There have been three great modern Russian composers: Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), and Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953).1 In an important sense, each member of this trio is musically defined by his physical relation to the land of his birth. Stravinsky, resident in France at the time of World War I, chose not to return to Russia after the October Revolution of 1917; he was to go back only once, for a short and not entirely satisfactory visit in 1962. As for Shostakovich, he was Stravinsky’s opposite in the matter of residence as in so much else; he remained in Russia his entire life, save for a number of visits abroad carefully calculated by his Soviet masters to enhance the prestige of Soviet art. Prokofiev, finally, lived as an adult both in his own country and abroad, spending the 1920’s and much of the 1930’s in Europe and America, then returning home as the Great Purge reached its height, and remaining there until his death less than one hour before that of the infamous Josef Stalin.
As the world saw them, these three composers were publicly very different. Stravinsky, born of upper-class stock and long associated with the equally upper-class balletomane Serge Diaghilev, was resolutely anti-Bolshevik. Shostakovich, dubbed by many an artistic child of the Revolution, seemed almost until the very end of his life a loyal and cooperative Bolshevik, even in the face of withering criticism of his music by Stalin’s multitudinous cultural henchmen before and after World War II. Prokofiev, in contrast to both Stravinsky and Shostakovich, took no interest or part in politics. Like Shostakovich, he was forced to toe the Communist aesthetic line, not only in order to continue working but in order to continue living; also like Shostakovich, he saw his associates imprisoned and in some cases executed. Unlike Shostakovich, Prokofiev was personally touched by the terror, when his estranged wife, the mother of his two sons, was arrested in 1948 and taken off to a camp from which she was not released until 1956.
Musically, as far as Stravinsky is concerned, the verdict of history is clear: three great ballets for Diaghilev, culminating in the primitivist The Rite of Spring (1913); a group of hauntingly lovely neoclassic works, the best of which are the oratorio Oedipus Rex (1927) and the ballet Apollo (1928); a number of astringent works written in American exile, ending with the opera The Rake’s Progress (1951); and finally, in the last two decades of his life, a startling appropriation of twelve-tone technique, resulting in some very dry music and much flattering critical discussion. Overall, thanks to Robert Craft and others, Stravinsky remains in death what he was in life: the most written-about composer of the 20th century.
With Shostakovich the verdict, though only recently arrived at, is also reasonably clear: fifteen important and public symphonies, most of them projected on a very large canvas, divided—after the youthfully shocking First Symphony (1924-25)—between bathetic but popular pro-Soviet works like the Fifth (1937) and the Seventh (1941) on the one hand and courageous moral outbursts like the Thirteenth (“Babi Yar,” 1962) and the Fourteenth (1969) on the other; fifteen beautiful and intensely private string quartets written between 1935 and 1974; a large number of other chamber works; several concertos; many film scores; and a brutally realistic opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (1934), known in the version revised after much political pressure as Katerina Ismaylova (1962). Overall, Shostakovich has managed, through the posthumous publication of seemingly authentic memoirs, to transform his image in death from what had appeared to be that of a Soviet hero to that of a martyr equaled in dissidence perhaps only by Solzhenitsyn.
There is no such clear verdict on Sergei Prokofiev, He began his career at the end of the first decade of this century as a shocking pianist performing his own shocking compositions. The enfant terrible first of the St. Petersburg Conservatory and then of Russian musical life in general, with his dissonantal, rigidly motoric music and similarly hard-edged pianism, he divided sophisticated concert audiences into violent supporters and equally violent detractors. When he began his exile from the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918, he continued abroad the reputation for provocation he had done so much to earn at home. But by the end of his life in 1953, Prokofiev, sick and increasingly feeble, had become a Soviet composer, finally forgiven for the crime of having lived abroad and, despite a crushing 1948 attack on him for formalism—i.e., placing private considerations of style and structure ahead of easy accessibility to a mass audience—honored with several much-coveted Stalin Prizes.
Prokofiev’s work may be divided into three periods: Russian, exilic, and Soviet. Always facile, he composed a huge amount of music, of which perhaps half was written prior to his return to the Soviet Union in the mid-1930’s; of this first half, half again was written in his self-imposed exile after the Revolution. Altogether, in a compositional career stretching over a half-century, he completed seven symphonies, seven operas, seven ballets, four scores for dramatic productions, six film scores, five piano concertos, two violin concertos, two cello concertos, two string quartets, nine piano sonatas, two violin sonatas, a cello sonata, a host of songs, much solo piano music, and assorted orchestral, choral, and instrumental works.
