Five Melodies for Violin and Piano, Opus 35bis
Born April 23, 1891, Sontsovka
Died March 5, 1953, Moscow
Prokofiev fled Russia in 1918 to escape life under the new communist government, and at first he intended to make the United States his home. His two years in this country were unhappy, however, and in April 1920 he moved to Paris, which was then the musical capital of the world. But Prokofiev quickly returned for a tour of the United States, and on that tour he visited a place he particularly liked: California. It was in California in December 1920 that Prokofiev composed a sort of novelty, a set of Five Songs without Words for the Russian soprano Nina Koshetz; the première took place in New York City on March 27, 1921.
Songs without words were not unheard of-Rachmaninoff's famous Vocalise had been composed only eight years earlier for the soprano Antonina Nezhdanovka-and as a form it emphasizes the sound of the voice and its ability to sustain a lyric line. In 1925, while living in Paris and working on his ballet Le Pas D'Acier, Prokofiev returned to his wordless songs and arranged them for violin and piano. In fact, this took almost no arranging at all: he simply edited the soprano's vocal line for violin, and in this form the music becomes a set of lyric miniatures for violin and piano. This music is full of the characteristic pungency of Prokofiev's harmonic language in these years, so full of accidentals that it seems to hover uneasily between different keys, and the melodic line can be angular and twisting. But there is a haunting, bittersweet lyricism about these short pieces that makes them very appealing: Prokofiev's arrangement in effect creates five brief songs for violin.