Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sergei Prokofiev - Alexander Nevsky

Image via Wikipedia
It's not true that Classical Music is dead, it's just gone to the theater.  Specifically, the Motion Pictures.  Every year sees new compositions, commissioned not by Old World Aristocrats, but by Hollywood moguls.  Some of it is quite good.

This tradition goes back a long time.  Sergei Prokofiev is one of the Twentieth Century's greatest composers, and his music in many ways led the charge to the cinema.  Prokofiev composed most of his greatest works in Soviet Russia immediately before and during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.  The Soviet regime was desperate to build patriotic feeling in the masses, and the new film medium gave them a mass propaganda outlet.

Just as Adolf Hitler had his film maker Leni Riefenstahl, so Stalin had his in Sergei Eisenstein.  1938 saw the release of Eisenstein's great Alexander Nevsky, featuring Prokofiev's score.  The film told the tale of the Teutonic Knights, and how their invasion was turned back by the early Russian hero Nevsky.  This is a scene from the film.

The entire Film art was still half in the old stage theater production mindset, and so this looks stiff to our modern eye - much as Laurence Olivier's Henry V seems stiff and staged.  But the music is grand.

No, Classical Music isn't dead at all.  It just goes with popcorn these days.


greg said...

That's a pretty brilliant point...I have always wondered how John Williams is going to be rememebered 150-200 years from now.

I mean, you have to imagine, when placed in a historical context, John Williams body of work would compare favorably to any past composer. There are many, many huge hit movies that would not have been as successful as they were without his music in them

Dave H said...

Aaron Copeland was writing film scores at about the same time, and several were nominated for Academy Awards.

You may scoff, but I think you'll find video game music approaching film score quality now, too. While the better games of today aren't linear, so the "score" is really more a set of themes played in a sequence determined by the player, the music itself adds as much to the experience as a film's score would. Give a listen to the music of Halo and Skyrim and see what you think.

AnarchAngel said...

I personally think "Arise Ye Russian People" is the greatest example of classical choral music since the 18th century; and that Prokofiev is almost certainly the 20th centuries greatest composer of epic classical music.

Borepatch said...

Greg, Williams writes some great music.

Dave H, there's some terrific music in games. #2 Son pointed out the Skyrim soundtrack to me. He listens to it at night when he goes to sleep.

Lord of the Rings had simply outstanding music, too. The list goes on and on.

AnarchAngel said...

Oh and I do have to make that caveat. I think Prokofiev did "grand" and "epic"better than anyone in the 20th century; but there were certainly greater composers.

Rachmaninoff, Rostrapovich, and Rimsky-Korsakov (just barely counts), in Russia alone...

But their music was on a much less... huge scale so to speak?

NotClauswitz said...

I'm lowbrow and prefer Henry Mancini to John Williams. :-)