Not surprisingly, the piano works of Prokofiev’s Russian period, which were responsible for his early reputation, are no longer shocking. Instead, they now seem by turns flippant and sentimental. Two short dissonantal works, Suggestion diabolique (1908-12) and Toccata (1912), have become virtuoso showpieces beloved of hard-driving pianists; they were especially popular a generation ago, at least in this country, with young pianists anxious to profit from the public regard for Vladimir Horowitz’s clangorous tone.2 Visions fugitives (1915-17), twenty wistful and spicy keyboard miniatures, are very much more tuneful and refined, though hardly more memorable as musical thought. The four piano sonatas that date from this period do no more than replicate the mixture of cynicism and emotionality on a larger scale; the best of them, and the only one heard often today, is the Sonata no. 3 (composed 1907, revised 1917): short, sweet, and brilliant, it smacks of a greatly talented conservatory student showing off all his tricks upon graduation. The composer’s first two piano concertos, the earlier written in 1911-12 and the latter in 1912-13 but revised in 1923, make the same impression with still greater presumption; indeed, it was through his playing of the Concerto no. 1 in a public contest that Prokofiev beat his fellow students and emerged in 1914 as the best pianist at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
Prokofiev’s orchestral compositions during this time, though much talked about in their day, now seem hardly more consequential. The Scythian Suite (1914-15), drawn from an unproduced ballet written at the suggestion of Diaghilev, bears a too-close resemblance to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, while The Buffoon (composed for Diaghilev as a ballet in 1915, but now known in its 1922 orchestral version) openly reverts in style and mood to Stravinsky’s preceding triumph, Petrushka (1911). The Symphony no. 1 (1916-17), subtitled “Classical,” stems from a then-common desire to abandon the lushness of 19th-century romanticism in favor of 18th-century clarity; but in contrast to the gravity of Richard Strauss’s earlier Ariadne auf Naxos (1911) and Stravinsky’s later Pulcinella (1920), Prokofiev’s classicizing can easily strike a listener today as mere fussiness. One work of this period, the Violin Concerto no. 1 (1916-17), seems less trivial and, in parts, genuinely melodic; but though very much in the soloist’s repertory today, it too makes an overall impression of scrappiness.3
Prokofiev’s first important work outside Russia, though conceived there, was the opera The Love for Three Oranges (1918-21). This setting (with the composer’s own libretto) of Gozzi’s 18th-century parody of Chari and Goldoni was a venture into the vein of the commedia dell’arte so dear to Strauss and Stravinsky; more successful on its first performance in Chicago than elsewhere thereafter, it has won some popularity in the post-1945 Western operatic repertory, and in this country the famous March from Act II even became (in supposedly McCarthyite America!) the theme music of the smash radio program, “The FBI in Peace and War.”
For Prokofiev, exile after 1918 meant not just composing but earning a living by giving regular piano concerts. For an appearance with Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony at the time of the premiere of The Love for Three Oranges, he completed his Piano Concerto no. 3 (1917-21). This was to prove his finest work to date, and to become one of the most popular 20th-century piano concertos. Though the many extended fast sections still suffer from Prokofiev’s tendency to athletic bustle in the place of inner vitality, each of the work’s three movements contains passages of long-lined lyricism; the concluding movement in particular is marked by perhaps the first appearance of what was to become a typical Prokofiev grand melody, chaste and pure, rich in timbre but lean in harmonization.4
We learn from Harlow Robinson’s recent biography of the composer5 that in 1924 the increasingly successful émigré conductor Serge Koussevitzky, about to take over the Boston Symphony Orchestra, suggested that Prokofiev make a “hit” of the symphony he was then writing. But Prokofiev’s Symphony no. 2, premiered by Koussevitzky in Paris the next year, was a meandering and harsh work, lightened only by the lovely, Ravel-like opening of its second (and final) movement. The work did not please the modernist cognoscenti, but it was well received in the Soviet Union, where the first signs were beginning to appear of what was later to become a beguiling welcome mat for Prokofiev.
There were other portents as well of artistic rapprochement with Russia’s new masters. The formerly arch-anti-Bolshevik Diaghilev commissioned from Prokofiev a “Soviet” ballet, Le Pas d’acier (1925-26); the title is usually translated as “The Steel Step.” This dry and unappealing work is a Paris-hatched evocation of Communist mechanization and industrialization. Initially the work was successful in Paris but was ill-received in the Soviet Union, where Prokofiev, Robinson tells us, was accused of a “distorted view of Soviet reality”; evidently the commissars did not relish praise from the effete Diaghilev and his coterie.
