FEATURE: Ivan The Terrible

An Unknown Ivan The Terrible Oratorio
(Nelly Kravetz) Download Article (pdf, 700K)


Prokofiev the Reader
(Nadezhda Lobacheva)

New Simplicity as Humanist Revolution: the Case of The Prodigal Son, On the Dnieper, and Désir at American Ballet Theatre
(Andrew Grossman)

Lina Prokofieff – “Poetico”,
Photographic Exhibition (Marcel Votour)

A Precious Species of Wood
(Serge Prokofieff Jr)


Reviews (David Nice)

Prokofiev collaborated with the eminent Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein on two films, Alexander Nevsky (1938) and Ivan the Terrible (1942-46). After finishing the score to the first of these, Prokofiev fashioned a blockbuster cantata that enjoys a secure place in the orchestral and choral repertoire. Yet political and personal circumstances prevented him from making a similar arrangement of the music for Ivan the Terrible. The conductor Abram Stasevich devised an oratorio from the music in 1961, but it has never been regarded as a particularly convincing representation of Prokofiev’s cinematic intentions.
     The highlight of this issue is Nelly Kravetz’s fascinating revelation that a second Ivan the Terrible oratorio exists, arranged by Prokofiev’s Soviet assistant Levon Atovmian. It remains unclear whether Prokofiev sanctioned this arrangement, but it is, as Kravetz argues, a remarkably cohesive, self-standing score. Stasevich’s treatment of the soundtrack traces Ivan’s grand ascent to power, then his gradual loss of personal and political control, with his final years being marked by decadent excess. Atovmian’s oratorio, in contrast, maintains the heroic narrative throughout, transforming the tale of Ivan’s conquests over friend and foe into a celebration of Russia’s bright future. It is much more Stalinist in conception than Stasevich’s oratorio, and thus seems to predate that work. Given Atovmian’s close ties to Prokofiev, his oratorio could also be regarded as the more authoritative of the two.
     The issue also contains an engaging account, by Nadezhda Lobacheva, of Prokofiev’s reading habits: the short stories, novels, and plays that he read in the late afternoons and evenings for pleasure and eva-luated for possible operatic treatment. His later literary tastes ranged from the canonic to the contemporary, with one writer surnamed Tolstoy (the Russian luminary Leo Tolstoy) jostling for his mental attention with another (the Soviet lesser-light Alexei Tolstoy). Lobacheva’s account considerably increases our understanding of how Prokofiev’s Soviet operas came into being.
     As lead in to the Reviews Section, I am pleased to include an article by Serge Prokofieff Jr. about the Wood Book, a small album of autographs and quotations compiled by Prokofiev in his youth. It has just been published in gorgeous facsimile by Vita Nova. This publication was unveiled in grand style at the Alexander Pushkin State Museum in Moscow. Readers will also find within this issue an appraisal of a recent showing of photographs in Paris by Lina Prokofieff, the composer’s great-granddaughter. Her work has been exhibited in five European cities to date.


Simon Morrison


Simon Morrison

David Nice

Edward Morgan

Fiona McKnight






UPDATE: 20170111