Wanderlust. Haven’t we had that before? A recurrent theme in music, a recurrent theme in my posts, in my life. Transcending the daily routine, acceding to new knowledge, meeting new faces… Or going back in time, revisiting my younger me, traveling back into the times of my favourite composers… I can do all that by writing. Writing letters, posts, occasionally poems – what an extraordinary freedom I enjoy!
Freeing the mind and breaking with conventions – that is what Sergei Prokofiev had in mind when he wrote his first piano concerto, Op. 10 in D flat major. He wrote it between 1910 and 1911 and presented it at the Rubinstein Piano Competition in 1914 and horrified part of the jury. Now if you listen to the introduction of this piece written in three movements, you will first recognize it immediately as it is quite popular by now, a century after its conception, and second you will wonder what possibly could have been so appaling to the jury. I recommend the recording by the Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt under Vladimir Krainev and with Dmitry Kitayenko at the piano.
The dynamics in the first movement – itchy feet! Pack your bags and off you go, Charles! Tension, energy, adventure, fearlessness, it’s all there. The driving rhythm and the ecstatic mood is what shocked the jury in 1914 and some of the critics in late July 1911, during the premiere in Moscow. And the verdict had nothing to do with the orchestra’s performance; it had rehearsed the piece under the conductor Konstantin Saradzhev and with Prokofiev at the piano until late at night the day before the premiere. The audience received the piece well and after overcoming their initial shock many critics “hailed it as the dawn of a new musical era”, as Prokofiev’s biographer Harlow Robinson writes.
Prokofiev was by then used to the ambivalent reactions his music provoked, but he was satisfied with his work. Did it help him overcome the death of his father who had done so much to support his career as a composer? His father had died July 1910. According to Robinson, the composer had difficulties to express his feelings over that event verbally, but he channeled the suppressed feelings into his work, his productivity did not decline, his rate of activity rather increased “to avoid confronting uncomfortable issues”, as Robinson writes.
Music can be an escape – for the composer, for the audience. Writing can be an escape – for the writer, for the reader. Neither solves a problem, but we have that freedom. Let’s use it wisely.
© Charles Thibo