Composers Datebook®

Prokofiev's 'Ode to Joe'?

Composers Datebook - Dec. 21, 2023


On today’s date in 1934, on a radio broadcast from Moscow, the orchestral suite Prokofiev culled from his film score to Lt. Kije received its first performance. The original film recounted the efforts of 18th-century Russian bureaucrats to invent a suitably impressive life and death for a nonexistent Russian solider, whose unusual name, actually a typographical error on a list of real soldiers’ names, caught the attention of the czar.

If the fictional Russian bureaucrats in Lt. Kije were terrified lest they displease the czar, real-life composers living in the Soviet Union of the 1930s were desperately anxious to keep on the good side of their ruler, dictator Joseph Stalin. It was, to put it mildly, a matter of life and death.

For Stalin’s 60th birthday, which fell on Dec. 21, 1939, Prokofiev composed a choral tribute, “Zdravitza,” which translates as “A Congratulatory Toast.” It, too, was broadcast on today’s date, this time booming over loudspeakers throughout Moscow’s squares and side streets.

Prokofiev’s son Oleg recalls running home through the swirling snow eager to tell the big news: “Daddy! They’re playing you outside!”

Music Played in Today's Program

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) Lieutenant Kije Suite; Chicago Symphony; Claudio Abbado, cond. DG 447 419

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) A Toast!; St. Petersburg Philharmonic Choir; New Philharmonia Orchestra; Alexander Titov, cond. Beaux 38

On This Day


  • 1837 - Russian composer Mily Balakirev (Gregorian date: Jan. 2);

  • 1850 - Bohemian composer Zdenek Fibich, in Vseborice;

  • 1940 - American composer and guitarist Frank Zappa, in Baltimore, Maryland;


  • 1864 - American composer and journalist William Henry Fry, age 51, in Santa Cruz, West Indies;

  • 1890 - Danish composer Niels W. Gade, in Copenhagen, age 73;

  • 1957 - British light-music composer Eric Coates, age 71, in Chichester;


  • 1890 - Bruckner: Symphony No. 3 (final version), in Vienna, Hans Richter conducting;

  • 1900 - Frederick Converse: “The Festival of Pan” for orchestra, by the Boston Symphony, Wilhelm Gericke conducting;

  • 1903 - Glazunov: Symphony No. 7, in St. Petersburg (Gregorian date: Jan. 3);

  • 1908 - Schoenberg: Quartet No. 2 for strings and soprano, in Vienna, by the Rosé Quartet with soprano Marie Gutheil-Schoder;

  • 1934 - Prokofiev: "Lieutenant Kijé" Suite (from the film), on a Moscow radio broadcast;

  • 1934 - Toch: “Big Ben (Variation Fantasy on the Westminster Chimes)” for orchestra, by the Boston Symphony, Serge Koussevitzky conducting;

  • 1939 - Prokofiev: cantata "Zdravitza" (A Toast), in Moscow, to celebrate the 60th birthday of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin;

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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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