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Name of Work

Prokofiev, Sergei (1891-1953)
Quintet, Op.39, for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola, and double bass (1992)

Movements:
Theme and Variations
Andante energico
Allegro sostenuto ma con brio
Adagio pesante
Allegro precipitato, ma non troppo presto
Andantino

Performances:


Nov 22, 1992



Larry Combs, Clarinet
Bruce Grainger, Bassoon
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Michael Henoch, Oboe
Jerry Grossman, Cello
Bradley Opland, Double bass
Gail Williams, Horn
Robert Swan, Viola


Nov 23, 1992



Larry Combs, Clarinet
Bruce Grainger, Bassoon
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Michael Henoch, Oboe
Jerry Grossman, Cello
Bradley Opland, Double bass
Gail Williams, Horn
Robert Swan, Viola

PROKOFIEV - Quintet in G Minor for Winds and Strings, Op. 39

Composed in 1924

Politics and war impinged on the life of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) much more directly than they did on that of Devienne. In the realm of music written for public occasions (which may be construed to have political purposes), Devienne's list includes one "revolutionary opera" and a group of patriotic songs; Prokofiev's includes several vocal and orchestral works celebrating important events and anniversaries in the history of the Soviet Union. More importantly, political shifts during the first half of the 20th century dictated, to a large degree, where and under what circumstances Prokofiev lived and worked. At 23, when he was graduated with honors from the St. Petersburg Conservatory, he had already won recognition as both a composer and a pianist; four years later, with the devastation of World War I having been followed by the Bolshevik Revolution and the formation of the USSR under Communist rule, he left his homeland for a decade and a half, choosing to remove himself from the conflicts between artistic values and political dogma that quickly developed under the new order, and to seek recognition for his talents in the West.

Of three major composers who emigrated from Russia in the early 20th century, perhaps only Igor Stravinsky (who left well before the 1917 revolution) can be said to have been happy in the Western world. Serge Rachmaninoff found himself beleaguered and at sea, though he won tremendous renown; Prokofiev likewise achieved success abroad, but decided in the end to return home, where he became a major figure in Soviet musical life. This did not mean, of course, that he was exempt from the same kinds of oppression that other Soviet artists experienced; his international reputation did not completely protect him from the capricious dictates of the cultural commissars, though he suffered fewer outright denunciations than Shostakovich did. Cutting across Prokofiev's later career, as it cut across all lives, came World War II. In common with his artistic colleagues, he was protected from physical danger by being relocated to a government-run camp remote from the fighting, but his emotional involvement in his country's sufferings can be heard in the music he wrote in the early 1940s: his Fifth Symphony, the opera "War and Peace," and especially his three "War" piano sonatas.

Prokofiev's first destination after emigrating in 1918 was the United States, where his opera "The Love for Three Oranges" was premiered in Chicago in 1921. He settled shortly thereafter in Paris, attracted there (like other musicians from all over the world) by the lively atmosphere of innovation and iconoclasm that made the city a center of all that was happening in new music. In spite of this attraction, however, and notwithstanding his youthful reputation as a deliberate shocker of traditionalists, Prokofiev did not really take to the idea of wholesale musical experimentation; he was essentially a Classicist, and although his music is filled with dissonance, it also holds passages of great lyricism, besides being carefully structured along the formal lines hallowed by generations of predecessors. He was not averse, though, to experimenting with unusual combinations of instruments, unusual sonic effects, and extremes of low and high ranges, as can be heard in his Op. 39 Quintet, which originated in 1924 as a ballet score. It is contemporaneous with his Second Symphony and with continuing work on the opera "The Fiery Angel," one of the greatest disappointments of his entire life (despite promises and projections, it was never performed complete until after his death).

The Quintet also started as a disappointment. Composed "to earn some money," as the new husband and expectant father phrased it, it was produced as a ballet about circus life under the title of "Trapeze," but it achieved only a few performances. Never one to waste a score, however, Prokofiev reworked the music as a quintet, which was first played in 1927 in Moscow, during one of several concert tours he undertook to his native country — a series of feelers toward his eventual homeward journey.

The quintet opens with a movement in the Classical mold, a Theme with Variations, though neither the theme nor its elaborations sound very much like the 18th century. The initial statement is shared by the wind players, with comment from the strings. The second movement has the somewhat contradictory tempo marking of "Andante" (moderately slow) "Energico" (energetic); it begins with a solo for the bass, which is then joined by the other instruments in a succession of sudden clashes. Also contradictory in terms of tempo directions is the third movement, "Allegro" (lively) "Sostenuto" (sustained); pizzicato string passages and elaborate woodwind lines are combined into a kaleidoscopic whirl vividly reminiscent of the work's beginnings as music for a circus ballet.

The "Adagio pesante" movement explores very high and very low registers in steady, hypnotic progressions that build an intensity in sharp contrast to the tone of the preceding movements. In the "Allegro precipitato" (hurried) movement, restless agitation is developed from strongly dissonant harmonies; the final "Andantino" establishes a calmer, more melodic atmosphere, but only briefly, before shifting to a livelier mood, with all the instruments making solo contributions.

"Trapeze" may have been a failure, but the music's final incarnation evokes a three-ring environment just the same, with five high-wire performers.

Prokofiev wrote relatively few chamber works of any kind, still fewer involving winds, his interests lying more with stage music, symphonies, and piano works; besides the Quintet, his only other chamber pieces using winds are the "Overture on Hebrew Themes," an early Bassoon Quartet, and the Op. 94 Flute Sonata.

Program Notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performed November 22 and 23, 1992



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