Piano Sonata No. 4 (Prokofiev)

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Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 4 in C minor, Op. 29 (1917) is a sonata composed for solo piano. It was first performed by the composer on April 17, 1918, in Petrograd. The work was dedicated to Prokoviev's good friend Maximilian Schmidthof, whose suicide in 1913 shocked and saddened the composer.


  • The character of the first movement is unique, the result of a curious combination of two radically different traits. On one hand, certain features make it sound neo-Baroque, in the vein of Prokofiev’s stylization of Baroque dances …
    On the other hand, the movement’s melodic and harmonic language, as well as its evocative usage of the piano’s registers, connects the first movement with the Russian tradition of musical fairy tales, especially with the dark, spooky variety. Here the influence of Nikolai Medtner’s piano works is particularly noticeable …
    • Boris Berman, Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas : A Guide for the Listener and the Performer (2008), "Sonata No. 4 in C Minor, op. 29"
  • The first theme, presented in a dark, low register, has a mysterious, lugubrious character. Its simple harmonies based on major or minor triads produce a peculiarly archaic effect, as do the ceremonial “bows” on emphasized chords. Many short motives are arranged as hemiolas, whose rhythmic ambiguity intensifies the feeling of uncertainty.
    The more continuous melody of the bridge section (…) sounds somewhat disturbed and plaintive.
    In the second theme (m. 40, ...), the contrasting characters of the two preceding themes are melded.
    • Boris Berman, Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas : A Guide for the Listener and the Performer (2008), "Sonata No. 4 in C Minor, op. 29"
  • This [second] movement must have been Prokofiev’s favorite. In addition to orchestrating it, he included it in the group of works he recorded for HMV in 1935. It is built on a dramatic conflict between the somber, chromatic first theme and the lyrical, diatonic second theme, which uses only the white keys of the piano. (Prokofiev wrote these kinds of melodies throughout his life; one can recall the opening of the Third Piano Concerto or the first theme of the Ninth Sonata.) The structure of the movement is a complex one. It combines aspects of variations with a ternary (ABA) form and the sonata form without a development.
    • Boris Berman, Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas : A Guide for the Listener and the Performer (2008), "Sonata No. 4 in C Minor, op. 29"
  • This [third] movement is a brilliant tongue-in-cheek imitation of the Classical style similar to that of the Classical Symphony, op. 25. Prokofiev wrote the symphony at the same time as the Fourth Sonata and conducted its premiere in St. Petersburg just four days after the sonata’s premiere. If in the symphony Prokofiev is concerned with imitating the orchestral style of the Viennese composers of the eighteenth century, here he is mimicking the conventions of the Classical piano style. Thus, the Alberti bass accompaniment typical of Mozart’s piano textures is recalled in the left-hand accompaniment of the opening theme. Delicate and transparent in Mozart, it is much thicker and more audacious in Prokofiev’s rendering, peppered with leaps and dissonances. The form of this movement is sonata-rondo, one much favored by the composers of the Classical era.
    • Boris Berman, Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas : A Guide for the Listener and the Performer (2008), "Sonata No. 4 in C Minor, op. 29"
  • Whether the restrained, even brooding quality of much of the Fourth Sonata relates in any direct way to Schmidthof's death is uncertain, but it is certainly striking that the first two movements both start gloomily in the piano's low register. Allegro molto sostenuto is the intriguing and apt marking for the first, in which a hesitant and uncertain mood prevails - the reverse of Prokofiev's usual self-confidence. The Andante assai second movement alternates between progressively more elaborate statements of the opening theme and a nostalgic lyrical episode reminiscent of a Rachmaninov Etude-tableau; finally the two themes are heard in combination. With the rumbustious finale Prokofiev seems to be feeling himself again. But for all the gymnastics with which the main theme is varied there is less showiness in this essentially rather introvert work than in any of the other piano sonatas.
    • David Fanning (1999), “Prokofiev: Piano Sonatas.” In Prokofiev: Complete Piano Sonatas (pp.7-8) [CD booklet]. Colchester: Chandos Records.
  • Until now, I have been afraid that my finale had a chopped-off tail. Now it is clear to me that it is good, that the last buildup, if it is played properly, fully reveals the climax [the last appearance of the first theme] that concludes the Sonata and after which the end should come immediately.

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