10.14.13 | Introversion
Sergei Prokofiev went through a dynamic personality change following the start of the Second World War. His War Sonatas reflect a deeply anguished embodiment of despair. His Sonatas No. 6, 7, and 8 reflect the events culminating to, during, and after WWII. I find them to be ‘grey’ in character, but they are not lacking in substance in any way. I believe these set of works are his magnum opus.
These are very personal works, and I will discuss the introversion in them in relation to the character Ishmael in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The beginning of the novel features Ishmael in a deep thought process as he wanders the streets of the port city New Bedford. Even in his simple task of finding a suitable inn, the reader finds himself immersed in his endless thoughts. Ishmael is an intricate and sensitive character. He finally finds an inn, but is discomforted by the fact that he has to share a bed with another sailor. He causes himself more grief than necessary by worrying incessantly about whom the sailor is. Prokofiev’s music behaves in a similar fashion. Prokofiev tends to often utilize monophonic melodic lines in the calmer sections of his War Sonatas, causing a hollow feeling, but these melodic lines are focused and pensive. These Sonatas are not programmatic (unlike the music of Liszt, who will be mentioned some time in the near future). All the turmoil of his Sonatas comes from internal conflict. Ishmael is a character who will undergo a deep transformation in the novel, and he will meet his greatest fear- himself.
The following is the first movement of the Sonata No. 8. Art music in general can be difficult to appreciate, and I believe that Prokofiev is one of the most difficult composers to understand. I admit that he is very eccentric. However, when it all comes together, his music can be, simply, sublime.
Enjoy. (or not)