Symphony No.5 in B Dur, op.100

SERGEY PROKOFIEV created his FIFTH SYMPHONY in 1944, during the times of the World War II and in his own words, the piece was conceived as “a hymn to free and happy Man, to his mighty powers, his pure and noble spirit.” Then added: “I did not choose this theme deliberately. It just came into my head and insisted on being expressed. The music matured within me. It filled my soul.”

At the outbreak of the war, Prokofiev’s family was evacuated to the Caucasus, then to Alma-Ata (Kazakhstan), and the Perm in the Urals, and it was only in the autumn of 1943 that he could return to Moscow. During this period his work centred around the war theme: he wrote mass songs and marches, the orchestral suite ‘1941‘, a cantata Ballade for the Boy Who Remained Unknown, started working on one of his most significant projects – the epic opera War and Peace based on Leo Tolstoy’s novel. And fourteen years after writing his previous symphony, the Fourth, he turned once again to this genre, creating a specimen of epic symphony rare for the twentieth-century music. The first movement is void of conflict – it’s like a musical fresco, a monumentally unfolded epic narrative. The contrasting second movement – a “toccata-like” scherzo based on a rhythmically impulsive theme – is followed by the intense, expressive, typically Prokofievian lyricism of the Adagio (which also features Lisa’s lyrical theme from the score to Mikhail Rom’s film Pique Dame, which was never shown on screen), with the final apotheosis, suggestive of a jubilant multitude, affirming the epic nature of the work.

The symphony received its first performance on January 13, 1945 in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory by the USSR State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Prokofiev himself, in what proved to be his last appearance at the conductor’s stand. The premiere was a great success and the Fifth Symphony remains one of Prokofiev’s most popular pieces in the world orchestra literature.

The succeeding Sixth Symphony, which was to be written shortly after (1945 – 47), is also an evocation of the wartime events. But soon after its premiere in 1947, it came under the condemnation of Zhdanovist critics and fell into oblivion for more than 10 years. A similar fate was shared by Prokofiev’s last opera, The Story of a Real Man, based on the novel of the same name by Boris Polevoy, and also related to the wartime theme. Described as “formalistic”, it was not admitted to premiere. And it was not until the 1960s, after the death of the composer, that the two works (as well as other Prokofiev opuses such as the Seventh and Eighth Piano Sonatas) were “rehabilitated” and established themselves on stage.

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