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Serge Prokofiev Prokofiev, Sergei as a young man in the 1920s

From the Archive: Sergei Prokofiev performs with the LSO, January 1924

Browse through a programme from 100 years ago today, when Prokofiev performed his First Piano Concerto with the LSO.


2-minute read

Exactly 100 years ago today, on 21 January 1924, the 32-year-old Sergei Prokofiev performed his First Piano Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra, with Eugene Goossens conducting at the Queen’s Hall. To celebrate this centenary, we dug into our archives to find the programme notes from the performance.

View a transcription of the programme note

Concerto for Piano – Prokofieff

Solo Pianoforte – Serge Prokofieff

This work is quite decorative in style, and we must not try to find in it what the composer has not attempted to put in. He takes certain musical patterns and works them in such fashion as to produce a steely, glittering effect; his lavish use of the highest notes of the piano, his general treatment of the instrument and the orchestral combinations (with ‘campanelli’), all tend to this end, which may be said to have been accomplished with much success. Mr Prokofieff goes straight to his point, and there is an absence of ornament and a general scantiness, so to speak, about the concerto, which is very striking.

The orchestra starts with three chords of D flat, after which the piano leads off with the following phrase.

[Excerpt from the score]

This is played about with for some time and comes to an abrupt conclusion in D-flat. There is a short pause, the key changes, and the piano begins a new subject, mostly in quavers, for both hands.
The beginning of this is subjoined.

[Excerpt from the score]

The orchestra soon joins in and the music continues more or less on these lines, until a rallentando, followed by another short pause, is followed by the resumption of the key of D-flat. At this point another rhythmical figure makes its appearance on the piano.

[Excerpt from the score]

This again, is continued for some time, until a piu mosso is reached, which works up to a shrill fortissimo climax in C, which may be said to conclude the first part of this section of the concerto. With the meno mosso which follows, there enters a new subject, which we are subsequently to hear a great deal of.

[Excerpt from the score]

The return to the first subject and the key of D-flat is not made until the movement is nearing its end. When it does arrive the orchestra has the subject while the piano continues with bright octave passages, which have already been going on for a long time. In fact, the absence of chord writing for the piano is very noticeable in this movement; for eleven pages of the full score the piano is kept going continuously with single notes and octaves.

This section of the work ends pianissimo, and the succeeding andante assai begins as follows.

[Excerpt from the score]

Four more bars and this subject is taken up by the piano at a different pitch and with semiquaver ornamentation. This Andante is quite short and includes a fortissimo version of No 5 for strings with an accompaniment of re-iterated full chords on the piano. It concludes on an indefinite chord, and the final Allegro scherzando is reached. This may almost be taken as the ‘recapitulation’ of the first movement, the Andante coming in place of the working-out section. We hear again Nos 1, 2, 3 and 4 in various forms, and the movement includes a moderately long cadenza for piano solo. The whole work ends in D-flat and in much the same way as its opening section.

More on Prokofiev with the LSO

Two years before the performance above, we gave the UK premiere of the Piano Concerto 3 with Prokofiev himself as soloist in 1922, conducted by Albert Coates.

We also made the first recording of Piano Concerto 3 in June 1932, again with Prokofiev as soloist, and conducted by Piero Coppola at Abbey Road Studios. It’s the only existing recording of Prokofiev playing one of his own concertos. Take a listen below.

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