Prokofiev did not write “pretty” music. His music is a subtle amalgamation of the great piano composers that lived before him. Although it is very clear that his style of music is unique from his predecessors, we can see elements of the polyphonic writing of the Baroque era, the classical form, the lyricism of the early Romantics, the conservative nature of the high Romantics, the sharp drive of the late Romantics, and perhaps the experimental tendency of the Impressionists.
I will admit, I did not like Prokofiev when I first discovered his music. ‘Dislike’ is probably an understatement. I utterly hated it, with every fiber of my being. Who could listen to this “music”, with its incessant banging, angry nature, and seemingly episodic musical phrases? And then the power of acquired taste kicked in. Prokofiev’s music never makes sense to me, and probably never will. It moves me because it isn’t trying to. His music is grim reality, as compared to the effusive emotions of the Romantic era. Absolutely nothing is excessive in his writing. Polytonality, modal harmonies, and an overall disjunct motion towards a vague home key paint his human character. We can see his troubled nature, his immense struggle in the political events of his country at the time. This definitely warrants the use of both ends of the extreme in technical devices.
Modernism in art creates an objectivity of subjectivity. Prokofiev wrote in a way that forced the performer and listener to perceive the music for himself/herself. We are not expected to feel happy or sad at any given moment. The surprising thing is, he was not an atonal composer. His music is littered with diatonic melodies, but in conjunction with harmonies that are out of place. He broke convention more often than not; akin to the the main criticism of the Modernist composers. However, these “awkward” juxtapositions of melody and harmony give rise to an infinite number of possibilities for music, an goldmine for personal interpretation.
Prokofiev’s music never gets old for me. The melodies do not get worn out, because they are part of a canvas of a million shades of grey- by the time you find one again, you are inevitably engulfed by its surroundings. You hear the melody again, and it’s completely different, but it’s you who’s changed.
The Op. 125 Symphony-Concerto for solo cello and symphony orchestra: