Composers Datebook®

Prokofiev takes the Fifth in Moscow

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) — Symphony No. 5 in Bb, Op. 100 (St. Petersburg Philharmonic; Yuri Temirkanov, cond.) RCA/BMG 60984


Composer's Datebook - January 13, 2022

2:00


January 13, 2022

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1945, Sergei Prokofiev conducted the Moscow Philharmonic in the premiere performance of his Fifth Symphony. Written when the tide of the Second World War was turning in the favor of the Allies, the premiere came one day after news reached Moscow that Soviet troops had begun a successful counteroffensive against the Germans.

The symphony proved to be one of Prokofiev’s strongest works, and in the context of 1945 must have had an incredible emotional impact. It was a tremendous success in Moscow, and also in Boston, where Serge Koussevitzky conducted the American premiere later that same year. Prokofiev even made the cover of Time magazine. As musicologist Michael Steinberg puts it: “No question, the Fifth was a repertory piece from Day One.”

How sad, then, to realize how soon things would change for the man who wrote it. In three years Prokofiev – along with Shostakovich and others – would be denounced by Soviet authorities for supposedly straying from the party line. In five years, when the Red Scare in America turned our one-time Ally into Public Enemy No. 1, conductor Maurice Abravenel received a death threat when the Utah Symphony announced the Salt Lake City premiere of Prokofiev’s Fifth.

Music Played in Today's Program

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) — Symphony No. 5 in Bb, Op. 100 (St. Petersburg Philharmonic; Yuri Temirkanov, cond.) RCA/BMG 60984

On This Day

Births

  • 1690 - German composer Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, in Grünstadtl;

  • 1866 - Russian composer Vassili Sergeievitch Kalinnikov, in Voin (Julian date: Jan 1.);

  • 1904 - British composer Richard Addinsell, in London;

Deaths

  • 1864 - American composer Stephen Foster, age 37, in Bellevue Hospital, New York;

  • 1980 - Russian-born American conductor and arranger André Kostelanetz, age 78, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti;

Premieres

  • 1726 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 32 ("Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen") performed on the 1st Sunday after Epiphany as part of Bach's third annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1725/27);

  • 1775 - Mozart: opera "La finta giardiniera" (The Feigned Gardener), in Munich at the Opernhaus St. Salvator;

  • 1873 - Rimsky-Korsakov: opera "The Maid of Pskov" (first version) in St. Petersburg, Napravnik conducting; This was Rimsky-Korsakov’s first opera (Julian date: Jan.1);

  • 1904 - Bartók: tone-poem “Kossuth,” in Budapest; Bartók’s parody of the German national hymn in this work caused an uproar at the work’s premiere;

  • 1944 - Stravinsky: "Circus Polka" (concert version) and "Four Norwegian Moods," in Cambridge at the Garden Theatre, with the Boston Symphony conducted by the composer;

  • 1945 - Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5, by the Moscow State Philharmonic, with the composer conducting;

  • 2000 - Danielpour: "Voices of Remembrance" for string quartet and orchestra, in Washington, D.C. with the Guarneri String Quartet and the National Symphony, Leonard Slatkin conducting.

Others

  • 1910 - Lee De Forest relays experimental Met Opera performances via a radio transmitter (see also Jan. 12).