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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Composers Datebook for December 21, 2011





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Wednesday, December 21

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Prokofiev's "Ode to Joe" ?

On today's date in 1934, on a radio broadcast from Moscow, the orchestral suite Prokofiev culled from his film score to "Lt. Kije" received its first performance. The original film recounted the efforts of 18th century Russian bureaucrats to invent a suitably impressive life and death for a nonexistent Russian solider, whose unusual name, actually a typographical error on a list of real soldiers' names, caught the attention of the Czar.

Few in the West have ever seen the original film, but Prokofiev's orchestra suite soon became one of that composer's "greatest hits."

If the fictional Russian bureaucrats in "Lt. Kije" were terrified less they displease the Czar, real-life composers living in the Soviet Union of the 1930s were desperately anxious to keep on the good side of their ruler, the dictator Joseph Stalin. It was, to put it mildly, a matter of life and death.

For Stalin's 60th birthday, which fell of December 21, 1939, Prokofiev composed a choral tribute entitled, "Zdravitza," which translates as "A Congratulatory Toast."

With apologies to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," Prokofiev's cantata might just as well have been called "An Ode to Joe," considering its obsequious praise of Stalin. It, too, was broadcast on today's date, this time booming over loudspeakers throughout Moscow's squares and side streets. Prokofiev's son, Oleg, recalls running home through the swirling snow eager to tell the big news, "Daddy! They're playing you outside!"

Music Played on Today's Program:

Sergei Prokofiev
(1891 - 1953):
Lieutenant Kije Suite
Chicago Symphony;
Claudio Abbado, cond.
DG 447 419
&
A Congratulatory Toast! Op. 85
St. Petersburg Philharmonic Choir;
New Philharmonia Orchestra;
Alexander Titov, cond.
Beaux 38

Additional Information:

On Sergei Prokofiev
On Prokofiev under the Soviet regime

About the Program
Composers Datebook is a daily program about composers of the past and present, hosted by John Zech.

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