By a coincidence of fate, the last two symphonies of the Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev both premiered on today's date: Prokofiev's Sixth Symphony premiered in Leningrad in 1947, and Prokofiev's Seventh, his last Symphony, in Moscow, in 1952.
The Sixth Symphony is tragic in tone, and Prokofiev confided that it was about the physical and emotional wounds suffered by his countrymen during the Second World War. The Sixth was premiered at the opening concert of the Leningrad Philharmonic's 1947 season, conducted by the great Soviet conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky and was applauded warmly by both audiences and the official Soviet critics. But early in 1948, Prokofiev and other composers were attacked directly and indirectly by the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and Prokofiev's Sixth was quickly withdrawn from further performances.
Prokofiev's Seventh was intended to be a symphony for children, a kind of symphonic "Peter and the Wolf," written in a deliberately populist style and with a wary eye on the dictates of the Central Committee. It's an airy, almost transparently melodic score. Originally it had a wistful, somewhat melancholic ending, with the music trailing off into silence. During the final dress rehearsals, however, Prokofiev wrote an alternative, perhaps more "politically correct" finale, decidedly chipper and up-beat in tone.
Prokofiev made his last public appearance at the October 11th premiere of his Seventh Symphony in 1952. His health rapidly declined, and he died the following spring.
Music Played in Today's Program
Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953)Symphony No. 6National Symphony; Leonard Slatkin, cond.RCA/BMG 68801
Symphony No. 7French National Orchestra;Mstislav Rostropovich, cond.Erato 75322