The piano is essentially a percussion instrument in that the sound is created by hammers striking strings. Many composers have written music designed to counteract this physical reality by creating long cantabile phrases and use of the pedal to layer the sounds. Composers such as Chopin and Debussy would almost have us believe that the piano was a non-percussive instrument with the beautiful legato sounds of their music.
However, other composers embraced the percussive nature of the piano and wrote music that emphasized that characteristic of the instrument. Sergei Prokofiev, a Russian composer living from 1891-1953, was one such composer and his music maximizes the percussive nature of the piano writing music full of drive and energy. At one time when Prokofiev was touring the United States, he was described as “the bad boy of the piano” because his manner of playing was so aggressive and because of the percussive nature of his music.
It would leave you with in incomplete impression though, if you thought that the only music Prokofiev wrote was in this percussive style. He also wrote achingly beautiful legato melodies with rich, complex harmonies. One of the works for which he is best known is his musical story, Peter and the Wolf, where each character is given its voice through an instrument of the orchestra. Another well-known composition of Prokofiev’s is his ballet music for Romeo and Juilet.
In addition to several other ballets and operas, Prokofiev also wrote 5 Piano Concertos, 9 Piano Sonatas, 7 Symphonies as well as other instrumental music written for violin, cello and other combinations of instruments. Prokofiev continues to speak to the 21st century with his music that is full of passion, energy, sometimes sarcasm and longing for what he had thought would have been a better world.
The first selection that you will be listening to is the Piano Concerto No. 1 the Allegro Brioso movement. It was not well received by the audience upon first hearing it, and comments such as, “the cats on the roof make better music than this!” were heard from the departing crowd. What do you think of this music? Cats on a roof? Exciting? Confusing? In the first post notice how the character of the music changes about half-way through and then returns to the original theme. In the second post hang onto your seats as you are in for a wild ride. One cannot remain neutral and ignore this music.
Piano Concerto No. 1 Allegro Brioso played by Alexander Kobrin
Precipitato from Sonata No. 7 played by Valentina Lasitsa