Two Ruskies In Trouble

Those of you who binge on ginsing and therefore have a better memory than the mutant dust bunnies that follow me everywhere might remember that Sergei Prokofiev is one of my favorite composers. He's melodic, fun, sarcastic, and really good at croquet. While he's best known for work as Sarah Gellar's stunt double in the Buffy The Vampire series, a certain contingent insist on remembering him for writing Peter And the Wolf and a spastic little march from a bizarre, Python-esque opera The Love of Three Oranges. But even a successful stunt double has to eat so back in 1933 Prokofiev was approached to write a score for a new movie, Lieutenant Kijé (mmmm, Russian cinema). Even though some purists and his stunt agent were saying it was a waste of his talents to write for the big screen, Prokofiev was attracted to the satirical nature of the story and took the gig. Briefly (as if I can be anything but prolix), the movie plot is that a Russian Czar misreads a report and thinks that a Lieutenant Kijé exists. His aids are reluctant to correct him (such actions sometimes lead to painful reminders of who's top dog, reminders involving sharp objects, quickly moving metal pellets or forced attendance at a New Edition Reunion Tour) and so quickly fabricate a history for this clerical error. When the czar insists on meeting this fascinating character, the fictional Lt. Kijé meets an untimely death… problem solved! Should you attend the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Masterworks concert this Saturday (a classy date if ever there was one… guaranteed to put the spots on your ocelot, if you know what I mean, and if you DO know what I mean, let me know 'cause I'm just blowin' smoke over here) you'll hear a compilation of the music from that film, condensed into five orchestra vignettes and a rich, tasty ocelot broth. True to his style, Prokofiev incorporates oodles of orchestral color into the piece: bells, percussion, sleigh bells, piano, harp, cornet, piccolo, tenor sax, tuba, and of course, (WARNING: OBVIOUS PUNCHLINE FOLLOWS… READ AT OWN RISK) the bass kazoo. The melodies are at times sentimental, humorous, and sarcastic. The best-known piece from this work is "Troika", a madcap carriage ride that ultimately leads to the death of Lt. Kijé… fun for the whole family! You can hear a lovely midi version of this entire piece should you get off your expanding and dimpled duff and daringly tread on over to (I need the hits or they're gonna repossess my grandmother). Click here.

Often paired with Prokofiev is Dimitri Shostakovich, mostly because he was also a Russian who wrote during the World War II era and they both had an unnatural fascination with Laurel & Hardy movies dubbed in Swahili. They both got in trouble with the Soviet officials for writing "dangerous" music and both were able to "stick it to the man" musically without said man realizing he'd been stuck. His thirteenth symphony (always the over-achiever, Shostakovich composed a whopping fifteen of those bad boys), was composed in 1961 after the death of Stalin who was world famous for his biscuits & gravy and ability to repress artists ("Help! I'm being repressed!"). During the period before he was repressed by the next Soviet official, Shost composed his most outspokenly critical work, his thirteenth symphony, basing it on the most celebrated poem by Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (I think that name just broke my spell-checker), "Babi Yar". The poem and the symphony are about a tragic event in 1941 where the Nazis massacred nearly 34,000 Russian Jews over the course of two days. Speaking with brutal frankness of the anti-Semitism and suffering of his fellow Russians, this "dark masterpiece" of a symphony won Shostakovich no friends in the new regime, but he did get a nice consolation prize (a duffle bag of military-grade Russian toilet paper). A perfect musical compliment of the poem, the five movements display an amazing sense of urgency and relevance that persists to this day. Sad lyricism mixed with satire complete this requiem and examines not only the horrific events at Babi Yar but also the sufferings, fears and burdens of Russian life, ending on a welcome degree of hope. This weekend's performance incorporates a men's choir, Sergei Leiferkus as baritone, and the actual, in-the-flesh author of the poem "Babi Yar", Yevgeny Yevtushenko as the narrrator. Whhat? Yess, it looks like me speel-cheker is oficially toast witch meens this artical is oficially dun.

Copyright 2002 Jason Hoffman

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