Prokofiev completed the Third Concerto on holiday at St. Brevin-les-Pins in Brittany in 1921, just after the successful performances of his ballet score Chout (The fool) and The Love for Three Oranges. He gave the premiere on 16 December that year with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Frederick Stock. The Concerto immediately found favour, and Prokofiev used it during his first return to Russia (performing with the conductorless orchestra Persimfans on 24 January 1927) as well as for his only concerto recording, with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1933.
The ideas had been accumulating for nearly a decade - the theme of the middle movement was jotted down in 1913, two of its variations and the opening of the first movement date from 1916/18, and two of the finale's ideas are from a "white-key" quartet sketched in 1918.
In its character and structure much of the Third Concerto echoes the First. The first movement has something of the same stagy clown-routine reality - emulationg the theatre of Vsevolod Meyerhold, perhaps, as opposed to that of his psychological-realist rival Konstantin Stanislavsky. And there is the same initial accumulation of four apparently unrelated sections, giving way to the same ingenious blend of development and recapitulation. Yet there is also a greater degree of restraint this time, and more concern for seamless continuity, even in the early stages.
The second movement is a slow movement in a way, but devilishly fast and difficult for the piano. Its theme manages to be unmistakably a Gavotte at the same time as totally disregarding the middle-of-the-bar emphasis which is supposed to define that dance (the famous Gavotte of Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony is similarly maverick).
If in the second movement the piano has to masquerade as lover, acrobat, boxer, nocturnal poet and gymnast, in the finale he enters in a puff of smoke as charlatan-magician. There is a romantic slow central section to keep the overall tempo-scheme of the concerto in balance. And the last pages are as artfully contrived an accumulation as anything in Rachmaninov and as super-bright in their enriched C major destination as the high new-classical Stravinsky yet to come.
Program note by David Fanning
Yevgeny Kissin, piano;
Berliner Philharmoniker, Claudio Abbado
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