During the summer of 1942, 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, in the Kabardino-Balkaria Autonomous Republic, 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. At times, Prokofiev has his quartet players imitate familiar folk instruments like the accordion, but in the middle section of the second movement, they imitate the more exotic sound of the kemange, a Middle-Eastern style fiddle.
Prokofiev's new string quartet received its premiere performance back in Moscow, at a concert given by The Beethoven Quartet, the Soviet Union's most famous quartet at the time. The start of their performance 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