Composers Datebook®

Prokofiev's Scythian Suite

Sergei Prokofiev (1891 - 1953) — Scythian Suite, Op. 20 (Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Claudio Abbado, conductor.) DG 447 419

Composer's Datebook - Jan. 16, 2023


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January 16, 2023


In 1916, Imperial Russia was still using the old Julian calendar.  In Russia, as Hamlet might have put it, “time was out of joint,” lagging 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar used everywhere else.

Well, Saint Petersburg’s January 16th  might have Paris’s January 29th, but on that date Russia’s Mariinsky Theatre premiered a wild, decidedly forward-looking orchestral work with its composer, Sergei Prokofiev, conducting.

The music had been commissioned in 1914 by another Russian, the Paris-based ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who had asked Prokofiev for “a ballet on a Russian fairy tale or a primitive prehistoric theme,” hoping for something along the lines of Igor Stravinsky’s colorful Firebird or scandalous Rite of Spring, both earlier Diaghilev commissions.

Thinking of those two successful ballets perhaps, Prokofiev set to work on one set in ancient Russia about a forest princess rescued from an evil ogre by a Scythian prince, with a big orgy of evil spirits tossed in as well just to spice things up.  But Diaghilev nixed the ballet even before Prokofiev had finished it, so its composer reworked the music into a wild concert hall score he titled Scythian Suite. Even today it remains – for some – a strongly spiced cup of Russian tea!

Music Played in Today's Program

Sergei Prokofiev (1891 - 1953) — Scythian Suite, Op. 20 (Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Claudio Abbado, conductor.) DG 447 419

On This Day


  • 1728 - Italian opera composer Niccoló Piccinni, in Bari;

  • 1905 - Spanish composer Ernesto Halffter, in Madrid;

  • 1934 - American composer Richard Wernick, in Boston, Massachusetts;

  • 1943 - English composer Gavin Bryars, in Goole, Yorkshire;

  • 1943 - English composer Brian Ferneyhough, in Coventry;


  • 1886 - Italian opera composer Amilcare Ponchielli, age 51, in Milan;

  • 1891 - French ballet composer Leo Delibes, age 54, in Paris;

  • 1957 - Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, age 89, in New York;

  • 1969 - Russian-born American composer and songwriter Vernon Duke (Vladimir Dukelsky), age 65, in Santa Monica, Calif,;


  • 1724 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 155 ("Mein Gott, wie lang, ach lange") performed on the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany as part of Bach's first annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1723/24);

  • 1739 - Handel: oratorio, "Saul," in London at the King's Theater in the Haymarket (Gregorian date: Jan. 27);

  • 1745 - Handel: musical drama "Hercules" (Julian date: Jan. 5);

  • 1800 - Cherubini: opera "Les deux journées," in Paris at the Théatre Feydeau;

  • 1869 - Borodin: Symphony No. 1, in St. Petersburg (Julian date: Jan. 4);

  • 1876 - Tchaikovsky: "Serenade mélancolique,"in Moscow (Gregorian date: Jan. 28);

  • 1905 - d'Albert: opera "Tiefland" (The Lowlands) (2nd version), in Magdeburg at the Stadttheater;

  • 1916 - Prokofiev: "Scythian" Suite (Gregorian date: Jan. 29);

  • 1933 - Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 11, in Moscow;

  • 1936 - Frank Bridge: "Ovation (Concerto elegiaco)" for Cello and Orchestra, in London, by the BBC Symphony conducted by the composer, with Florence Hooton the soloist;

  • 1942 - Britten: "Diversions on a Theme" for Piano Left Hand, by pianist Paul Wittgenstein, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting;

  • 1969 - Babbitt: "Relata II," by the New York Philharmonic, with Leonard Bernstein conducting;

  • 1983 - Daniel Asia: "Why (?) Jacob" for piano, by Sanford Margolis;

  • 1997 - Esa-Pekka Salonen: "L.A. Variations" for orchestra, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with the composer conducting.