horizontal line

Prokofiev’s music for film is widely known through only two works – the cantata which he adapted from his score for Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky (1938-9) and the five-movement suite drawn from Alexander Fayntsimmer’s Lieutenant Kijé (1934). However, as we learn from this fastidiously researched book, Prokofiev composed for several other films – The Queen of Spades (1936-38, film unrealised), Kotovsky (1942), Partisans in the Ukrainian Steppes (1942), Lermontov (1943), Tonya (1942 – film never released) and Ivan the Terrible (Parts One and Two, 1944-5).

He was offered further projects, especially during his final years, but it seems that with Eisenstein’s death in February 1948 he completely lost interest in his cinematic career. Ivan the Terrible, the subject of Bartig’s sixth and last chapter, was another collaboration with Eisenstein. Part Two was banned by the Central Committee – Stalin ‘enumerated [its] shortcomings in a chilling, face-to-face meeting with Eisenstein’, a setback which removed any hope of progress with Part Three. Sadly, Prokofiev’s plans for a concert work drawn from Ivan the Terrible were never realised.

In the appendix Bartig includes Prokofiev’s own account of working alongside Eisenstein in what proved to be an increasingly rewarding partnership. As Prokofiev remarked: ‘…his respect for music was so great that at times he was willing “to tug” the image track forward or back so that it wouldn’t disrupt the integrity of a musical passage.’ Also in the appendix is ‘Memories of S. S. Prokofiev’ by Mosfilm sound technician Boris Volsky, a revealing account of the composer’s exacting, often impatient manner in the studio. When a horn-player remarked that a phrase was awkward, Prokofiev responded: ‘But I thought of the artistic effect, not of your comfort … If you flub [bungle], then it means you have not mastered the horn part and we have to summon a virtuoso … ’

Among the many fascinating episodes in this invaluable book are Prokofiev’s Hollywood encounters – including one with Walt Disney, who was very impressed with Peter and the Wolf, and a consultation with glamorous film star Gloria Swanson in connection with a new film.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica

   Read full review   

To continue reading, please upgrade to a premium account. You will have immediate full access.

Read more classical music reviews online here:

Classical Music, 2015 - ©Rhinegold Publishing