Composers Datebook®

Prokofiev's String Quartet No. 2

Composers Datebook for September 5, 2020


In 1941, as the German Army was overrunning Russia, the Soviet government evacuated important artists to remote places of safety. Composer Sergei Prokofiev, for example, found himself in the little town of Nalchik, nestled in the foothills of the northern Caucasus Mountains about 1000 miles away from the front.

Prokofiev was intrigued by the region’s folk music, and, taking a break from a big project to turn Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace into an opera, composed his String Quartet No. 2, based on local tunes. The new work was, as he put it, "a combination of virtually untouched folk material and the most classical of classical forms, the string quartet."

Its three movements are all based on local songs and dances, and Prokofiev took care not to smooth out any roughness in the original material.

Prokofiev’s new string quartet received its premiere performance back in Moscow in April of 1942, at a concert given by The Beethoven Quartet. A later performance on today’s date that same year was delayed due to a German air raid. The new music was well-received, and Prokofiev, perhaps with the air raid in mind, supposedly called the premiere "an extremely turbulent success."

Music Played in Today's Program

Sergei Prokofiev (1891 - 1953) String Quartet No. 2 in F, Op. 92

On This Day


  • 1735 - German composer Johann Christian Bach, the 11th and youngest surviving son of J.S. Bach, in Leipzig; In 1762 he moved to England, where he became famous as "The London Bach";

  • 1791 - German composer Giacomo Meyerbeer (born Jakob Liebmann Beer), in Berlin;

  • 1867 - American pianist and composer Amy Marcey Cheney (a.k.a. Mrs. H.H.A. Beach), in Henniker, New Hampshire;

  • 1912 - American composer John Cage, in Los Angeles;


  • 1803 - French composer François Devienne, age 44, at an insane asylum in Charenton;


  • 1733 - Pergolesi: opera "La serva padrona" (The Maid as Mistress), in Naples at the Teatro San Bartolomeo;

  • 1840 - Verdi: opera "Un giorno di regno" (King for a Day), in Milan at the Teatro alla Scala;

  • 1857 - Liszt: "A Faust Symphony," in Weimar, conducted by the composer;

  • 1913 - Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2 (first version), in Pavlovsk, with the composer as soloist (Julian date: August 23); This version was lost in a fire during the 1917 Russian Revolution, and the composer reconstructed the work from his sketches; He reintroduced the second version of this concerto in Paris on May 8, 1924, at a concert conducted by Serge Koussevitzky;

  • 1927 - Gershwin: musical "Strike Up the Band," at the Shubert Theater in Philadelphia; This show included the classic Gershwin songs "Strike Up the Band" and "The Man I Love";

  • 1932 - Poulenc: Concerto for Two Pianos, at the Venice Festival, with the composer and Jacques Février as soloists;

  • 1942 - Prokofiev: String Quartet No. 2 in F, Op. 92, in Moscow, by the Beethoven Quartet; The start of the performance was delayed due to a German air raid;

  • 1950 - Arthur Benjamin: Piano Concerto, in Sydney, Australia, with the composer as soloist;

  • 1980 - Glass: opera "Satyagraha," by the Netherlands Opera in Rotterdam, Christopher Keene conducting;

  • 2000 - Osvaldo Golijov: "Las Pasión Según San Marcos" (St. Mark Passion) in Stuttgart, Germany, by the orchestra of International Bach Academy and the Schola Cantorum de Caracas, Maria Guinand, conducting; This work was one of four passion settings commissioned by the International Bach Academy to honor the 250th anniversary of Bach's death in the year 2000 (see also: Aug. 28 Sept 1 8).


  • 1964 - The La Scala Opera begins a month-long residency at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow with a performance of Puccini's "Turandot"; La Scala is the first European opera company to visit the Soviet Union.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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