Piano Sonata No. 2 (Prokofiev)
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- In appraising my music the critics wrote a good deal of nonsense; for example, the best of them maintained that the finale of Sonata No. 2 made him think of 'a herd of mammoths charging across an Asiatic plateau.'
- Sergei Prokofiev, In: S. I. Shlifshtein, ed., S. Prokofiev: Autobiography, Articles, Reminiscences, trans. Rose Prokofieva
Boris Berman, Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas : A Guide for the Listener and the Performer (2008), "Sonata No.2 in D minor, Op. 14"
- Sonata No. 2 gives us a chance to see how the main stylistic traits of Prokofiev’s music, outlined in the opening chapter, play out within the con text of a sonata. Prokofiev’s language in this composition is not particularly novel. Many of his themes sound quite traditional. Both the first and second themes of the first movement begin in a conventional Romantic way. The third movement builds upon the tradition of fairy-tale imagery so important in the music of Prokofiev’s older Russian contemporaries—Rimsky Korsakov, Lyadov, and Medtner. Instead, the novelty is in the way Prokofiev treats his material.
- Compared with the conservatively homogeneous music of the First Sonata, the Second astonishes with its huge variety, even incongruity, of styles, presented in a paradoxical, carnival atmosphere.
- The strong contrasts typical of this sonata manifest themselves as early as its opening, when the impatient, Schumannesque first theme is interrupted by harsh dissonances and a recurring chiming motive in the left hand.
- This [second] movement is one of Prokofiev’s toccata-like scherzos. Its building blocks are a short ostinato motive and rhythmically uniform non legato chords, with continually moving middle voices.
- This [third] movement is a skazka (Russian for fairy tale), a genre that Prokofiev turned to frequently. Its characteristic traits—monotonous, soothing harmonies; an unhurried unfolding of the melody; a mysterious ostinato; “frozen” sonorities, which descend chromatically; a weaving accompanying line that suggests the patina of a distant time—are all put to effective use here. … In my opinion, this movement shows the composer at both his strongest and his weakest. Prokofiev’s striking ability to evoke a specific mood within a few initial measures of every new statement is strongly in evidence here. On the other hand, in this movement he refrains from giving the material any kind of thematic development, limiting himself to repeating themes within different textures. The movement consists of two episodes, each repeated with a different accompanying texture and with a slight change in the treatment of the second episode.
- The last movement is particularly striking in its range of contrast, verging on stylistic incongruity. The first theme is tarantella-like—a reference to such standard staples of the virtuoso repertoire as the finale of Saint-Saëns’ Concerto No. 2, which Prokofiev would have heard at the conservatory. The movement’s second theme sounds as if borrowed from the music hall. In the development, a lyrical theme from the first movement reappears nostalgically but is almost immediately turned into a cancan. Such abrupt contrasts are not typical for Prokofiev; they belong more to the aesthetics of Shostakovich.
- The key to the success of this [second] movement lies in rhythmically steady playing. The tempo does not need to be very fast, but the pulsation of the eighth notes should remain unaffected by the difficult jumps in the left hand.
- Steadiness of tempo is essential in the performance of this finale [fourth movement]. Do not start it in a faster tempo than you can sustain in the technically challenging passages later.