Composing for the Red Screen: Sergei Prokofiev’s Film Scores Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Bartig, Kevin Michael
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Music
  • Sergei Prokofiev's film scores are unique for having attained a steadfast place in the canon of classical music, a feat the composer accomplished in the complicated and oppressive artistic milieu of Stalin's Russia. The eight films for which he wrote music encompass a range of musical and cinematic genres, from the well-known Aleksandr Nevskii and Lieutenant Kizhe to more obscure propaganda films such as The Partisans in the Ukrainian Steppe and Tonia. Discussion of the composer's work with film music, including his celebrated collaboration with director Sergei Eisenstein, has remained absent from musicological literature. This study uses newly-available archival materials to explore Prokofiev's work with film, considering issues of collaboration, technology, aesthetics, and—perhaps most importantly—the privileged and hyper-politicized role of film production and composition in Stalin’s Russia. Chapter 1 explores how Prokofiev, already a world-renowned composer by 1933, approached an uncharted musical genre with the 1934 film Lieutenant Kizhe. For the film, he forged a strikingly sparse, hyper-lyrical style that would characterize both his film music and his incidental music during the mid-1930s. The first chapter also introduces Prokofiev's relationship with technology and new media. Chapters 2 and 3 address Prokofiev's scores for Mikhail Romm's Queen of Spades and Eisenstein's Aleksandr Nevskii, respectively, showing how each resulted from an effort to adapt, transform and employ the Russian past in service of the Soviet present. Chapter 4 focuses on four minor films for which Prokofiev wrote music in 1941-42, and shows how Prokofiev coped with the disruption brought on by war, both financially and ideologically. In chapter 5 I analyze instances of audiovisual dissonance in Ivan the Terrible, Prokofiev's last film project, and argue that they represent transformative moments that are a direct extension of Eisenstein's dialectical film theories.
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  • Fauser, Annegret
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