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Violin Sonata No. 2 in D major, Op. 94

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Sergei Prokofiev
Program note originally written for the following performance:
The Kennedy Center Chamber Players play Bruch, Prokofiev & Beethoven Sun., Jan. 22, 2012, 2:00 PM
© Robert Markow

September 1942 found Prokofiev in the far-off, exotic Central Asian city of Alma-Ata, where he was working with Sergei Eisenstein on the film Ivan the Terrible. Having a fair bit of free time on his hands, Prokofiev decided to use it to write something quite different from the film score he was preparing. With memories of the great French flutist Georges Barrère in his mind from his Paris years (1922-1932), Prokofiev sketched out a sonata for flute and piano, on which he put the finishing touches upon returning to Moscow the following year. The first performance was given in December by the flutist Nikolai Charkovsky and accompanied by Sviatslav Richter. But scarcely anyone else seemed interested in the work, so when David Oistrakh suggested that Prokofiev turn it into a violin sonata, the composer eagerly agreed. In this form the work bears opus number 94a (or 94bis) instead of just 94 to distinguish it from the Flute Sonata.

But the transcription story doesn't end here. There are also versions for clarinet and for bassoon; both have been recorded in multiple performances. William Ludwig and Nadina Mackie Jackson have recorded the sonata for bassoon, each having made his or her own transcription. "The piece lies pretty well for the bassoon and I think the character of the instrument suits it," comments Sue Heineman. "I've performed other violin pieces by Mozart, Moszkowski, and Handel, and have borrowed extensively from the clarinet/viola/cello/oboe repertory-Brahms, Schumann, Bach, etc. This is not uncommon among performers of...let's call them ‘underrepresented' instruments. We have a handful of gems and a lot of perfectly nice music, but many of us choose to supplement this, believing that a transcription of a great piece can be as viable as a lesser work composed for our instrument."

Prokofiev said he "wanted to write the sonata in a gentle, flowing classical style." These qualities are immediately evident in the first movement, both of whose principal themes are lyrical and eloquent. The Scherzo, in A minor, bubbles over with witty, energetic writing in the form of flying leaps, rapid register changes and strongly marked rhythms, while the brief, expressive slow movement possesses, in Alan Rich's words, "the tenderness of a Mozart andante." The Finale goes through several changes of mood and tempo. For its concluding pages, it hurtles along with white-heat intensity to a thrilling close.