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Piano Sonata No.5 in C Major Op.38

Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Piano Sonata No.5 in C Major Op.38

One of music's true originals, Prokofiev dared to shake his fist at Soviet officialdom. His First Piano Sonata, Opus 1, (1909) had not, perhaps extended the language of Russia's ancien régime (Glazunov, Arensky, Liadov etc) but in Suggestion diabolique, Op.4, the First Piano Concerto, Op.10, and the Toccata, Op.11, he insisted on a more muscular tradition of speech, shorn of easy sentiment and flinging all discretion to the winds.

Reaction was swift and unforgiving. The composer who wrote such music, who dismissed Mozart, who spoke of the old outworn arpeggio-ridden techniques and who felt that the time had come 'to do quite well without Chopin', was attacked from all sides. A belligerent leftist from the start, Prokofiev's porcupine personality - all spines and quills - at once established him as Russia's most brilliant bad boy.

The Fifth Sonata was written in exile in Bavaria in 1923 and was substantially revised in 1953, when Opus 38 became Opus 135. The earlier version demonstrates greater dissonance and compactness. A frosty and satirical romance, either version is far from removed from the Fourth Sonata's dourness, and both commence with a bright-eyed theme of a pronounced Gallic flavour; almost as if Poulenc had stepped on stage. The music progresses with greater complexity, though Prokofiev keeps his most biting irony and parody at bay, reserving them for the second movement, a malignant dance in triple time complemented by a savagely glinting ostinato. The third movement, like the first, quickly loses its initial innocence; within a mere three bars its cheerful diatonic clarity has been abruptly thrown off course, and the zig-zag race of events climaxes in the final pages of the most ingenious rhythmic syncopation and pungency.

© Bryce Morrison

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