Another of Prokofiev’s misfires at this time was The Flaming Angel (1919-27), an opera of female sexual obsession, based on a novel by the Russian symbolist Valery Bryusov. In this tense and brittle work, Prokofiev was so concerned with setting speech to musical accompaniment that he seems to have minimized any melodic expression for the voices. Despite his best efforts, the opera was not staged until 1955, and then only in Venice. In a valuable article on Prokofiev’s operas,6 George Martin asserts that The Flaming Angel demonstrates “much the same kind of power” as Strauss’s Elektra (1906-08). Yet such a comparison surely understates the power of the extended outbursts of onrushing song which mark the latter part of Elektra; all of Strauss’s dissonances—and here they are indeed more daring than those of Prokofiev—are integrated and redeemed by an even more daring lyrical passion. It was precisely this ultimate balancing of cacophony with melody, of harmonic disorder with order, which the Strauss of Elektra accomplished, and which the Prokofiev of The Flaming Angel, despite an attempt at song toward the end, could not manage.
Prokofiev did use much material from The Flaming Angel in his Symphony no. 3 (1928). Here the prevailing sound is harsh and heavy, and the symphony is today rarely played. But in fact Prokofiev’s aesthetic was now beginning to change; the lyrical and combative elements which made up his musical personality were coming into equilibrium. An important token of this development was the tuneful and sometimes even romantic L’Enfant prodigue (1929), Diaghilev’s last production before his death the same year. Material from this new, more relaxed Prokofiev forms the basis of the Symphony no. 4 (1930). This very beautiful work has had a checkered history, and unfortunately has been known mainly in the composer’s very much expanded 1947 revision, but in its original, highly concentrated form it seems the first fully realized example of the mature romantic classicism we associate with the best music of Prokofiev’s Soviet period.
Another important work in these years when Prokofiev was going back and forth among the Soviet Union, Western Europe, and America is the Piano Concerto no. 4 (1931), written as a commission from the one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein, the brother of the famous philosopher. This four-movement work for the left hand alone, immensely hard and even unrewarding to play, was spurned by its dedicatee because of its difficulty, and then frowned upon in the Soviet Union, perhaps for its lack of programmatic content. As a result it lay unperformed until 1956, and is rarely played even today. Nevertheless, the work combines two brilliant outer movements with a chastely beautiful slow movement and a dramatic third movement; the slow movement in particular marks another step on the road to the fully mature Prokofiev. The same can hardly be said of the bright and beady—and more frequently played—Concerto no. 5 (1932), a work that in retrospect seems a last reversion to Prokofiev’s early hyper-athletic manner.
As the decade of the 1930’s progressed, Prokofiev was to spend more and more time in the land of his birth. Harlow Robinson makes it clear that despite the worsening political situation the Soviet Union had much to offer the now middle-aged composer. In the West, he had had to support himself and his family with constant piano appearances; in Russia he would be supported, as a composer, by the state. In the West he felt at the mercy of a small, inconstant, and complexity-loving audience captivated by the always-fashionable Stravinsky, a musical figure who both fascinated and repelled him; in Russia, he thought he had found a vast and eager public ready, because of its roots in pre-revolutionary Russian musical tradition, to support his new-found lyrical clarity. Robinson sums the matter up well: “Ultimately, it was [Prokofiev’s] desire to compose in a more simple style that led him to return to the USSR.”
Despite the horror of what was happening in Russia in the period after Prokofiev’s return, it cannot be denied, I think, that he began to write his best music then. Thus in 1933, while in the Soviet Union, he composed the whimsically satirical score for the film Lt. Kijé, a work which has found a secure place in the orchestral repertory; in 1935 he wrote the very beautiful Violin Concerto no. 2, whose melodies grow more ravishing as each year passes; in 1936 he wrote the charming Peter and the Wolf, entrancing children all over the world while educating them about the instruments of the orchestra.
Finally, in 1935-38 he produced one of his most important scores, the ballet Romeo and Juliet; in a bow to his own past, Prokofiev included in this new work the well-known Gavotte from the “Classical” Symphony. The long score of Romeo and Juliet, powerful in its evocation of both communal conflict and the pathos of young love, is today known not just as a ballet but perhaps even better in the three orchestral suites which have been extracted from it.7 Here, for the first time, Prokofiev was neither an enfant terrible nor a troubled genius struggling to find his own consistent voice; instead, he had become a master whose best works to come—and they were to be many—would bear the stamp of icy passion and refined athleticism.
