Lt. Kije, Op. 60/Prokofiev
January 20, 2013
Like Herrmann did for “The Devil and Daniel Webster” and Copland for the soundtrack “Red Pony” Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) created a suite out of themes for his very first film Lt Kije (1934). The five movement work can be heard with saxophone, baritone voice, or bassoon with other orchestral instruments also being substituted. It has been used by Woody Allen, Danny Elfman, U2, Sauter Finegan, the Simpsons, and various movies over the years. The link above will give you access to the film, a satire based on bureaucracy who was created in the Soviet system because of an error. I’ve included an audio clip of moonlight sleighride from Sauter Finegan, a creative adaptation. moonlight sleighride
The recordings available for this suite could easily number 100 as the major orchestras of the world all seem to have this work in their repertoire of material. The recording that I listened to for this review was Neeme Jarvi conducting the Scottish National Orchestra on Chandos #10481X, part of a five CD collection of orchestral works of Prokofiev. It is a high quality digital recording that nicely duplicates the piccolo, trumpet and percussion with crisp treble without shrill and excellent mellow brass. Its duration is approximately twenty one minutes and comes with my recommendation although as I stated above there are many fine recordings available.
BIRTH OF KIJE begins in the far distance with a trumpet offering an opening fanfare/theme that is somewhat yearning. This is a theme that will be repeated throughout the work. This is followed by a snare drum with a piccolo offering a second melody with harmony from the brass. The theme is light, bright, and lively and eventually disappears as the brass take over in the forte mode with distinct percussion from the side drum. As the orchestra subsides we hear a saxophone and the return of the piccolo playing the same theme as earlier. It ends as it began with the distant sound of a solo trumpet.
ROMANCE, the second movement begins almost dirge like featuring a solo violin and saxophone. It seques into a wonderful romantic arrangement with the flute repeating its melody from the first movement and the work quietly ends with a solo violin.
KIJE’S WEDDING, begins with a loud fanfare with a trumpet solo leading the way with the saxophone repeating a theme from the previous movement.
TROIKA is a very lively theme featuring the brass section with harmony from the pizzicato strings. This is a movement that has been used over the years as music that goes along with a snow scene.
KIJE’S BURIAL, the final movement is a summary of the themes from the first four movements. Instead of a somber funeral like tempo that one would think of with a burial it is on the happy and joyous side. It features excellent counterpoint and overall orchestration. The work ends with the distant trumpet and snare drum.
One could ponder the thought of what would have happened if Prokofiev had remained in the United States instead of returning to the Soviet Union and had been discovered by Hollywood. All I could say is move over Steiner, Korngold, Waxman, Newman, and Tiomkin. What wonderful music he could have made for Hollywood.