Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Piano Sonata No.6 in A Major Op. 82
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 Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Sonatas represent the zenith
of Prokofiev's pianistic art, showing an altogether wider range of expression than their
notorious style méchanique might suggest. All three sonatas were simultaneously
sketched in 1939, forming a trilogy known as the War Sonatas. Only the Sixth was quickly
completed, however, and the first broadcast and public performances were given by the
composer and Sviatoslav Richter respectively in 1940.
One of the grandest and most powerful of all modern
sonatas, the Sixth Sonata's first movement opposes and combines a notably terse and
dissonant motive with a spare and melancholy subordinate theme. The yoking together of
such contrasted material results in a fast and furious development where glissandi
and clusters of notes played col pugno (with the fist) contribute to the general
ferocity, concluding in a defiant reference to the first subject. The Allegretto's
dance-like measures are elaborated with flashing quintuplets, and the music's constrained
poetry surfaces briefly in a central meno mosso before a final parody of the
rhythm resolves in a comically false cadence.
The third movement is a slow waltz, its sentiment
characteristically qualified by an unusual richness of expression, but the Vivace
returns us to Prokofiev's most lean and wintry virtuoso style. This commences with all the
insistence of a tribal drum beat, and even a more genial idea, or a nostalgic reminder of
the first movement, cannot curb such wildness. In the final pages Prokofiev's
'scherzoness' - his self-confessed playfulness - turns the music's general outline
topsy-turvy while maintaining a hard diamond-like clarity.
© Bryce Morrison