Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Sunday, December 30

Prokofiev in peace and (cold) war

Synopsis

For fans of old-time radio shows, a certain piece of music will always be known as the theme for “The FBI in Peace and War.” But among classical music buffs the more common title is the “March” from Prokofiev’s opera “The Love of Three Oranges.”

This satirical, fairy-tale opera had its premiere performance in Chicago on today’s date in 1921, and Prokofiev himself was on hand to supervise the rehearsals. His opera received a lavish production which cost Chicago $250,000—a staggering amount back in 1921. The premiere was a modest success, even though the Chicago Tribune pronounced Prokofiev’s music (quote) “too much for this generation.” The production then traveled to New York for one performance, and there it was savaged by the press as “Russian jazz with Bolshevist flourishes.” “There are a few, but only a few, passages that bear recognizable kinship with what has hitherto been recognized as music,” was the ultimate verdict of the New York Times.

Summing up his American experience, Prokofiev himself wrote: “In my pocket was a thousand dollars; in my head, noise from all the running around and a desire to go away somewhere quiet to work.”

In the 1930s, Prokofiev returned to the Soviet Union, where his music had to toe the Stalinist Party Line. It’s one of life’s little ironies that a theme by a Soviet composer would be chosen for a radio show about the FBI that aired during the height of America’s post-War “Red Scare.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953) March, fr The Love of Three Oranges Montreal Symphony; Charles Dutoit, cond. London 440 331

Additional Information

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