Thursday, February 4, 2016

Settings of Romeo and Juliet: Prokofiev

This month on Clef Notes we are exploring love stories in music. First, we are taking a look at several well-known settings of Shakespeare’s famous Romeo and Juliet. Last time we listened to Tchaikovsky’s setting. Today, let’s compare it to Prokofiev’s version.

In 1934, the Kirov Theater in Leningrad expressed interest in staging a ballet written by Prokofiev, suggesting Romeo and Juliet as a subject. Not long after this, the theater changed their mind and he went on to sign a contract with the Moscow Bolshoi Theater instead. Despite his work alongside the choreographer, the Bolshoi ended up dropping the ballet as well, claiming the music to be too complex for the dancers. The ballet ended up holding its premiere in Czechoslovakia in 1938 by the Brno Opera. It did not receive a Soviet premiere until 1940.

Today, most listeners are familiar with the concert suites Prokofiev created using selections from the ballet. Excerpts from these suites feature titles highlights key moments in the story including “Death of Tybalt,” “Juliet as a Young Girl,” and “Romeo at the Tomb of Juliet.” Below you can enjoy all three suites. Do you prefer Prokofiev’s setting or that by Tchaikovsky that we heard last time?

Next time, we’ll look at one more setting of Romeo and Juliet composed by Hector Berlioz.