The great Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein marveled at Prokofiev's genius for film music. In the evening he would watch a series of edited takes a few times, note down the number of seconds that certain events lasted, then go off to his studio and return the next day at noon with the score of that scene perfectly attuned to the screen action. To Eisenstein, Prokofiev was capturing the inner rhythm of the film in his music. Indeed, Eisenstein's Alxander Nevsky is one of those very rare occasions when a great film is accompanied by a superb score.
But Prokofiev had written film music before meeting Eisenstein. His first project on returning to Russia in1993, after years of self-imposed exile in the West, was the score to Lieutenant Kije, a satiric comedy set in the court of Czar Paul I. In the film the czar misreads the report of one of his aides and creates a non-existent name out of the syllable ki, which ended the aide's name, and a Russian expletive ji. The aide was afraid to correct an imperial error, so Lt. Kije had to exist. With a little connivance from the courtiers, Kije assumed a paper existence which kept everyone hopping to prevent the czar from learning the truth.
After completing the music for the film, Prokofiev arranged the popular suite in 1934. Like the music for Alxander Nevsky it is substantially rewritten to stand on its own while tracing some of the central incidents of the film - in this case the history of the fictitious hero: his birth, his romantic ardor when in love, his marriage (combining brief pomp with unbuttoned festivity in the tavern), a ride in a troika, or carriage drawn by three horses, to the tune of a tavern song, and the death of our hero. This is in no way mournful; on the contrary, once Kije "dies", all those involved in maintaining the deception can at last breathe a sigh of relief.
Program note by Stevent Ledbetter
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Andre Previn
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