Yet this moment of artistic transcendence for Prokofiev—the moment, also, when he decided to reside permanently in the Soviet Union—was marked as well by the terror and exterminations of Stalin’s purges. The murderous attention which this tyrant had been paying to the Russian peasantry was now extended to the army, the bureaucracy, and society as a whole. It was also extended to the arts. In music, the ax fell on Shostakovich in 1936 for his opera Lady Macbeth, successful on its premiere two years earlier, but now suddenly choked off because of Stalin’s detestation of the licentious story and the frank musical treatment. Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 4 (1935-36) was withdrawn, and only the appearance of the Symphony no. 5 (1937), subtitled “A Soviet Artist’s Practical, Creative Reply to Just Criticism,” restored him to the Stalinist book of life.
The dictator’s chosen enemy was not simply particular pieces of music but any tendencies still remaining in Soviet society to look elsewhere than to the current definition of political orthodoxy for cultural nourishment and guidance. In practice, this meant a demand for musical happy endings, and a ban on any form of modernism and on any contemporary foreign influences.
The implications of such an artistic straitjacket for Prokofiev’s music and even for his physical survival gradually became clear. He made public political statements, and he began to write what can only be called political nonce-works, starting off with a wretched Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution (1936-37); ironically, this piece of bombast did not do the job its creator intended, for it was not performed until 1966.8 In the years before his death, Prokofiev was to write several such compositions, including the drinking song Zdravitsa (1939), usually translated as “Hail to Stalin”; the oratorio On Guard for Peace (1950); and the Festive Poem—the Meeting of the Volga and the Don (1951), written to celebrate the completion of yet another slave-labor project.
But the real Prokofiev, happily, is not to be found in any of these extorted potboilers. He is to be found, for example, in the Piano Sonatas nos. 6 through 8 that he began to sketch in 1939. All of them have gone into the international piano repertory, perhaps the last solo works—with the exception of the Sonata op. 26 (1949) by the American Samuel Barber—to do so. Of these three vital compositions, the most brilliant, the most moving, and curiously the shortest is the Sonata no. 7, completed in 1942.9 This titantic work resounds in its outer movements with the sounds of the coming war, but in the glorious slow movement contains a manly tenderness that ennobles the surrounding struggle.
Prokofiev also continued to write for orchestra and the ballet. His Symphony no. 5 (1944), though very much a public work, now seems more authentic than Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 7 (1941), subtitled “Leningrad.” The ballet Cinderella (1940-44), still today very much in the shadow of Romeo and Juliet, is even finer than the earlier score in the purity and intensity of its melodic expression. Mention must be made, too, of the two massive film scores, Alexander Nevsky (1938) and Ivan the Terrible (1942-46), both written in close collaboration with the great director Sergei Eisenstein. Gripping as film accompaniment, these works maintain their life in the concert hall, though in both cases Prokofiev’s own musical style is subordinated to the attempt to accommodate the historical, not to say mythic, Russian subject matter; in any event, this music is the high-water mark of the composer’s achievement as a Soviet patriot.
Throughout his life, Prokofiev was committed to operatic composition. As an aspect of his accommodation to the political climate at the end of the 1930’s he wrote Semyon Kotko (1940), based on a story combining post-1917 events in the Ukraine with a traditional boy-meets-girl, boy-wins-girl plot; although the political libretto could not have been more orthodox, or the musical treatment more lyrical, the conflicted political atmosphere of the Hitler-Stalin Pact seems to have doomed the work on its premiere, and it remains neglected.
Prokofiev made one further operatic attempt to please his masters: the Story of a Real Man (1948), based on the best-selling novel of Boris Polevoi about a wounded Russian flyer who returns to combat after his legs are amputated. In the music for this, his last opera, Prokofiev combined cinematic techniques of short scenes and rapid alternations of mood with traditional operatic forms of aria and duet, and even introduced evocations of popular dance music. Once again, however, he failed to please his masters, and the work was not performed for the first time until 1960; since then it has become a regular part of the repertory in Moscow.
More important by far, however, is War and Peace, which the composer worked on from 1941 until the year before his death, in spite of illness and the firestorm of Andrei Zhdanov’s 1948 onslaught on musical life. In War and Peace, Prokofiev rests not on the quicksand of Soviet attitudes to current events but on the very core of Russian history, made into immortal literature by Tolstoy. From so immense a historical canvas, Prokofiev fashioned an enormous opera that in its original version threatened to require two evenings for its performance.
