We’re running out of symphony No. 5’s for our playlist. The progression of 5’s had been Beethoven 5, Mahler 5, Tchaikovsky 5, Sibelius 5, Bruckner 5, Shostakovich 5, and now Prokofiev 5.
These are all only two degrees of Beethoven 5.
Prokofiev composed his Symphony No. 5 after taking a 16-year break from the symphonic form. The year was 1944 and, as with so many of these mid-century compositions, WWII was a factor.
Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5
Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op 100 — Gergiev
There was an artist retreat about 150 miles outside Moscow. It was here that Prokofiev wrote his 5th. He did provide us with some man-splaining, although it must be admitted that not explaining one’s music in Stalinist Russia was taking a risk.
The comment by Prokofiev is almost word for word what we might expect to find in an official statement from the government. I can’t help but feel that there was a certain amount of irony in it.
“I regard the Fifth Symphony as the culmination of a long period of my creative life. I conceived of it as glorifying the grandeur of the human spirit…praising the free and happy man — his strength, his generosity, and the purity of his soul.”
There is no reason to believe Prokofiev wasn’t speaking the truth, but there is an odor of overstating the case. "The free and happy man, etc." is right up the Stalinist alley.
Prokofiev’s music is such that it grows exponentially in stature the more we listen to it. There is no doubting that it is great music upon the initial exposure. By the third of fourth time we listen to it we realize this is music without which we might not be able to live.
I get it, billions of people live just fine without having heard Prokofiev 5. That’s not the point. The point is once you listen beyond thrice there is no going back.
Take the challenge if you’re not already hooked on Prokofiev. Listen to this performance by Gergiev once a day for four days — even if it’s in the background. You will start to miss it when it’s not on. There are no “earworms” in the piece but the texture and atmosphere of the music put it on the top shelf of the symphonic repertoire.
Prokofiev is easily in my top three on this list of 5s but it’s a tight list. Is it even possible to rank this list? Whether it’s possible or not, we’re going to rank it. However, I just remembered Schubert and Mendelssohn, so the rankings will have to wait.