Prokofiev Piano Sonata no. 3 in Am, op. 28

performed by Matti Raekallio, or below by Boris Berman

It’s like a big, organized cadenza.

In contrast with the second sonata, dedicated to Prokofiev’s friend who committed suicide, the third sonata interestingly seems to have less humor or sarcasm than its predecessor. Both it and the fourth sonata were completed in 1917, and carry the subtitle “From (the) old notebooks)” in Russian under the title.

It’s a work of about 8 minutes in length, in a single movement, and while it’s brief-ish, relative even to other single-movement sonatas, its form is uniquely complex. Wikipedia has a very nice section describing in detail the musical form of this piece, so I won’t go repeating it.

What’s interesting is that without sounding anything like Scriabin, his single-movement sonata calls Scriabin to mind in its form alone, more so than Prokofiev’s first sonata, also in one movement, which felt more like a singular idea worked out on paper. The third sonata, though, could possibly be looked at as an assimilation of the first two: the first sonata, in one movement, was in sonata form, with some rather traditional elements, while the second was in a fully-formed four movements.

This third sonata, though, does both. It’s a single-movement work in sonata form, but seems almost to be reaching for Liszt’s ambitious ‘double-function’ form, of having one unbroken movement that works both as a sonata-form and a multi-movement form. Wikipedia elaborates on the first two themes of the sonata after an introduction, and then a third theme, and throughout the exploration of these themes, we have not only a development section and recapitulation, but also what may seem to look, if you turn it at the right angle, like the slow movement of a typical three-movement sonata structure.

Liszt works the double-function form of his B minor sonata out in enormous, sprawling epic proportions, a handsome, deeply spiritual, emotional work, but I’d argue we’re working along similar lines here, with an entirely different mood. The work is very pianistic throughout, with splashes of violence and bursts of energy, as well as cooler, more lyrical passages, but quite lively from beginning to end, hence my ‘cadenza’ comment at the top.

I’m not sure how much the composer meant these sonatas. I have found very little about their inspiration or background (and granted I haven’t dug very much), but to rustle through and dig up decade-old sketches from notebooks and put out two sonatas in the same year, I wonder what the initial inspiration behind the work was, both for the original 1907 sketches and the motivation to dig them up and use them in 1917.

Now’s not the time to talk too much about Prokofiev’s artistic development and evolution throughout his sonatas, because there’s still the fourth, this work’s counterpart, born the same year, but as we edge toward the ‘war sonatas’ we should be seeing quite a different composer emerge. I’m looking forward to it.

This is the last piano work in our Russian October series, but there’s still one more weekend in October, so stay tuned for one more Russian piece in the coming days before we start to do something completely (really) new.


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