After a hugely successful 1946 production in Leningrad of the first half of the opera, Prokofiev made both extensive revisions and many—evidently too many—cuts. After the cuts were restored, the revised War and Peace, now brimming with expansive melodies and striding rhythms, was finally staged in Moscow in 1959. The work has never been produced in the United States by a major opera company; given the fact that War and Peace very possibly contains the strongest music, qua music, of any opera written since Strauss, such a staging, by one of our repertory-starved operatic behemoths, is long overdue.10
Prokofiev’s compositional career—and his life—was rounded out by his final two symphonies and a remarkable work for cello and orchestra. The Symphony no. 6 (1945-47) was evidently to be more severe and introspective, than its very outgoing predecessor; the late musicologist Boris Schwarz (in the 1983 second edition of his indispensable Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia) correctly finds “the orchestral sound . . . harsh and metallic . . . the low brass instruments . . . often snarling . . . the high woodwinds shrill. . . .” But even here, the lovely slow movement, with its perhaps unintended reference to a theme from the American Howard Hanson’s “Nordic” Symphony (1923), musically justifies the surrounding density. The quite different Symphony no. 7 (1951-52) seems to evoke the gentle and nostalgic sides of Paris in the 1920’s; listening to the soaring opening movement of this work, one can only marvel at the capacity of the artist to find warmth in his imagination at a time when real life was unbearably bleak.
The same must be said of the Sinfonia Concertante (1950-52), a work brilliantly played the world over by Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom it was written. Here, in a tightly-packed piece of less than twenty minutes’ duration, Prokofiev sums up the entire melodic and virtuoso tradition of the Russian solo concerto, a genre made famous by Tchaikowsky and Rachmaninoff, and to which Prokofiev himself contributed so much.
The ironies of Prokofiev’s life are startling. A composer of genius grows up under conditions of relative artistic freedom; he leaves his revolution-ridden homeland to work in total freedom—but then writes his best music after intentionally deciding to incarcerate himself in the land of his birth, one of the most bloodthirsty tyrannies the world has ever known. Did Prokofiev behave in some sense culpably in writing music—beautiful and great music—under a dictator? Can it be true that despotism, rather than freedom, is peculiarly conducive to great art?
These are difficult questions to answer, for they go to the heart of the spiritual life of the 20th century. In the particular case of Prokofiev, it is essential to realize that we have little record of his politics, or of his wider activities outside music. Though he left behind a fascinating memoir of childhood and student days at the St. Petersburg Conservatory,11 he wrote very little of a personal nature about his adult life; as Harlow Robinson has convincingly demonstrated, Prokofiev was a man of abrasive utterance but few explanations. Moreover, of those colleagues who may have known him intimately, few can have survived into happier times with their memories and energies intact.
In any case, unlike his younger colleague Shostakovich, who early on supported the Bolshevik Revolution and who served (under duress) as a Stalinist spokesman on well-publicized propaganda visits to Europe and the United States after World War II, Prokofiev confined his political acts to perfunctory statements and obligatory ceremonial compositions that were in no case successful. Given the conditions of the last years of Stalin’s reign, Prokofiev’s stubborn insistence on writing abstract symphonies in addition to the required program music speaks for his artistic courage, not for any craven capitulation.
It is also clear that Prokofiev’s artistic turn away from the stridency and the flippancy associated with the hypertrophy of musical modernism occurred well before his return to the USSR, and that the roots of his best music lay in works he wrote while still in the West. In going back, was Prokofiev beguiled by the prospect of an adoring and receptive audience? Of course he was. But it is hardly peculiar to want to write for an approving audience. Furthermore, it would be wrong to overlook the close attachment of composers to their homelands; in general, it is difficult to separate the greatest music from the national circumstances under which it was written. The idea of Mother Russia, as important to Prokofiev as it is to Solzhenitsyn, was hardly invented by Stalin, exploit it though the dictator did in order to mobilize political sentiment.
So far as the creation of art under tyranny is concerned, we can hardly believe that any domination of man by man is so complete as to destroy all autonomous human experience, the nonpolitical as well as the political, the artistic as well as the social. Even under totalitarianism some kind of private experience persists, and so too, by implication, does the life of the artistic imagination. Boris Pasternak conceived and wrote his novel Dr. Zhivago under the worst conditions of repression; in the more abstract and therefore more enclosed area of music, the individual expression of genius remained similarly possible.
