's markings to suggest this or any other specific associations.
The Eighth Sonata won Prokofiev a Stalin Prize, first class — the Seventh Sonata had been awarded a Stalin Prize, second class. But all three of the so-called war sonatas were included in the official condemnation of Prokofiev's work in the Zhdanov-led clampdown of 1948. Nestyev, whose biography carefully represents Soviet sensitivities, notes that while the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Sonatas were interesting to seasoned professionals, they were not always easily grasped by the average listener, who had come to love the best examples of Prokofiev's piano style, which he lists as the Second to Fourth Sonatas and some shorter pieces. The wider public verdict, however, gives pride of place to Sonatas Six to Eight.


The first two performances of the Eighth Sonata, with the composer himself at the piano, were given in the confines of the Composers Union in Moscow. Sviatoslav Richter left a description of the occasion. It was difficult for Sergei Sergeyevich to play. He didn't have his former confidence and his hands flutter limply over the keys. After the second hearing I definitely decided that I was going to play the sonata. Some people sniggered: 'What outdated music, don't tell us that you want to play that?!'' But Richter's commitment to the work was firm: It is the richest of all of Prokofiev's sonatas, he said. It has a complex inner life with profound contrapositions. At times it seems to freeze, as if listening to the inexorable march of the times. The sonata is somewhat heavy to grasp, but heavy with richness — like a tree heavy with fruit.


The first public performance was given by Emil Gilels, on 30 December 1944, which, by extraordinary coincidence, was the day on which Romain Rolland died.

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Piano Sonata No 8 in B flat Op 84

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 Piano Sonata No 8 in B flat Op 84
Composition Year 1939-44
Work Movements 1. Andante dolce
2. Andante sognando
3. Vivace
Artist(s) Alexei Grynyuk [piano]
Performance Date Saturday 26th June 2010
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Stars in the Afternoon
Duration 00:30:23
Recording Engineer Anton Timoney, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Solo
Instrumentation pf
Programme Note Writer © Michael Dervan

Although he's not widely celebrated as such, Prokofiev was a child prodigy, and his catalogue of juvenilia begins with works written at the age of five. Throughout his life he was full of surprises, both as an artist and as a man. His early reputation was built on those elements of his style which he identified as grotesque and motoric, and which, easily and predictably, raised the hackles of conservative listeners. But while still in his twenties he showed a readiness to undertake chameleon-like changes.

 
His First, Classical  Symphony [1916-17] took a totally unexpected direction for an enfant terrible. It was influenced by 18th-century models. The spectacular dissonances of many of his works from the 1920s were followed in the mid 1930s by one of the most successfully tuneful of 20th-century ballets, Romeo and Juliet. Although Prokofiev left his native Russia after the Revolution of 1917, unlike Rachmaninov and Stravinsky, he did not stay away, but returned of his own volition to spend the last seventeen years of his life in the Soviet Union, with all that implied in terms of managing a relationship with a state intent on imposing very limiting strictures on the freedom of creative artists.

 
In Prokofiev's case the intrusions went rather further. In 1947 he petitioned for divorce from his estranged wife, Carolina Codina, known as Lina. In the wake of his petition, the marriage was declared illegal under Soviet law (the specifics of the case are like a bureaucratic nightmare), and in 1948 Lina was arrested on trumped-up charges, convicted, in the words of her son Sviatoslav, of espionage and betrayal of the homeland, and given a twenty-year sentence, of which she actually served eight years. (She went on to outlive Prokofiev, and died in 1989.)


Prokofiev came to know the writer Maria-Cecilia Abramovna Mendelson (known as Mira) in 1939, and it was at that time that the seeds of his marital troubles were properly sown. Two years after meeting Mira, who was 24 years his junior, he left his wife and two sons to live with her, although he continued to support his first family.

 
Mira has left accounts of how the composer returned to the genre of the piano sonata in 1939 after a 16-year gap. She remembers him as having been influenced by the Nobel Prize-winning French writer Romain Rolland's book on Beethoven (this has been credited with sparking a heroic streak in the music), and also how he began working on three piano sonatas, his Sixth, Seventh and Eighth at the same time. He liked to have a number of pieces on the go at the same time, and, according to Mira, was happy to flit between all ten movements which make up the three sonatas.

 
The sonatas are often viewed as a war trilogy, although Germany didn't actually invade the Soviet Union until June 1941, more than a year after the première of the Sixth Sonata. The association with war has filtered into many commentators' views on the three pieces. Writing of the Eighth Sonata's first movement, Leslie Gerber suggests that The emotional content of this movement is bleak and desolate, almost like a meditation on the destruction wrought by war. There is however nothing in the composer's markings to suggest this or any other specific associations.
The Eighth Sonata won Prokofiev a Stalin Prize, first class — the Seventh Sonata had been awarded a Stalin Prize, second class. But all three of the so-called war sonatas were included in the official condemnation of Prokofiev's work in the Zhdanov-led clampdown of 1948. Nestyev, whose biography carefully represents Soviet sensitivities, notes that while the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Sonatas were interesting to seasoned professionals, they were not always easily grasped by the average listener, who had come to love the best examples of Prokofiev's piano style, which he lists as the Second to Fourth Sonatas and some shorter pieces. The wider public verdict, however, gives pride of place to Sonatas Six to Eight.


The first two performances of the Eighth Sonata, with the composer himself at the piano, were given in the confines of the Composers Union in Moscow. Sviatoslav Richter left a description of the occasion. It was difficult for Sergei Sergeyevich to play. He didn't have his former confidence and his hands flutter limply over the keys. After the second hearing I definitely decided that I was going to play the sonata. Some people sniggered: 'What outdated music, don't tell us that you want to play that?!'' But Richter's commitment to the work was firm: It is the richest of all of Prokofiev's sonatas, he said. It has a complex inner life with profound contrapositions. At times it seems to freeze, as if listening to the inexorable march of the times. The sonata is somewhat heavy to grasp, but heavy with richness — like a tree heavy with fruit.


The first public performance was given by Emil Gilels, on 30 December 1944, which, by extraordinary coincidence, was the day on which Romain Rolland died.