Wells Fargo Center for the Arts
50 Mark West Springs Rd. Santa Rosa, CA 95403
The Love for Three Oranges: Suite for Orchestra, Opus 33bis
Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev was born in Sontsovka, in the Ekaterinoslav district of Russia, on April 23, 1891, and died in Moscow on March 5, 1953. He composed his opera Love for Three Oranges(Lyobov’ k trem apel’sinam) in New York early in 1919, completing the score by October 1. It was produced in the Chicago Auditorium on December 30, 1921, in a French translation L’Amour des trois oranges. He later created a suite for orchestra derived from six passages in the opera. It is scored for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets and bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, triangle, bass drum, tambourine, cymbals, snare drum, glockenspiel, xylophone, two harps, and strings. Duration is about 15 minutes.
Prokofiev began composing in his early childhood and continued even as he primarily concentrated on a career as a piano virtuoso during his studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. The years following his graduation in 1914 were marked by war and revolution in the world at large and in Russia in particular. In spite of this, Prokofiev began to achieve renown, composing some of his best-known works (including the Classical Symphony and the First Violin Concerto). Eventually, though, the unsettled condition of musical life and almost everything else persuaded him to go abroad, at least for a time. He traveled via Vladivostock, Tokyo, and San Francisco and ended in Chicago.
Prokofiev spent much of his lengthy voyage from Russia working out an opera libretto based on a fairy tale by Carlo Gozzi (1761), which had been adapted by one of the leading figures of the new artistic life in Russia, the great director Vsevolod Meyerhold. Gozzi’s play had satirized the art of Goldoni, which he saw as stuck in a tradition of bourgeois realism. Meyerhold’s adaptation made the same point about contemporary Russian drama. Prokofiev seized on this idea as an excellent vehicle for music, crafting his own Russian libretto as well as the later French translation in which the work was eventually premiered in Chicago.
The manager of the Chicago Opera, Cleofonte Campanini, was delighted to have a subject matter drawn from the Italian Gozzi, but his death put an end to immediate production plans. Nearly two years passed, during which time Prokofiev moved to Paris and toured the United States again. Finally, on his third visit to this country he was able to see his opera mounted when the famous soprano Mary Garden (she had created the role of Mélisande in Debussy’s opera) became director in Chicago and chose to honor his contract.
The result eventually became Prokofiev’s most popular and frequently-performed opera, though at first audiences were bemused by the fantastic, unrealistic story in which fairy-tale incidents are interrupted (and the course of the plot changed) by a chorus of audience members who are divided into factions favoring comedy, tragedy, romance, or simply empty-headed entertainment.
Of the six sections included in the suite, the two most famous are the March that appears between the two scenes of Act II and the Scherzo that appears twice to connect the scenes of Act III. Both pieces share in the witty and sardonic style of the opera. The March will be recognized at once, by listeners of a certain age, as the theme music to a radio show that ran for 14 years around the mid-century: “The FBI in Peace and War.” How ironic that this theme should have been composed by a Russian who had by then left the United States to return to the Soviet Union and would have been regarded by many Americans at the time (regardless of his own political views) as “a Communist composer.” The other selections are satirical, mysterious, or lyrical in turn, as the movement titles suggest.
Following World War II, Love for Three Oranges began to enjoy a growing number of performances. Audiences have long since learned to love the lyricism and the lively satiric wit of Prokofiev’s music in this diverting celebration of theatricality as an art that belongs to us, the spectators.
Concerto No. 3 in C major for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 26
Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev began planning a third piano concerto as early as 1911, but completed the concerto only in 1921. Prokofiev himself played the solo part in the premiere, which was given on October 16 of that year by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Frederick Stock. Besides the solo piano, the score calls for two flutes and piccolo, two each of oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, bass drum, castanets, tambourine, cymbals, and strings. Duration is about 29 minutes.
From 1920 to 1938, Prokofiev lived in Paris, a good place for a Russian composer of advanced tendencies. Diaghilev’s brilliant Ballets Russes was open to the newest ideas, especially from Russian composers, and Serge Koussevitzky had founded his own concert series emphasizing new works.
After the exciting premiere of his ballet The Tale of the Buffoon by the Ballets Russes (Paris loved it, London hated it), Prokofiev adjourned to the coast of Brittany for a summer of composition. There he achieved his long-held plan to write a Third Piano Concerto. Much of the material was already in hand; he had been thinking about such a work since completing the Second Concerto in 1914, and some of the musical ideas go back even before that. He was still committed to the premiere of his opera in Chicago that fall, so he took the opportunity of introducing the new piano concerto there during the same trip.
The Love for Three Oranges was premiered at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago on December 30, 1921. The concerto, though composed later, preceded the opera into the world by two months. Here, too, Prokofiev received diverse reactions: Chicago loved both works, New York hated them. Following this experience, Prokofiev returned to Paris, returning to the United States only for concert tours.
The Third Concerto is the most frequently performed of Prokofiev’s five contributions to that genre. Though it is not a whit less demanding technically than the first two concertos, it opens up a new and appealing vein of lyricism that Prokofiev was to mine successfully in the years to come. At the same time his biting, acerbic humor is never absent for long, especially in the writing for woodwinds and sometimes for percussion.
Prokofiev customarily wrote melodic ideas in a notebook as they occurred to him, sometimes gathering them for years before assembling them into a finished work, sometimes taking material from a piece already completed and recasting it in a new guise. Both of these procedures occurred in the creation of the Third Piano Concerto. Some of the material dates back to 1911. But the first reasonably coherent ideas to find their way into the score came when he created a theme to be used as the basis of a set of variations in 1913 (this now opens the second movement), though he did not work further on it at that time. In 1916‑17, he created the main ideas for the first movement and wrote two variations on the 1913 theme.