Today, in our present era of perhaps exaggerated hopes for glasnost and perestroika, is there a risk that in praising works of art created under Stalin we may be offering an apology for, or even a defense of, past or future evil? There can be little doubt that present and future Soviet governments—and present and future Stalinists—will attempt to use Russian art and creativity to justify past actions and future plans. It is, after all, the fate of great art to be enlisted in every cause, good or bad. All the more necessary, then, to insist on the distance that separates art created by individuals, working within the matrix of a great people, from the crimes of sanguinary usurpers. Clearly the point is not that despotism is good for music, any more than the fate of the musical avant-garde in the West after World War II proves that political freedom is bad. The point, rather, is that any attempt to extract apodictic lessons about the creation of art from our knowledge of the political circumstances which surround it is to reduce artistic creativity to the level of a recipe, as if writing a symphony were like baking a cake. This, indeed, was Stalin’s position; it need hardly be ours.
With Sergei Prokofiev, what we know is that there occurred in him that most fecund conjunction of an original artistic genius with an artistic tradition still alive in a large population. It is the business of critics, among others, to maintain such traditions; the genius comes from elsewhere and above.
1 I have previously written in COMMENTARY on Stravinsky (July 1978) and Shostakovich (November 1982); the Stravinsky article was reprinted in my Music After Modernism (1979) and the Shostakovich article in The House of Music (1984).
2 Horowitz's 1947 recording of the Toccata is a fitting monument both to the great pianist and to the entire era of supercharged pianism, now gone, which he exemplified. It is available (or, given the current obsolescence of the LP disc, said to be available) on RCA ARM 1-2717. Of even greater historical interest are Prokofiev's own less aggressive (though equally hard-edged) 1935 performances of the Suggestion diabolique and nine of the Visions fugitives; they were available in the 1960s, along with other examples of Prokofiev's playing of his own music, on Angel COLH 34.
3 A lovely, dreamy performance of this work by the Russian virtuoso David Oistrakh, recorded (I assume) in the Soviet Union in the mid-1950's, was available many years ago on Westminster XWN 18178. A much more compelling and communicative recording was done as long ago as 1935 by the great Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti, accompanied by the redoubtable Sir Thomas Beecham; it was last available in the 1970's on the very choice Szigeti eightieth-birthday album, CBS M6X 31513.
4 Prokofiev's own surprisingly limpid 1932 performance of the Concerto no. 3, made in London with conductor Piero Coppola, is to be found on Angel COLH 34, a disc I have mentioned above. My own favorite recording of this work was made in the late 1940's by the much-lamented American pianist William Kappell (1922-53); it is now available on LP as RCA AGM1-5266, and on cassette as AGK1-5266.
5 Sergei Prokofiev: A Biography, Viking (1987), 573 pp., $29.95. Paperback: Paragon House Publishers (1988), $12.95.
6 In his The Opera Companion to Twentieth Century Opera (1979).
7 Connoisseurs of historical recordings will be interested to know of Prokofiev's own 1938 performance of the Suite no. 2 from Romeo and Juliet, now available on a Philips CD (420778-2), and his mentor Koussevitzky's extraordinary 1945 Boston performance of the same excerpts, recently available on an RCA Victrola LP (AVM1-2021).
8 In this era of glasnost and perestroika it might be salutary to listen occasionally to such a token of the bad old days: the Cantata was recently available on a Melodiya/Angel recording (SR40129), coupled with another classic of the genre, Shostakovich's cantata celebrating the 35th anniversary of the 1917 Revolution, The Sun Shines Over Our Motherland (1952).
9 The first American performance of each of these three Prokofiev sonatas was given during World War II by Vladimir Horowitz, who recorded no. 7 in 1950; the performance remains today the standard for the technical brilliance and the cold passion which the pianist, mirroring the composer, brings to the music. This epochal piece of piano-playing was included, along with an equally superlative performance of the Barber sonata, in the RCA LP album LD 7021, now deleted.
10 I am aware of two recordings of War and Peace. The first, a 1960 Soviet recording conducted by Alexander Melik-Pashayev and very likely made with the extraordinary cast (including Galina Vishnevskaya) of the 1959 Bolshoi staging, was available (with the usual execrable surfaces) as Melodiya MK 218 D; I have not heard the deleted Angel reissue of this performance. A new CD, recorded in Bulgaria and pressed in West Germany, is now available (with a libretto in English and French) as Fidelio 8801/3.
11 Prokofiev By Prokofiev, edited by David H. Appel and translated by Guy Daniels (Doubleday, 1979).