Great Music #1: Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony


So many mixed thoughts and feelings as always. A passenger watching my own life. Seeing other people fly by. Having no feelings of my own. Trying to start another series here. Hope they aren’t all completely stupid. I’m worried I just keep writing the same naïve things.

Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major (Op. 100) by Sergei Prokofiev

On a train to the Royal Easter Show with my family. Boom. An amazing experience all the way there. Time slowed down. Looking at all the weeds in the train tracks, thinking about life. All the little bits of magic all around us. Probably 2008 or else 2007. I’d listened to mainly Beethoven and Mozart symphonies at this point. Loved everything. Brahms as well, a bunch of others. But they took many listens for me to get the hang of them. Not because they weren’t as good or were too difficult but because I wasn’t used to that kind of music. More extravagant, modern music like Prokofiev’s was much closer in style to the film music I had grown up on. John Williams, Elmer Bernstein, Danny Elfman and all the rest. I instantly loved this symphony for all of its beautiful, amazing musical energy. It spoke directly to me. I got chills the first time. Felt like I knew it off by heart already.

Apparently it’s about the second world war or something. I’m not sure to what degree that’s relevant. Isn’t it just pure music? Or is the context an important part of it? Well, it seemed to mean a lot to him and maybe that’s the main thing that matters. I actually wondered earlier tonight if that’s a good way to measure art. How much was put into it. Whatever that means.

My thing with Prokofiev was that he seemed like a musical genius, similar to Mozart. He could imitate anyone and outdo them but nobody could write like him. That’s the impression I got. It was so effortless and yet full of solid musical quality. Structurally flawless but also sometimes as light as a feather. I know nothing about his personality or upbringing. Shostakovich came after him. I don’t think he was hugely influential, perhaps partially because nobody else could do what he did. His music has a kind of arrogant freedom to it. It does whatever it likes. It can be almost random and arbitrary and yet come together perfectly as beautiful harmonic music. It sounds like a game he’s playing with himself to see what crazy things he can accomplish. He isn’t concerned with rules or authority. Unintimidated by anyone or anything. I strongly relate to this attitude. A kind of deep, absolute freedom. Uninhibited in any way whatsoever. But with a pure, youthful heart. And a sharp, powerful sense of humour.

The second movement was my favourite. The rhythms, the lively melody constantly jumping around. I guess it’s a scherzo. The third movement (my second favourite) was the slow one in this symphony so movements two and three are swapped from their normal positions (ordinarily it’s 1 sonata, 2 slow, 3 scherzo/minuet, 4 rhondo or something like that). It’s incredibly exciting the way it builds up, the way the strings are so free and defiant. The pace of it. It truly lives. It feels like a few bars were written and then the rest of it came naturally. The music came alive and finished itself. It’s the kind of stuff that goes great with animation. Crazy characters doing ridiculous things. Any number of images might enhance and be enhanced by the music.

The piano sounds so awesome in the symphony. It’s basically a percussion instrument. Like a xylophone for example but with such a grand, rich, commanding sound (or timbre or texture or something). I’ve always loved the orchestra because it can blend and vanish. It turns into music itself. I don’t understand watching conductors and musicians. That’s got nothing to do with music. It’s all about emotions and adventures and dreams. Close your eyes and go to places you’ve never been to before and yet understand perfectly! Return to your long forgotten home! I have no idea how that sound was produced and by which instruments but it resonates with my heart and mind. It stirs my soul. Reminds me of those dormant voices within me.

The third movement is much darker, full of tension. Building up to various climaxes. What does it mean? Whatever you want it to! Again, very cool. I honestly don’t remember the first or fourth movements off the top of my head but that’s the fun and excitement of the process. To revisit them sometime and eventually become familiar with them. I trust that they have wonderful qualities as well. But the middle movements are alone enough to make this one of my personal favourites.


About karnok

A legendary ninja.
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