- Suite: “Lieutenant Kijé”
revolutionary Russia, whilst the “Whites”
and “Reds” were slugging it out, Prokofiev
tried blushing a pale shade of pink. When
things got too hot he fled to America, going
east via Vladivostok to avoid the hazards
of war-torn Europe. For years after the
war, he drifted between America and Europe,
apparently baffled that his pungent music
should attract anything other than universal
admiration. You could say that Prokofiev
hankered after a quiet life, ever seeking
the ideal existence of a creative artist
in harmony with an appreciative public.
On visits to his homeland he found himself
fêted: all his heart’s desires combined
into a carrot made all the juicier by the
offer of a Moscow apartment and a car. However,
once he had finalised his return to Russia
(1936), the iron door of the USSR slammed
shut behind him. The carrot vanished, the
stick appeared: Prokofiev, the home-grown
conqueror of the wild West, was now required
if he didn’t know how severe the strictures
really were, he must have had some inkling
because he had worked in Russia during his
transition from the West. To one already
steeped in theatrical music, the burgeoning
film industry must have seemed a God-send.
In the “realism” of a film your music could
hardly be accused of “formalism”. You could,
comparatively, get away with murder - especially
with a Czar-slagging scenario. So, was it
simple coincidence that his first “Soviet”
work (1933) was the score for the film Lieutenant
concert suite broadly follows the plot,
a loopy variation on The Emperor’s New
Kije's Birth: Reading a report, the
Czar mistakes “parootchiki je” (“the lieutenants,
however”) for “Parootchik Kijé”.
Czar-contradiction being a capital offence,
his royal interest must perforce be satisfied.
Panic-stricken, Admin. must invent a “paper
lieutenant” . . .
Romance . . . and make it convincing,
by giving the ghost romanticised substance.
Their difficulties are neatly encapsulated
by a double-bass, creaking and groaning
its way through a tune that a cello could
eat for breakfast!
Kije's Wedding: The Czar likes his heroic
lieutenants to be wholesome family men,
so a “wedding” must be arranged. Kijé
may be merely paper, but the vodka is all
Troika: A festive frolic on a three-horse
open sleigh, or maybe at some deeper, more
meaningful level a subtle symbol of the
madcap paper juggernaut, or just Prokofiev
showing off - conjuring sleighbells by sleight
Kije's Burial: The aides, rapidly running
out of steam, brilliantly resolve their
problem: the Czar is naturally saddened
to learn of Kije's untimely death. After
the eulogies, sighs of relief all round,
and blissfully dull normality is restored.
Of course, any similarity between the Czar
and the Soviet is entirely coincidental.
© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street,
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