by Jeff Lunden, NPR
Sergei Prokofiev is, perhaps, one of the best-known composers of the 20th century, if only for Peter and the Wolf, which serves as many children's introduction to classical music. Symphony orchestras and ballet companies routinely program his music, but now, 57 years after his death, some newly discovered works by Prokofiev will be premiered Tuesday night at New York's Zankel Hall.
When it comes to the music of Prokofiev, pianist and Yale University professor Boris Berman is the go-to guy. He's recorded the composer's complete piano works, written a book about his sonatas and founded the Prokofiev Society of America. Still, until recently, Berman had never seen or heard Music for Athletic Exercises.
The music is part of a 1939 composition, which didn't see the light of day again until 2004, when a facsimile of Prokofiev's manuscript was published. It's one of several pieces Yale faculty, alumni and students will perform Tuesday night. Berman says Music for Athletic Exercises was written to be performed on a grand scale.
"There was a project of putting on a huge athletic pageant on the Red Square in Moscow in the summer of 1939, which would involve thousands of athletes from all over the Soviet Union," he says.
Berman explains that V.E. Meyerhold, a famous Russian director, was hired to stage this extravaganza, but one morning he didn't show up to work on the piece.
"Nobody could find him," Berman says. "He was arrested, as was the habit in these years of the Soviet history. He was arrested, imprisoned and subsequently shot to death."
Traumatic as it was, Prokofiev finished the piece.