Prokofiev – Symphony No. 1, D-Major, “Classical”, Op. 25

by Max Derrickson

Sergei Prokofiev     (b Sontskova, Ukraine, April 27, 1891; Moscow,Russia, March 5, 1953)

Symphony No. 1, D-Major, “Classical”, Op. 25
1. Allegro
2. Larghetto
3. Gavotte
4. Finale
Prokofiev had been composing all of his works at the piano when, between 1916-1917, he decided to try writing without it.  In order to tackle such a feat, he felt he needed to write in a familiar form, the Classical symphonic form of Haydn and Mozart, and then he hit upon another idea: if Haydn were still writing music in 1917, what would it sound like?  Even with the Russian Revolution raging in the background, the Symphony No. 1, nicknamed the “Classical”, was Prokofiev’s result – a wonderfully light-hearted symphony, full of humor and whimsy and a certain amount of impertinence for the Classical form.

One very juxtaposed feature of Prokofiev’s experiment is frequent and abrupt changing of keys, a very un-Classical technique.  In fact, it only takes 11 bars for it to happen in the first movement Allegro, and only another 9 bars for it to happen again.  Most of us can’t hear this sort of key distinction, but the effect is like being on a roller coaster – you can feel it in your spine.
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And for great romping fun, the Finale is a kind of finale to end all finales – rollickingly fast and breathless — it plays like a brief virtuoso concerto for each section of the orchestra.  The whole effect of the Classical Symphony is of smiles and delight, and makes it a classic in its own right.