Edition Silvertrust
18 of 2,148
Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Nationality: Russian | Soviet | Ukrainian
Born: April 27, 1891, Sontsovka, Ukraine Died: March 5, 1953, Moscow (age 61)

Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34

(for 2 violins, viola, cello, clarinet and piano)
Duration: 10 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1919 (age 27-28)
14 recordings, 14 videos
Giora Feidman, Juilliard String Quartet
Martha Argerich, et. al.
David Shiffrin, et. al
Wauwe, Blomdeel, etc.
Sueur, et. al.
Southwest Chamber Music
Prokofiev, et. al. (1937)
Portal, Béroff, Parrenin Quartet
Paris Chamber Orchestra
Milkis, et. al.
Halevi, Nemtsov, Volger String Quartet
Franch-Ballester, et. al.
Batista, et. al.
Arutyunian, et. al.
From Kai Christiansen

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34, 1919

Sergei Prokofiev has proven to be one of the great 20th century composers with outstanding masterworks in nearly every genre from opera, ballet and symphonies to chamber works, music for children (e.g. Peter and the Wolf) and numerous virtuosic works featuring the piano highlighting his own abilities as a concert pianist. Spending most of his life in Russia and the Soviet Union, Prokofiev spent nearly two decades living aboard beginning with a short, financially and professional unsuccessful sojourn in the United States from August 1918 through April 1920. While living in America, Prokofiev was commissioned by an ensemble of Russian Jewish immigrants called Zimro for some new music to be based on themes from a notebook of Jewish folksongs and scored for their specific ensemble: clarinet, string quartet and piano. At first resisting, Prokofiev accepted the commission and quickly completed a ten-minute overture that he debuted as pianist with Zimro in 1920. While Prokofiev remained rather unimpressed with the work (which he later orchestrated), the Overture on Hebrew Themes has remained one of his most cherished chamber compositions.

The early decades of the 20th century witnessed a profound migration of Eastern European Jews to the United States bringing the Ashkenazic, Yiddish "shtetl" (i.e. village) culture particularly to the New York boroughs. One of the Yiddish words for an itinerant professional musician was klezmer and during a much later renaissance of the related Yiddish or Jewish musical culture in the mid 1970's, the genre acquired the title Klezmer Music, an equally apt title for Prokofiev's piece. The instrumental dance music of Eastern European Jewry spans a long tradition over hundreds of years incorporating influences from Russian, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and the Gypsies ultimately rooted in the chanting of the Torah by synagogue cantors. The music is famous for its blend of melancholy joy ("laughing through the tears") characterized by exotic scales, piquant rhythms and expressive "cantillations" improvised on prominent solo instruments like the clarinet and the fiddle. All of these elements feature prominently in Prokofiev's Overture. In addition, the mesmerizing piano figurations in the slower, lyrical sections undoubtedly mimic the hammered dulcimer or tsimbl, another characteristic instrument in the traditional Klezmer ensemble.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.

From Edition Silvertrust

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) is one of the most famous composers of the 20th century and needs no introduction. Most, however, are only familiar with his compositions for orchestra or his concerti or his film scores. He did not ignore chamber music and composed two string quartets, a quintet for piano and winds, several instrumental sonatas and this Overture, a sextet for piano, string quartet and clarinet.

The Overture was composed in 1919 while Prokofiev was living in New York. Most critics say it was written in part as a comic but affectionate caricature. The work was premiered with great success and Prokofiev was hailed as perhaps the only non Jewish composer who had truly captured the essence of Eastern-European Yiddish music. Fifteen years on, Prokofiev was urged to orchestrate the work which he did.

© Edition Silvertrust. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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