The Lieutenant Kizhe Suite   


Prokofiev’s intention is clear: abrasive percussion or dissonant harmony – no matter how insignificant – had no place in a work that spotlighted lyricism. The suite was “developed in a symphonic way, never abandoning a clear and simple style”, (22) with the aim of rendering the work accessible to those who had had “little contact with art music”. (23)

Even though billed as a symphonic reworking of the film score, Prokofiev still tied the suite to the narrative of the parent work, much like he had done and would continue to do with his opera and ballet suites. In conjunction with the first performance of the suite outside of the Soviet Union (in Paris on 30 February 1937), Prokofiev wrote a short commentary on the suite for use in concert programmes. Because foreign audiences were less likely to be familiar with the film (although the film had been shown in Paris in March 1935 under the title “Le lieutenant Nants”), Prokofiev summarised the plot of the film to tie each of the suite’s five movements broadly to events in the film. Furthermore, the film score’s two main motives (Kizhe’s “theme” and the trumpet fanfare that opens and closes both the suite and the film) retain their original significance in Prokofiev’s account:

The first movement (Birth of Kizhe) gives the idea of the militarised St. Petersburg under the reign of Paul I. One hears trumpets, drums, parades, and between them bits of Kizhe’s theme. The second movement (Romance) is composed of two chansons, a little in the style of early nineteenth-century Russia. After the exposition of these two songs, one hears them together. This number exists in two versions: with voice or without: in the second case, the vocal part is taken up by various instruments. The third movement is titled Kizhe’s Wedding, since in the scope of the film, one wanted to marry the non-existent lieutenant. A festive theme is intertwined with Kizhe’s theme. The fourth movement (Troika) has two versions, like the second. It is a gallant song of a guard officer hastening with mad speed in a sled pulled by three horses with sleigh bells. The fifth movement (Burial of Kizhe) is based on the Kizhe theme, the wedding theme and the romance, given sometimes separately, sometimes together, in counterpoint, in different keys. The suite ends with the trumpet fanfare heard from the distance: it is the militarised St. Petersburg during the reign of Paul I. (24)

In creating a work immediately accessible to a wide audience (not to mention to a Soviet musical sphere becoming increasingly intolerant of non-programmatic works), Prokofiev ostensibly felt the music of the suite would still benefit from its original visual and narrative associations.

Curiously, after Kizhe, Prokofiev never again turned to film music as the basis for a suite. (25) To be sure, Prokofiev reused individual numbers of his subsequent film scores in later compositions (for example, the Mephisto Waltz from Lermontov appears in the Waltz Suite Op.110). But the sources for the creation of later, independent suites were to remain the composer’s operas and ballets. The composer’s Soviet ballets presented less problematic and “ready-made” material for suites in terms of orchestration and overall form. 1934, however, was a critical year. Following the disastrous reception of the radio performance of the Symphonic Song in April, the pressure to produce something in a highly accessible vein became acute. The Lieutenant Kizhe Suite thus arose out of circumstance, a satisfactory answer to a pressing need. But the use of film music was only temporary. Even though Prokofiev insisted on including a provision for a suite in every one of his film score contracts, the Lieutenant Kizhe Suite was his only film-based orchestral work. (26)

The tuneful and immediately accessible style of Prokofiev’s suite ensured that it would remain a favourite with audiences long beyond its successful Soviet première, a popularity that several times extended beyond the concert stage. In 1958 the suite reverted to its roots in film music when Alec Guinness used it in the soundtrack of his film The Horse’s Mouth. Woody Allen’s 1975 parody of nineteenth-century Russian literature, Love and Death, continued and expanded upon this tradition, using the Lieutenant Kizhe Suite alongside numbers from Alexander Nevsky and the Scythian Suite. The 1963 season of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow saw the most significant afterlife of the suite in the Soviet sphere in the form of a ballet titled Lieutenant Kizhe (Poruchik Kizhe). (27) The ballet’s scenarists, A. Lapaura and O. Tarasovaia admired the “clear theatricality” of Prokofiev’s suite and felt that it offered an ideal source for a one-act ballet. (28) Although they streamlined the plot of the film to cope with the demands of dance, (Kizhe, for example, is never sent to Siberia) the suite again served as the score for the production. Quite ironically, the ballet’s director, A. M. Zhuraitis, sought to extend the suite by including the numbers of the film score that Prokofiev had originally excluded from the suite, ostensibly employing the manuscript of the Kizhe film score for this task.

