Prokofiev’s Music for Children

We have such an interest in Peter and the Wolf that we produced an hourlong documentary about it for KFAI back in 2013, which we also added to this blog so you can hear it here. For some time one of our interests in record collecting was to find as many different recordings of the work as we could, and by the time we gave up we’d found more than a hundred LPs, 45s, 78s, cassette tapes and CDs of the piece (this is why there are usuually so many different copies in our children’s section here at Hymie’s). And we gave up before we found even a quarter of the known versions, which has been performed in dozens of languages and adapted to a wide variety of styles of music.

Today’s musical selection was written just a year before Prokofiev produced Peter and the Wolf for the Central Children’s Theater in Moscow, but it is rarely recorded. This is in part because it was not written for children to hear, but rather for children to play. Music for Children, published in 1935 as Prokofiev’s Opus 65, features twelve brief vignettes for piano, but he shows respect for the talents of his prospective pupils. The pieces are simple enough for a novice pianist, but also inventive enough to provide their parents with some enjoyable listening. 

Music for Children, performed here on a 1977 recording by the Canadian pianist Richard Gresko, reflects the influence of Prokofiev’s time in France through his encounters with the music of composers such as Debussy, Delius and Satie. It also hints at the direction in which his many of his orchestral work would move as he settled back into the Soviet Union the following year. This is especially true in regard to his hugely popular ballet, Cinderella, although not so in regard to many of his works which, for political reasons, were guided by the principle of Soviet realism (notably his film score for Alexander Nevsky and his opera based on War and Peace).

Our favorites from Music for Children include the evocative opening, “Morning,” in which the left hand seems to quietly create a sunrise as the right begins a stretch to start the day, and the cheerful “Grasshopper’s Parade,” which is the seventh down. We hope the grasshoppers do not run into the hungry spider from Albert Roussel’s 1912 ballet suite.

The whole of the twelve pieces are in order below for your enjoyment this morning. If you enjoy them you may find it interesting to hear A Summer’s Day afterwards. That orchestral suite based on the piano pieces was first published, under the same opus, about six years later. You can find the first on Youtube here, and then click through the rest.

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