From piano to stage: a genealogy of musical ideas in the piano works of Sergei Prokofiev (1900 – c. 1920)

This thesis is a study of Prokofiev’s musical ideas as they emerge in his early writing for piano. It is concerned with elucidating the connections between the composer’s pianistic  and compositional technique. In doing so, the study explores the genealogy of Prokofiev’s musical gestures and thematic ideas. Both Prokofiev’s playing and his compositional styles have been labeled as distinctive: the thesis attempts to deconstruct that distinctiveness by pinpointing the origins of the composer’s playing and compositional styles, tracing their gradual evolution into a mature idiom. The first chapter is concerned with Prokofiev’s juvenilia (1898 to c. 1906). Drawing upon a large amount of previously unpublished archival resources (which are edited and published in a separate appendix), this chapter uncovers the original gestures and thematic ideas which characterize the composer’s early style. The next chapter focuses on Prokofiev’s period at the St Petersburg Conservatory, tracing his development into a virtuoso pianist, examining the nature of that virtuosity and chronicling the creation of his performing persona. The gestures and idea-types identified in the first chapter 1 are then examined within the context of Prokofiev’s works for solo piano, his early works with orchestra and his first two major operas. Conclusions are drawn about the nature of Prokofiev’s distinctiveness, his compositional legacy and about his current position as a major twentieth-century composer.

 

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