We all know the story. We’ve seen the play, we’ve watched the film, we’ve studied it at school, we know the quotes … Shakespeare’s characters, Romeo and Juliet, the ‘star-cross’d lovers’, have provided musical inspiration for Berlioz’s symphonie dramatique of the same name, Tchaikowsky’s Overture-Fantasy, and Gounod’s opera. Prokofiev composed music for a ballet, and three orchestral suites derived from it; pianists are fortunate indeed to have Prokofiev’s arrangement of ten transcribed movements to enjoy. Today, 23 April, is Prokofiev’s birthday, and Shakespeare’s, so let’s celebrate some of those pieces as part of our exploration of The Romantic Piano.
The chirpy, opening Folk Dance is unfailingly cheerful, with its compound time signature giving an attractive rhythmic buoyancy.
Perhaps the best known excerpt in the UK, owing to its use as the theme for ‘The Apprentice’, is the Dance of the Knights. This is a swashbuckling piece, driven, full of energy, with a contrasting middle section which needs a well measured, calmer pace.
Here is Lugansky:
It’s worth listening to the original orchestration to absorb some of the feeling for orchestral colour which is transcribed to the piano.
The LSO with Gergiev:
Or if you prefer lush pianism, try the final movement, Romeo bids Juliet Farewell –
And on YouTube, enjoy the even lusher orchestral colours in the ballet from which it is derived, in the 1955 film of the ballet .
I rather like this black and white version, too – starting at :18 –
‘There are still so many beautiful things to be said in C Major,’ said Prokofiev. Here’s one of them. If you like scintillating fingerwork with a tranquil heart, The Young Juliet has both:
Quirky, Prokofiev-style biting humour? Masks:
And there are five more pieces to explore, easily found on YouTube and on disc. Just the thing for a joint birthday celebration. Enjoy!