A string quartet that he began and then abandoned while en route to the United States was, according to the composer, a “white” quartet, because it was in a diatonic style playable on the white keys of the piano. (Such a description obviously comes from a pianist, since the idea of “white keys” would mean nothing to a string player!) Two of the themes from that work found their way into the new concerto. Thus, when Prokofiev began working specifically on the Third Concerto in 1921, he already had virtually the entire thematic material of the work at hand.
The concerto opens with a yearning lyrical theme in the clarinet, immediately echoed in flute and violins; its simplicity makes it memorable, and it will mark several stages of the form later on. Almost at once a bustling of sixteenth-note runs in the strings ushers in the soloist, whose nervous theme grows out of the first three notes of the opening lyrical theme (a major second down and a perfect fifth up) turned backwards (a perfect fifth down and a major second up), then sweeps farther afield harmonically in its headstrong energy. An austere march of pounding chords leads to a faster passage of whirling triplets to conclude the exposition. The basic material is developed and recapitulated in a free sonata form.
The main theme of the second movement is one of those patented Prokofiev tunes, dry and sardonic. But it doesn’t stay that way long. The first variation is a Chopin nocturne with a twist; each ensuing variation has its own special color and character, by turns brilliant, meditative, and vigorously energetic. A climactic restatement of the theme with further pianistic display dies away mysteriously into nothing.
The finale begins with a crisp theme in bassoons and pizzicato lower strings in A minor; the piano argues with thundering chords, clouding the harmony. Despite various contrasting materials, some lyrical, some sarcastic, the opening figure provides the main basis for the musical discussion, ending in a brilliant pounding coda.
Pétrushka (Burlesque in Four Scenes) for Orchestra
Igor Fedorovich Stravinsky was born at Oranienbaum, Russia, on June 17, 1882, and died in New York on April 6, 1971. He composed Pétrushka at Lausanne and Clarens, Switzerland, at Beaulieu, in the south of France, and in Rome, between August 1910 and May 26, 1911. The first performance was given by Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, on June 13, 1911. Pierre Monteux conducted. The score calls for three flutes (third doubling piccolo), two oboes and English horn, three clarinets (third doubling bass clarinet), two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, tambourine, xylophone, tam-tam, cymbals, bass drum with attached cymbal, triangle, suspended cymbal, three snare drums, harp, piano/celesta, and strings. Duration is about 34 minutes.
In 1910 Stravinsky became the darling of Paris with a brilliant ballet, The Firebird, produced by Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet. The impresario naturally wanted a new Stravinsky ballet for the following season. Stravinsky proposed a scenario set in prehistoric Russia featuring the sacrifice of a maiden, who is chosen for the honor of dancing herself to death for the fertility of the earth. This was ultimately to become The Rite of Spring, but when Stravinsky started composing it in Switzerland, his musical fantasy took him in an utterly unexpected direction.
Wishing to compose something quite different, by way of recreation, he wrote a little concerto-like piece for piano and orchestra, with a striking bichord consisting of the chords of C major and F-sharp major simultaneously arpeggiated. He imagined the piano as representing a puppet suddenly come to life and cavorting up and down the keyboard, metaphorically thumbing his nose at the orchestra, which would finally explode in exasperation with overwhelming trumpet blasts. “The outcome,” Stravinsky wrote, “is a terrific noise which reaches its climax and ends in the sorrowful and querulous collapse of the poor puppet.” This single image was the basis of the scenario that Stravinsky developed around a Russian puppet character roughly similar to Punch.
The ballet achieved an enormous success, which has extended into the concert hall. Petrushka remains as fascinating and delightful as the early critics found it. From the opening measure it dazzles the listener with its color and energy, and it moves with easy assurance between the “public” world of the fairground and the “private” world of Pétrushka and his fellow puppets.
The first and last scenes take place on the Admiralty Square in St. Petersburg during the 1830s at the fair that precedes the beginning of Lent. They are filled with incident and with overlays of musical figures representing the surge of characters coming and going on the fairway. The second and third scenes are interiors, devoted to the private emotional life of the puppet Pétrushka, who is in love with the ballerina, while she in turn is enchanted by the Moor. Only at the very end of the work do the “public” and “private” worlds—or should one say “reality” and “fantasy”?—become entangled with one another.
The “plot” as such can be briefly told. (Scene 1) The crowds are drawn to a small theater, where a Showman opens the curtains to reveal three lifeless puppets, Pétrushka (a sad clown), the pretty but vacuous Ballerina, and the exotic but dangerous Moor. He charms them into life with his flute and they execute a dance, first jiggling on their hooks on the stage, then—to the astonishment of the spectators—coming down from the theater and dancing among the crowd. (Scene 2) Alone in his cell, Pétruskha dances sadly, conscious of his grotesque appearance. The ballerina enters, but his ecstatic dance of joy expressing his love is so uncouth that she flees. The third scene takes place in the Moor’s cell. The ballerina captivates him, but their tryst is interrupted by the entrance of the jealous Pétrushka. The powerful Moor throws him out.
The final scene reverts to the main square, where the revelry has reached a new height. Crowds surge forward as all seek to celebrate the final evening before the start of Lent. Suddenly a commotion is heard in the little theater; Pétrushka races out, closely pursued by the Moor, who strikes him down with a scimitar. The crowd is stunned by this apparent murder; the Showman is summoned. He, the supreme rationalist, demonstrates that the “body” is nothing more than a wooden puppet stuffed with sawdust. The crowd disperses. As the Showman starts to drag the puppet offstage, he is startled to see Pétrushka’s ghost on the roof of the little theater, thumbing his nose at the Showman and at all who have been taken in by his tricks.