This fascinating snapshot of Russian music around 1910 brings together Petrushka’s sarcastic leaps, the liturgical depth of Rachmaninov’s Bells, and the intrepid modernism of young Prokofiev.
The year was 1911 when Paris discovered the antics of Petrushka, the trickster puppet at the heart of Stravinsky’s new ballet, a virtuoso work of carnivals and colourful dances,
Created during exactly the same period is Rachmaninov’s The Bells, a poem for symphony orchestra, chorus and soloists inspired by an Edgar Allan Poe poem. Symbolizing the different ages of life, the four sections allegorize mortal existence as it unfolds to the sounding of the bells—up to the fated final tolling.
It was also at this precise time that Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 rang out in St. Petersburg, played by the ‘enfant terrible’ himself. Listeners were rattled by its radical modernity, unbridled ‘motorness’ and frenzied virtuosity—a sentiment shared by an American critic who said of the composer’s work several years later, ‘If this is music, then I prefer agriculture’.