Short Takes: Spring Profusion, with Prokofiev

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Spring here remains behind schedule, but it’s coming on . . . (Photographs are of Riverside Park, New York City April 21, 2014; for comparison, click here and here.)

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Listening List

Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (complete ballet)

In his liner notes for the Gergiev/LSO CD, David Nice wrote, of Prokofiev’s complete ballet, Romeo and Juliet, “this is a Wagnerian narrative that works in the concert hall—an opera without words.” I see what he means: the more I listen to the ballet, the more remarkable it seems.

On Spotify (52 tracks in all)

On YouTube: The complete ballet in the MacMillan production that had been included here does not appear to be available on YouTube any longer, though the balcony scene from a more recent performance of what appears to be the same production may be found here. I have retained the time stamps for the production originally noted here (choreography by Kenneth Macmillan/Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Boris Gruzin/Royal Opera House (2009)), in the event it becomes available again. Act I begins at 2:15, Act II at 1:00:34, Act III at 1:34:20):

Motives/Themes in the Ballet

The ballet contains many recurring motives/themes, which Prokofiev skillfully varies in orchestral color and harmony to create different moods. Two examples of recurring themes are listed below, with time stamps for listening to them on the YouTube of the ballet.

Love-Sigh

1:37:20 (Act III Last Farewell) at 1:38:04
2:04:25 (Act III Juliet’s Funeral) at 2:08:27

Romeo

54:12 (Act I, Romeo’s Variation) at 54:30
1:37:20 (Act III Last Farewell) at 1:39:20

Orchestral Color in the Ballet

There are countless examples of elegant and inventive orchestration in the ballet. Without a score, it takes some time for me to find them, but as one example, listen to the way Prokofiev uses the triangle (in the YouTube, starting at 1:52:59) and celesta (starting at 1:55:07) in Act III, Scene 46 (Juliet’s bedroom). In that scene on Spotify, if you listen closely, I believe the triangle starts its bright pinging from the opening of the scene, and the celesta comes in at 1:40. (With thanks to Brian Long, our helmsman at the Great Composers Appreciation Society, for noting the use of celesta and saxophone in Suite No. 2, which I was then able to trace back to the complete ballet.)

Act I, Scene 13 (Dance of the Knights), also includes the flute motive contained in Juliet’s bedroom scene in Act III. (The scene begins on YouTube at 28:00. The flute motive’s first appearance in the scene is on YouTube at 31:12 and on Spotify at 2:49.) In addition, in that scene, Prokofiev uses a saxophone in one of the repetitions of the scene’s opening motive. The saxophone comes in at 33: 38, followed by repetition of the same motive, I believe on clarinet. On Spotify, the sax comes in at 4:32 in the scene. The balletic action that accompanies the shift from the flute motive to the opening motive on sax is interesting, too: Juliet has just pulled away from Paris and comes to Romeo.

10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op.75, for solo piano

Also thanks to Nice’s liner notes, I discovered Prokofiev’s 10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op.75, for solo piano. 

On Spotify

On YouTube

Comparison of No. 10, Romeo and Juliet before parting, for solo piano, with scenes from the ballet

In a typical “fools rush in” moment, I couldn’t resist trying to find matches for the piano pieces in the ballet. For (hopefully) comparable selections from Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet on Spotify, click hereThe tenth piece, Romeo and Juliet before parting, had me stumped until I realized it was taken from several pieces in the ballet and appears to be the same as the Romeo and Juliet before parting in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Suite No. 2 for orchestra, Op. 64ter (included in the Spotify selections I’ve linked and on YouTube here).

I marveled at the way Prokofiev took themes he’d used in the ballet and wove them into such a beautifully cohesive work for both solo piano and the orchestral suite. David Nice, in writing about the Suite in his book Prokofiev, From Russian to the West 1891-1935 (p. 330), noted that “‘Romeo and Juliet before parting’ . . . fuses five of the Act III numbers to make a powerful Adagio.” As best I can by ear and without a score, I believe I’ve been able to identify three of the five ballet scenes below (though I hope any Prokofiev experts among us will weigh in with needed corrections and additions).

On YouTube, the piano piece (to which I refer as “Lugansky”) is below. Ballet excerpts and timings for comparison are listed below the video. The complete ballet is on Spotify here, and the act and scene numbers indicated will take you to the relevant scenes.

Act III, No. 38 (XXXVIII) (complete); Romeo and Juliet/Gergiev/LSO

Compare Lugansky from the beginning with, on YouTube, the ballet excerpt starting at 1:22 here (hyperlinks to the segments are on the site):

Act III, No. 39 (XXXIX), The Last Farewell (partial), Romeo and Juliet/Gergiev/LSO

Compare Lugansky from 1:30 with the ballet excerpt starting at 2:41 here:

Act III, Scene 47 (XLVII), Juliet Alone (partial), Romeo and Juliet/Gergiev/LSO

Compare Lugansky from 4:52 with the ballet excerpt starting at 0:17 here:

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Credits: The sources for the quotations from David Nice may be found at the links provided in the text. The photographs, as always unless otherwise credited, are mine. Thanks also go to David Nice for the recording recommendations. You may find his recommendations on BBC Radio 3’s Building a Library/CD Review here. While the program is no longer available for listening outside the UK, the recommendations are shown if you scroll down.

 

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15 thoughts on “Short Takes: Spring Profusion, with Prokofiev

  1. David N

    Oh, those tulips – my Banja Lukas beneath the weeping mulberry haven’t done very well this year. And I now envy you the blossom and the daffs as ours have all gone – we’re in to wisteria and lilac time now.

