Romantic ‘Classical’ Music goes Neo-Classical – Out of the 19th and into the 20th Century

Posted: January 29, 2018 in Music, Uncategorized

Uh, your grade will go up if you listen to this music. I might not even be kidding. If nothing else, you may as well get an education as long as you’re in coolidge. Just saying.

The vast interval separating the “out” and “in” should be self-evident. Just one comparison worth noting is the way that Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto #1 sounds as if it were written as a deliberate parody of Tchaikovsky’s very famous concerto. Perhaps listening to Prokofiev’s piece in isolation would not cause many people chuckle. But after hearing Prokofiev’s ironic take on the older composer’s aching pathos and pompous bluster, it’s hard to go back and listen to Tchaikovsky’s piano music without laughing out loud. I laughed anyway. Prokofiev, it must appear to us, is writing quite deliberately to render Tchaikovsky entirely obsolete, indeed ridiculous. What, to make another comparison and contrast, do we hear when listening to Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” back to back with Tchaikovsky’s?”



Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
(1840 – 1898)

“Symphony Pathetique”
“Serenade For Strings”
“Violin Concerto #1 in D Major”
“Piano Concerto #1 in B-flat Minor”
“Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture”


Igor Stravinsky
(1882 – 1971)

“Dance of The Firebird”
“Petrouchka (Russian Dance)”
Violin Concerto #1 (Toccata)”


Sergei Prokofiev
(1891 – 1953)

“Romeo and Juliet – Introduction”
“Piano Concerto #1 in D-flat Major”
“Violin Concerto #1 in D”
“‘Classical’ Symphony #1 (Allegro)”
“Piano Sonata #7 in B-flat Major”
“Sinphonietta (Allegro Giacosso)”

Dmitri Shostakovich
(1906 – 1975)

“Jazz Suite #1 – Foxtrot”
“String Quartet #2 in A Minor”
“Piano Concerto #1 (Allegretto)”
“Violin Concerto #1 (Nocturne)
“Violin Concerto #1 (Passacaglia)”


Piet Mondrian
Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1921
Oil on canvas, 39 x 35 cm

  1. Kaden Plewe says:

    It looks like the link to your Ubox folder with these recordings may be broken.


  2. Carl Colby says:

    Were you able to make it to the Utah Philharmonia performance of Prokofiev Piano Concerto #2 this season? Dr. Andrew Staupe is one of the new faculty members in the SoM piano area, and he absolutely murdered what is considered to be one of the hardest concert pieces in the repertoire (he broke three strings in three consecutive days of rehearsals, on three different pianos)! I ended up formally meeting him for the first time after he unknowingly sat down next to me at the bar down at Porcupine… such a cool guy. I’ve always really enjoyed the abilities of Prokofiev, and especially Shostakovich, to convey satire and sarcasm through their music. As you know, conveyance of any emotion through music is a highly difficult task, the more subtle the better!

    • I did not go to that performance. Which is a pity, as Prokofiev, for me, as about as good at is gets. I used to go to the symphony every week, without fail. I’m not sure when that slipped off my agenda. But, unfortunately, it did. I still tend to make exceptions for composers and performers I greatly admire, but this one got by me. I’m very glad you had such a good experience. Thanks for sharing the incidental anecdotes!

  3. Natalie Van Orden says:

    I actually just saw this article a day or two ago about some of the backstory of Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

    I’m really interested with Prokofiev’s decision to originally compose the ending of “Romeo and Juliet” to sound optimistic, and that the version that is so famous today has been altered from Prokofiev’s original intentions.

    I just got through listening to this music. Tchaikovsky’s introduction to “Romeo and Juliet” sounds to me like it is alternating between mechanical and sappily romantic. It starts out quick and mechanical, while instead Prokofiev starts off with slow tense notes and thoughtfully builds from there. It sounds like Prokofiev is interpreting Shakespeare’s story in a fresh way, rather than composing for the typical emotions we think of being associated with different acts of Romeo and Juliet. Knowing the backstory of Prokofiev writing an optimistic ending and finally having the ballet edited to fit Stalin’s cultural desires makes me really interested in listening to Prokofiev’s original version side-by-side with the edited version.

    As a flute player, I’m used to listening for the flute’s role, and I appreciate that Prokofiev delineates from the chirpy bird role often given to flutes. One of my favorite pieces I have learned (…attempted to learn) to play is Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata.

    • Prokofiev’s fate in quite similar to that of Shostakovich. Both were revolutionary composers forced to mortify their creativity to conform with Party demands. Wherever there is an avant-garde, there will also be a retrograde rear-guard. We have just barely touched on this topic in today’s discussion of Greenberg. We will have opportunity to explore this subject in much more depth very soon, and for an extended period.

      Shostakovich was only 26 when he completed Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (1934). The opera featured a racy plot set to avant-garde music and premiered to critical and popular acclaim. Two years later, three different productions were running in Moscow.

      Then Stalin himself went to a performance. The next morning the state newspaper Pravda condemned the work, saying it corrupted the Soviet spirit. The opera disappeared overnight and every publication and political organization in the country heaped personal attacks on its composer.

      ShostakovichShostakovich lived in fear, sleeping in the stairwell outside his apartment to spare his family the experience of his imminent arrest.

      Unsure about its reception, Shostakovich rejected his own Fourth Symphony while in rehearsal. Instead he premiered Symphony No. 5, obsequiously subtitled “A Soviet Artist’s Response to Just Criticism.” As required, the work displayed lyricism, a heroic tone and inspiration from Russian literature. Still, many hear a subtext of critical despair beneath the crowd-pleasing melodies.

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