Through the Kizhe film score and suite Prokofiev satisfied the goal of bringing his music to a mass audience. The film Lieutenant Kizhe, although not an immense success, nevertheless still played regularly in Soviet theatres even five years after its production. (29) At the same time Prokofiev’s music was playing in film theatres, the Kizhe suite became a favourite in concert halls. Shortly after its première, Miaskovsky even suggested the suite as one of the featured works at the seventh Congress of Soviets in 1935. (30) The film has since fallen into relative obscurity, however, and with it Prokofiev’s first film score. In the absence of a published edition of the Kizhe film score, and in light of the compositional methods Prokofiev generally employed in creating suites, it has been easy to assume that film score and suite bear a close resemblance. Instead, the suite presents a significantly reworked version of the film score – tailored for presentation in the concert hall and purged of elements that might hinder the forthright lyricism that has since ensured its place among Prokofiev’s most popular works.




14 JUNE 2007

(22) RGALI, f.1929, op.1, ed. khr.318.
(23) See the composer’s 1934 articles “Sovetskii slushatel’ i moe muzykal’noe tvorchestvo”, and “Puti sovetskoi muzyki”, both of which are reprinted in Varunts, Viktor (ed.), Prokof’ev o Prokof’eve: Stat’I, interv’iu, (Moskva: Sovetskii Kompozitor, 1991), 126–128. For an English version of the first of these two articles, see Three Oranges, No. 7, May 2004, 17 – 18. [Ed.]
(24) RGALI, f.1929, op.1, ed. khr.318.
(25) This does not ignore the Alexander Nevsky Cantata Op.78, which Prokofiev based on his score for Eisenstein’s 1938 film Alexander Nevsky. This cantata is significantly broader in scope than any of the composer’s suites. The composer’s music for Ivan the Terrible (op.116), often appears on concert programmes in an oratorio version created by Abram Stasevich in 1962.
(26) See RGALI, f.1929, op.1, ed. khr.804. For example, two years later Prokofiev began work on his next film score, for Mikhail Romm’s unfinished adaptation of Pikovaia dama (The Queen of Spades). The cancellation of the project left Prokofiev’s score unused, but it was not destined to become a suite – even though the size and construction of the score perhaps would have lent itself to such a composition much more readily than the composer’s first film score. Prokofiev used themes from the Pikovaia dama score in the second movement of the Fifth Symphony. The task of creating a suite from the Pikovaia dama film score fell to conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, who used three pieces (“Hermann”, “Liza”, and “Polonaise”) in his 1962 compilation suite of Prokofiev’s music, Pushkiniana. The remainder of the suite comprises sections from other works that Prokofiev composed based on Pushkin themes: Evgenii Onegin, Op.71 (1936) and Boris Godunov, Op.70bis (1936).
(27) The following account is based on a copy of a programme from the production preserved in the collection of the Library of the Soiuz teatral’nykh deiatelei in Moscow.
(28) Prokofiev’s score for the film Ivan the Terrible similarly served as the basis for a ballet after the composer’s death. Composer Abram Stasevich first suggested such a ballet in the late 1950s, but it was not until the early 1970s that composer Mikhail Chulaki and choreographer Yuri Grigorovich (both top figures at the Bolshoi Theatre) brought Stasevich’s original plan to fruition. Unlike the Lieutenant Kizhe ballet, the Ivan ballet is an extended work that also includes excerpts from Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 3 (Op.44) and the Russian Overture (Op.72).
(29) There is evidence that the film Lieutenant Kizhe was shown regularly in Soviet theatres as late as 1938. Prokofiev collected newspaper clippings announcing showings of the film across the Soviet Union, see RGALI, f.1929, op.2, ed. khr.629.
(30) Kabalevskii, 1977: 434.