Prokofiev - Scythian Suite, Sergiusz Prokofiew-nuty

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Scythian Suite
April 23, 1891, in Sontsovka, in the
Ekaterinoslav district of Ukraine
Prokofiev had just graduated from the
St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he
studied composition with Nikolai Rimsky-
Korsakov (also Stravinsky’s teacher) and
Anatoly Liadov, neither of whom proved
particularly congenial. However, he had
profited greatly from his work with the con-
ductor and composer Nikolai Tcherepnin,
and excelled as a pianist in the studio of
Anna Esipova. The conservatory’s direc-
tor, Alexander Glazunov, considered
Prokofiev to be an unpleasant upstart, but
the conservatory’s faculty disagreed, out-
voted him, and awarded Prokofiev the
Anton Rubinstein Prize, the highest honor
available to a graduating pianist.
As a graduation present from his
mother, Prokofiev was sent on a tour of
western Europe. He happened to reach
London while the Ballets Russes was per-
forming, was introduced to Diaghilev, and
before he knew it found himself being
offered a commission to write a ballet
score for that revered company.
The Rite of
had been good to Diaghilev, begin-
ning with the riot that greeted its pre-
miere — a public relations dream, ironical-
ly — and he was thinking that something
along similar lines might repeat that suc-
cess. He had a scenario drawn up, a tale
involving the nomadic Scythian tribes that
rode horses around central Asia for several
hundred years beginning in about the
eighth century B.C.E.
The scenario arrived — its title was
and Lolly
, after its two central characters —
and Prokofiev’s music came shortly on its
heels. Unfortunately Diaghilev didn’t like
either and canceled the project. Prokofiev
was understandably disappointed, but he
knew that nothing constructive would
come from harboring ill feelings against
Diaghilev, who was one of the principal
movers and shakers in the arts at that
March 5, 1953, in Moscow
World premiere
January 16, 1916, at the Mariinsky
Theatre, St. Petersburg, the composer
New York Philharmonic premiere
January 25, 1929, Fritz Reiner, conductor
Most recent New York Philharmonic
November 6, 2001, Kurt Masur,
Estimated duration
ca. 22 minutes
the cultural world when it was intro-
duced, as a ballet, by Serge Diaghilev’s
Ballets Russes in 1913, and it continued to
reverberate for years. In short order, musi-
cal Europe was treated to quite a few new
works that were clearly born from
Stravinsky’s “pictures of pagan Russia,”
works that celebrated rhythmic ferocity,
riotous abandon, folk-inspired primitivism,
or simple unbridled orchestral sound. One
of the first major scores overtly inspired by
The Rite of Spring
followed it by some two
years, and it came from the pen of a fellow
Russian only nine years younger: Sergei
Prokofiev’s ballet score for
Ala and Lolly
, far
better known under its subsequent title, the
Scythian Suite.
gor Stravinsky’s
The Rite of Spring
time. Things were patched up soon
enough, and Diaghilev would go on to
commission — and produce — three bal-
lets from Prokofiev:
The Buffoon,
Le Pas d’acier
The Age of Steel,
1927), and
L’Enfant prodigue
The Prodigal
1929). Further, he dubbed Prokofiev
his “second son”; the title of “first son”
was already taken — by Stravinsky.
The spirit of earthy primitivism con-
veyed in Prokofiev’s score certainly owes a
great deal to
The Rite of Spring
; and we might
also note that
Ala and Lolly
’s scenario, which
involves combat against a hostile god in
ancient Russia, mirrors to some extent that
of Stravinsky’s
. In his “short autobi-
ography,” penned many years later,
Prokofiev would acknowledge that he had
already heard
The Rite of Spring
in a concert
performance by the time he worked on
and Lolly
. Although he claimed that he did
not understand Stravinsky’s score at that
time, he allowed that it was “entirely possi-
ble that I was searching for the same
images in my own way.”
Indeed, this work is no simple aping of
Stravinsky. Where Stravinsky’s score thrives
on precise and often transparent textures,
Prokofiev’s bowls over the listener with
brawn. In the end this would not be
Prokofiev’s mature voice either, but it rep-
resents an important stage in his develop-
ment. It is also music well worth hearing,
and if Prokofiev had to accept that it was
not going to make it onto the stage as a
ballet, at least he could be sure it would be
heard as a concert piece. That’s how he
unveiled his score, under the title
in 1916, and it’s in that form that it
has gained its status as a concert classic.
three flutes (one dou-
bling alto flute) and piccolo, three oboes
and English horn, three clarinets (one
doubling E-flat clarinet) and bass clarinet,
three bassoons and contrabassoon, eight
horns, four trumpets (one doubling pic-
colo trumpet) and one further trumpet
and used in this performance,
four trombones, tuba, timpani, bass
drum, cymbals, triangle, tambourine,
snare drum, tam-tam, xylophone, orches-
tra bells, piano, celesta, two harps, and
The Story
In 1932 a request from a Viennese musical organization about the scenario of the unproduced
Ala and Lolly —
the music of which had long since been repackaged as the
Scythian Suite

prompted this response from Prokofiev’s secretary:
The chief [sun] god, Veles, had a daughter, Ala, a wooden
idol, revered by the people. The enemy god [Chuzhbog] — a
strange, shadowy, nocturnal deity — carried off Ala. In his
nocturnal kingdom, the enemy god tried to take possession
of her, but each time he approached Ala, there fell upon her
a moonbeam, down which came the daughters of the moon,
who defended her and consoled her — and the god of dark-
ness, powerless before the light, was forced to recoil. Lolly,
popular hero, in love with Ala, sets out on a campaign against
the enemy god, to free her. In the course of unequal combat
against the god, the mortal was about to succumb, but the
sun rises on the horizon and with its rays kills the dark god.
Vladimir Vasilchenko’s
Scythian Suite
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