The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce

Prokofiev and Myaskovksy

[Nikolai] Myaskovsky was a friend of Prokofiev at the St Petersburg Conservatory, and later befriended Shostakovich. He wrote 27 symphonies, only to have his works banned by the Soviets in the late 1940s with the Zhdanov Decree, which also affected Shostakovich and Prokofiev. He was a soldier on the Eastern front during WWI until he was injured. [cite]

Myaskovsky’s fourth symphony was written very quickly, between December 20, 1917 and April 5, 1918. Designed during his stay in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, he writes it away from the horrors of war, in his time free and also during the nights when he was on duty as a guard officer, in the cold rooms of the Ministry of the Navy. [cite]

Nikolai Myaskovsky, Symphony No. 4 (1917-18)

When Sergei Prokofiev arrived in Chicago to premiere his weird modernist opera, The Love of Three Oranges on New Years Eve, 1921, Ben Hecht was where the action was. In a behind the scenes story for the Chicago Daily News, he covered the chaotic last minute stage directing at the dress rehearsal. . . .

[Hecht wrote] The first act of “The Oranges” is over. Two critics exchanging opinions glower at Mr. Prokofiev. One says: “What a shame! What a shame! Nobody will understand it.” The other agrees. But perhaps they only mean that music critics will fail to understand it and that untutored ones like ourselves will find in the hurdy-gurdy rhythms and contortions of Mr. Prokofiev and Mr. Anisfeld a strange delight. As if some one had given us a musical lollypop to suck and rub in our hair. [cite]

Sergei Prokofiev, The Love for Three Oranges (1919)

A synopsis of The Love for Three Oranges may be found here.

The source for the quotation that forms the title of the post may be found here. The image at the head of the post is widely available on the internet.

With thanks, once again, to David Nice, for a most entertaining beginning to the third iteration of his Russian Music course. For more on that, go here.


2 thoughts on “The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce

  1. shoreacres

    I knew the name Ben Hecht, of course, but I really couldn’t place him or his work. I found a fascinating article in The New Yorker which contained this line: “As Norman Mailer noted in 1973, Hecht was “never a writer to tell the truth when a concoction could put life in his prose.” I’d say his ‘musical lollipop’ comment is pretty darned lively.

    I read the synopsis for The Love for Three Oranges. Even if it’s the first live production available when Broadway reopens, I’m not sure I’d spring for the ticket!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres: yes, I’d say so too, about the Hecht comment, and his whole “review” is entertaining, too. As for the opera itself, I would definitely spring for it in the right production, as it’s clearly a wacky, over-the-top entertainment. The video isn’t good enough quality to capture the production I posted (courtesy of David Nice, who saw it live and showed us some of the video in class). That said, for a little amusement, perhaps I can tempt you to take a peak at just the opening, where an “MC” describes when to use the scratch cards that have been handed out to the audience. (David still has his.)

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