Slava Sheds New Light on Prokofiev's Seventh

Classic Arts Features   Slava Sheds New Light on Prokofiev's Seventh
Mstislav Rostropovitch talks about the origins of Prokofiev's Seventh Symphony, which he conducts at the New York Philharmonic starting April 27.

This month Mstislav Rostropovich conducts a program of works by Shostakovich and Prokofiev, including the latter's Symphony No. 7. Mr. Rostropovich ("Slava"), who lived with the composer and his wife in the former Soviet Union during the time in which the work was written, recently shared his memories surrounding its creation.

"I want people to know why Prokofiev's Seventh Symphony is so different from his other works. It is very simple: because it was a commission from the Children's Department of the Radio Committee. He didn't compose it a certain way because they had passed the resolution [the resolution of 1948 on formalism in music]. But it led people to think that he knuckled under. On the score, the title was not Seventh Symphony, but Children's Symphony."

When the work was finished, Mr. Rostropovich and the pianist Anatoly Vedernikov went to play it for the committee of the Children's Department, which, he said, was filled with "old ladies." The performance was a great success. Afterwards, Mr. Rostropovich took the score with the approved seal, along with a letter of praise from the Children's Department, to Prokofiev, who had stayed home.

"Prokofiev picked up the score and I saw that he was erasing something ‹ he had erased 'Children's' and had written 'Number 7' instead. I asked, 'Why are you doing that?' I remember his exact reply: 'Grown-ups liked it so much that I've decided not to hurt their feelings.' So when people say that he lowered his level of composing because of the resolution, they're wrong! He composed it for children. It was only after it was finished that he changed the title. I'm telling the story now for the first time."

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