Folktale in Music

Welcome! 🙂 This blog features daily short piano pieces I’ve recorded at home. It began as a project for the quarantine, which initially was going to be a couple of weeks. I’m determined to keep it going as long as needed, in hopes that if you need a mental break during these tough times, you can find one here. If you’re new to the series and would like to check out earlier posts, the first one is here.

I went to the wayback machine for today’s piece: this is one I actually recorded a couple of years ago. It’s the second movement from a short suite called Tales of the Old Grandmother, by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953).

Prokofiev witnessed the Communist Revolution in Russia, and like many artists, found himself trying to maintain an especially tough balance. Russian artists were revered as showcasing all that was right about Communism for the world to admire. At the same time, as free thinkers and free speakers, artists were considered potentially dangerous and subversive, enemies to the new Communist state.

Prokofiev was in a particularly difficult position because he traveled outside Russia as a young man, spending time in Europe and the United States with the sanction and blessing – initially – of the Communist government. When he came back to Russia in the 1930s, though, he found that his time in the West made him particularly suspect to Stalin’s regime. He spent the rest of his life in a strange and often dangerous limbo, both an ambassador of the State and a potential traitor to it.

Tales of the Old Grandmother is a short, technically simple, but evocative suite for solo piano. Prokofiev is “storytelling” here in a literal sense, capturing the flavor of mysterious and magical folk tales in his writing.

The second movement, featured in today’s video, is my favorite of the suite’s four movements. It’s quite short, less than two minutes, but lovely and bittersweet. For me, it always conjures up the summer when I first learned the suite, some twenty-five years ago. As you listen, if you’d like, see if it calls up any particular story in your mind, or perhaps a favorite memory. As always, you’re welcome to share your thoughts and responses to the music in the comments.

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