    Glad you chose Rojo/Acosta for the film. My favourite still (and superbly conducted by Boris Gruzin). The Act 2 fight is thrilling: they nearly fall off the stage. And Juliet is the spring, in her flute music: as are Prokofiev’s Natasha and Tatyana. You need the first scene of War and Peace with its ravishing ‘May Night’ music depicting the renaissance of world-weary Andrey.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David: The tulips are rather eye-popping, aren’t they? The close-up looks a bit Warhol-ish, but it’s how the photograph came out, and seemed somehow fitting, so I left it without retouching. As for Rojo/Acosta, I was astounded to find that complete ballet on YouTube–and of course it was your Building a Library recommendation that led me to seek it out.

      Oh, yes, Juliet is the spring, indeed. The flute music is oh, so lovely, including that passages where she is resisting Paris–and there, as I’ve now discovered, the palette is brightened with elegant touches of triangle and celesta (I’ve added this to my “orchestral color” section in the post). It’s frustrating that the score is available on Petrucci but out of bounds in the US as the copyright period here is unduly long. Or maybe I’m better off, as it’s clear my whole life could be spent on this–following the orchestration alone!

      I searched around, since your mention, for the May Night music on YouTube, but can’t seem to find it. I do have Gergiev’s War and Peace on CDs–do you mean the scene entitled svetlage vesseneje neba? (I also see “May Night” in the Suite, conducted by Neeme Jarvi, though I can’t seem to trace that music back to the opera.)

      Last not least, I do hope you might consider weighing in on one thing vis-a-vis R&J, and that is what the two scenes/motives/themes are that I’m missing in cross-referencing the Suite’s Romeo and Juliet before parting against the ballet. On that, I’m so far stumped.

  2. Jane and Lance Hattatt

    Hello Susan,

    Well, from your pictures it would appear that you are still in the first flush of Spring whereas we here in Budapest feel that we are right in the thick of it! The first buds opening are always a delight. One trusts that one will never tire of this moment in the year and it is now that we miss our gardening days….but not the work of them!

    You always manage to find the perfect accompanying music for your words. We have only listened to them briefly as yet but know that we are going to be spoiled by it all. We shall listen at our leisure with a chilled glass of white wine. That seems right!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Jane and Lance: I am with you completely on enjoying the springtime, but not missing the work of gardening (which where we are now, so rocky, is particularly difficult). As for the music, yes, I think a chilled glass of wine is the right accompaniment for that–as for so many things. I do think the piano pieces delightful, and hope you might think so, too. Perhaps, when the Bard folks come your way again this year, they’ll play you a bit of Prokofiev among all else, who knows? Speaking of the Bard folks, this Friday, I’m headed up to Bard for Sabrina Tabby’s degree recital. Bach, Ravel, Bartok, and a new work by Bard student Tamzin Elliott. I’m really looking forward to that.

  3. Brigitta “Britta” Huegel

    Dear Sue,
    thank you for these beautiful pictures of early spring in New York! Tomorrow we have a holiday, 1.st May – then I will find the time to look at the ballet. Today I indulge in the view of the flowers – the foam of the white cherries, and my special favourites, which I wrongly call coltsfoot – I have to look up their real name. .

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Britta: “foam of the white cherries” is such a lovely way to put it, and so apt. On the other, not coltsfoot, flower, my thought was marsh marigold, but I’m not notable for accuracy on such things. (Indeed, on that point, you’d asked me, about a photograph of reddish buds on a tree, what the tree was, and I replied maybe crabapple. Well, I’ve since seen the flowers, and they are yellow and sort of spidery, so certainly not crabapple, and I don’t know what the tree is even now.)

  4. friko

    Spring seems to be doing just fine your way. I love the delicate colours prevalent at this time of year, nothing is yet blowsy and in-your-face.

    As delicate as Romeo and Juliet in whatever version.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Friko: Yes, even the colors of the trees are delicate this time of year as leaves are just beginning to come out. It’s beautiful looking out over the hills at all the subtle shades of green.

  5. shoreacres

    If I’m not mistaken, that lovely carpet of yellow flowers under the trees is made up of Carolina buttercups. The closeup convinced me. They have a quite shiny surface — almost waxy. We have them here, and I just figured them out this year. I’d assumed they were a weed. Not so – they’re a native wildflower. Most people have them in their lawns, but mowing keeps them short. Left alone, they make lovely displays of somewhat taller flowers.

    And those shots of the playground equipment are just fantastic. The interplay of shadows and lines, the simplicity of the sand and the way it shapes the shadows — wonderful.

    I’ve been listening to the piano, and really enjoying it. It’s strange. Just as pot roast is for winter and pasta salad is for summer, piano is for spring and autumn, for me. There’s something about it that goes well with open windows, jumping fish and the occasional night-bird cry. Thanks so much for the introduction to something I’ve not heard before.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres: Well, I venture your guess on those flowers is far better than mine! I was really pleased to get those playground shots. The lines and shadows were amazing that day. I don’t recall seeing that before, but I might not have been paying attention, either. I love your associations with the piano music, too. I was very pleased to make this discovery and am delighted you’re enjoying it, too!

  6. Steve Schwartzman

    Ah, Riverside Park. When I was in college I sometimes walked over there and sat on a bench to eat my lunch.

    I see a new avatar photo of this blog’s writer.

  7. angela

    I’ve marked the ‘watch later’ function on several of your YouTube links – esp. looking forward to that rendition of the R&J ballet. You will find that I have ‘borrowed’ a photo from this lovely set – so many inspired, but one esp., of the children swinging and composed a quick poem. I owed you a poem for April – hope you don’t mind that I used one of these pictures. I gave you full credit and a link to the blog. Cheers ~ a

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      angela: How wonderful that the photograph inspired a poem! The “play” of line, shadow, and children at play was extraordinary to see–and as many times as I’ve passed by there, I’ve only seen that kind of combination once.

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