Sergei Prokofiev (1891 - 1953)
Piano Sonata No.7 in B flat Major Op. 83
The Seventh Sonata, completed in 1942, was premiered in Moscow by Sviatoslav Richter, who learnt its ultra-virtuoso pages in four days, and later spoke of music reflecting a world without reason or equilibrium. Later Emil Gilels and Horowitz responded no less strongly to such darkness, and Horowitz went on to give the first US performances of all three War Sonatas. Certainly the opening is alive with all of Prokofiev’s scherzando menace, and quickly evolves into a grotesque goose-stepping march. A sense of receding violence, of distant drums and bugle calls, leads to calmer waters, andantino and dolente, before a gradual awakening from such lethargy and an eruption savage even by Prokofiev’s standards. There is a brief return to the Andantino, and a terse resumption of the sonata’s opening, before the movement sputters to a halt, terse and angular to the last. The central Andante is a surprise. Could it be that Prokofiev wished to soften the blow of his earlier uproar with such overt sentimentality, or – more likely – was his ‘blue’ excess satirical, a mocking gift to the musical conservatives and die-hards of his time? At all events the music expands into writing of great fullness and richness, before an elegiac pealing of bells. A brief return to the opening lugubrious theme concludes the movement and increases the listener’s sense of irony and unease. For his finale, Prokofiev has another trick up his sleeve, a malignant and, indeed, mesmeric toccata in 7/8 rhythm. As inexorable as a time bomb, it moves from its first claustrophobic confines to cover virtually the entire range of the keyboard.
© Bryce Morrison