Musorgsky: Pictures from an Exhibition; Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet
CDH55306 Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 01: National dance
No 02: Scena (The street wakens)
No 03: Minuet (The arrival of the guests)
No 04: Juliet as a young girl
No 05: Masks
No 06: Montagues and Capulets
No 07: Friar Laurence
No 08: Mercutio
No 09: Dance of the girls with the lilies
No 10: Romeo and Juliet before parting
Such a recreative approach to composition does not apply to all composers, nor to all theatre music. Prokofiev’s success in this field stems, at heart, from his own creative methods. His manner of working, established early in his career, hardly varied. He would carry with him a large notebook into which he would jot all his ideas, and when he had accumulated enough material he would begin the score. Before arriving at that stage, however, the material had already gone through several refining processes. The first was that of his creative imagination—for hardly a moment elapsed when Prokofiev was not thinking about the music in question. Secondly, Prokofiev was an exceptionally gifted pianist who, even after he gave up public appearances, played the instrument daily, when he would refashion or try at the keyboard ideas about which he had been thinking, extemporizing at will. The keyboard, therefore, became a powerful tool in Prokofiev’s creative process. And when it came to the scores themselves, his orchestral ones in particular, they had much of the appearance of piano reductions—often extended by the addition of extra staves when necessary. More often than not, Prokofiev’s music would be first committed to paper in a way which would enable a piano reduction to be made virtually at sight, with very little ‘arranging’ having to be done. In addition, Prokofiev’s music was essentially additive—first one idea, then another, his skill best shown in his ability in joining these elements, in fusing them coherently. In this regard, Prokofiev was a great master. Such an approach is perfect for theatre music, especially the ‘classical’ ballet.
Around the early part of 1934, Prokofiev was edging towards making the decision which became irrevocable for him—a permanent return to Russia after his post-Revolutionary years in the West. His previous ballets—four in total—had each received their premieres in Paris, but the Kirov Theatre in Leningrad was anxious to tempt Prokofiev with the offer of a new, large-scale work. However, the negotiations were inconclusive, and the contract for Prokofiev’s fifth ballet, Romeo and Juliet, was signed with the rival Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. The music was written, at Prokofiev’s usual speed, in the summer of 1935, and the ballet was ready to go into rehearsal at the turn of the year. But an artistic bombshell was about to explode. In January 1936, Dmitri Shostakovich’s successful opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and his new ballet The Limpid Stream were fiercely denounced in two Pravda editorials, throwing the musical world into turmoil. All new productions were put in jeopardy; the Bolshoi then declared that Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet could not be danced to, and the proposed production was cancelled.
Prokofiev was disheartened, but not devastated; if he did not realize the seriousness of the official threat to art, in any event he had, quite by chance, luckily ensured his acceptance as a genuine Soviet artist by the phenomenal success of Peter and the Wolf and the suite from the film of Lieutenant Kijé. In spite of the failure to get an early production of Romeo and Juliet in Russia, Prokofiev did all he could to rescue his score—which he must have known was excellent—from oblivion. He made two orchestral suites for concert use, and a set of ten pieces for solo piano, which he published as his Opus 75. Prokofiev himself first performed the Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet publicly in Moscow in 1937, and this suite marked the first appearance of the Romeo and Juliet music in any form in print.
The items of the piano suite were, as we noted earlier, close to the ‘original’ version of the ballet music; the publication of Prokofiev’s Opus 75 proved useful as a means of promoting the ballet itself, and it was in December 1938 that Romeo and Juliet was first staged, not in the USSR but in Brno, Czechoslovakia. The Russian premiere was given, curiously, not by the Bolshoi Company that had commissioned it, but by the Kirov Company, in Leningrad, in January 1940.
However, it cannot be emphasized too strongly that Prokofiev’s Opus 75 has to be considered as a separate independent piano work, not as a ‘second hand’ score. In the piano suite, the ballet order is changed considerably, for musical reasons—we should not expect a depiction of the stage events in sequence—and the piano version differs in some material respects from the orchestral scores (the ballet score and the concert suites). Prokofiev’s use of a separate opus number and his own public performance of the work in recital clearly show the importance he himself placed upon the keyboard version. But no matter in what form we hear this music, it could be by no other composer.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 1998