Sunday, December 18, 2005

Something Fiery

One of my favorite works by Prokofiev is his incredibly angsty "Fiery angel" Symphony #3 in c minor. The music is based off of an opera which he wrote, The Fiery Angel, which was never performed in his lifetime. Prokofiev arranged this symphony so he could bring the music to the concert hall.

This poor symphony, apparently it doesn’t receive much attention; people gravitate towards his 5th or 1st symphonies and ignore this incredibly dissonant masterpiece. There are these yearning, achingly beautiful melodies surrounded by thorny, hostile harmonies allowing for a startling contrast. The first movement is wonderfully vibrant and full of energy. My favorite passage happens towards the end where the orchestra beats out a beautiful melody over sharp dissonances and rapid syncopation, as if it were participating in some demonic bacchanal.

The rest of the symphony keeps to the dark character set by the 0pening. The second movement opens peacefully with an elegant melody, but behind this gorgeous mask is something more sinister, something that is never seen in full. The third movement sounds something like Satan taking flight, the violins screeching in a flurry of chomaticism. A Sweet melody appears in the middle section and then its back to the violent, furious music of the beginning. This music, I’m sure, has served as fodder for Hollywood horror movies.

The final movement is the section that sounds straight out of Hitchcock, only more evil. The main melody reminds of the theme from Psycho, the violins at the top most part of their register and the brass pounding out harsh discords. I cant imagine how the 1920s audience reacted when they heard this symphony for the first time. This is some of the most angry "classical" music I’ve ever heard.


The subject of my post came from my image instead of the other-way-around. I painted this Delacroix-inspired work a few years back, and today, i was in part testing out my new scanner. Its shameless and very amateurish, but i enjoy it.

1 comment:

sfmike said...

The imagery is just fine.

The reason this symphony isn't highly regarded by sophisticated folks is that the opera is so fucking awesome. Weird, episodic, ungainly, demonic, but awesome indeed, with its own inexorable logic.

The opera is in five acts over the course of two hours, and it isn't until the final act that there are more than five people onstage at any one time. So of course, Prokofiev writes a final act for 60 female choristers singing wildly in a convent that's been invaded by demons.

The problem with the symphony is that it doesn't respect its own origins. The first or second movement includes the opera's finale and for lovers of the opera that's all wrong.

If you ever get a chance to catch a live performance of the opera, do see it. The symphony only gives you a hint of how powerful the music actually can be.