Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Thursday, April 25

Prokofiev and Rochberg chamber premieres

Synopsis

Today’s date marks the anniversary of the first performances of two 20th century chamber works.

On April 25, 1931, Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s String Quartet No. 1 received its premiere performance by the Brosa Quartet at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Accepting the commission from the Library’s Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation, Prokofiev set about studying pocket scores of the string quartets of Beethoven, which he perused on trains while shuttling between concert engagements.

Prokofiev himself described the work’s opening as “rather classical,” but when the new quartet was premiered in Moscow, the verdict of the all-powerful Association of Proletarian Musicians was that it was too “cosmopolitan,” a pejorative adjective in Soviet arts criticism in the Stalinist Era that meant something like “unacceptably modern.”

Our second chamber music premiere occurred on April 25th in 1980, when the Octet for Winds and Strings by the American composer George Rochberg was performed for the first time at Alice Tully Hall in New York City. The occasion was a concert by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, who had commissioned the new piece.

At the time, Rochberg was a rather controversial figure for shifting from his earlier, strictly atonal style into a more emotionally charged neo-Romantic approach to music making, often referencing earlier composers and musical styles of the past. The music critic of The New York Times thought he heard a touch of Rachmaninoff in Rochberg’s new piece—an observation that some at the time would translate as really meaning the work was “unacceptably old-fashioned.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) String Quartet No. 1 St. Petersburg String Quartet Delos 3247

George Rochberg (1918-2005) Octet (A Grand Fantasia) New York Chamber Ensemble; Stephen Rogers Radcliffe, cond. New World 80462

Additional Information

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