Behind the Program:
Beyond the Score®, Sergei Prokofiev Symphony No. 5: Pure Propaganda?
One of our more popular features over the past few seasons have been presentation in the Beyond the Score® series developed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. These innovative programs combine live actors, multimedia, and the orchestra to present deep and entertaining background on a featured work—followed by performance of the full work. In the past five seasons, the Madison Symphony Orchestra has presented Beyond the Score programs on Dvořák’s “New World” symphony, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.4 (“Italian”). At this program, MSO pianist Dan Lyons and American Players Theatre actors James Ridge, Colleen Madden, Marcus Truschinski, and Sarah Day will be on stage to help tell the story of Prokofiev’s grand patriotic wartime work, the Symphony No. 5.
In Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union, composers served the State, and musical style was expected to conform to the political needs of the moment and the philosophy of artistic authorities. For his part, Prokofiev seems wholeheartedly to have supported the government and provided unabashedly nationalistic works. In a postwar interview, he discussed the composition of the fifth symphony:
“When the Second World War broke out, I felt that everyone must do his share, and began composing songs and marches for the front. But soon events assumed such gigantic and far-reaching scope as to demand larger canvasses…Finally I wrote my Fifth Symphony, on which I had been working for several years, gathering themes in a special notebook. I always work that way, and that is probably why I write so fast. The entire score of the Fifth was written in one month in the summer of 1944. It took another month to orchestrate it. The Fifth Symphony was a very important composition to me, as it marked my return to the symphonic form after a long interval. I regard it as the culmination of a large period in my creative life.”