In Tune

IN TUNE: Paying tribute to the man who died the same night as Stalin

2011-10-16T00:00:00Z IN TUNE: Paying tribute to the man who died the same night as StalinBy Kirk Muspratt Special to The Times
October 16, 2011 12:00 am  • 

It was the evening of March 5, 1953. Sergei Prokoviev, genius, world-class composer, brilliant pianist, good chess and tennis player, passed away.

For three days his body lay in his apartment with no way to remove it. Joseph Stalin had died that same evening. No one was working for anything but the official commemoration and funeral of Stalin, the man who had killed more people than Hitler.

Several days later at Prokoviev's funeral there were no flowers. All the flowers in Moscow had gone for "Uncle Joe's" funeral.

At Prokoviev's funeral, neither his wife nor his sons were in attendance. They were in a Siberian prison -- sent there by Stalin so he could have a hold over Prokoviev and the music he would write.

And yet, in the summer of 1944, with all that Stalin had done to him, with all that was going on in Russia at that time, Prokoviev wrote his 5th Symphony. A symphony he described as "a hymn to free and happy Man, to his mighty powers, his pure and noble spirit."

What a fellow this Prokoviev must have been!

Stalin and his cronies had denounced Prokoviev's music so that it was not published nor played in Russia for years (thus reducing the composer to near-death poverty), but this did not break the musical heart of this great composer.  (It was actually the Russian cellist Rostropovich who saved Prokoviev's life, getting him money and food.)        

On the night of January 13, 1945, when the 5th Symphony premiered, Prokoviev and the orchestra had to wait for all the warring cannons outside to dim before beginning the concert. This kind of horror did not sway our Prokoviev.

The 5th Symphony is full of humor, hope, smiles and sunlight! It is playful, always poking fun, often electrifying and roaringly exciting at the end.   

If I called him a song and dance man, I would mean it in this way: Prokoviev was ultimately always writing a huge, romantic melody.  Prokoviev was always writing a dance, a ballet, a story, a character, Romeo, Juliet, Cinderella.

I am looking forward very much to this concert as it provides us all with two completely loving and disparate sides of this immortal genius. We will be able to witness the whimsy, delight, and innocence of Peter and the Wolf. We will then bear witness to the whirling, virtuosic writing of a 20th century symphonist, complete with the blood of great melodies, the bacchanalian edge of how high, how clean, how fast a symphony can play, and a statement to all of us regarding the soul of this man who lived amongst us, lifted us up, gave us something for the ages.

A man who died on the same night as Stalin.


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