War and Peace: Biographical Milestones

Svetlana A. Petukhova


The article is the first attempt to provide a comprehensive exploration of the creation of Prokofiev’s epic opera War and Peace. In particular, the article focuses on the preconditions of the concept, compositional stages, structural principles of writing a huge piece of music, approaches to its dramaturgic interpretation as well as the recreation of stage life of the opera and the analysis of its perception by critics.

Chronologically, the history of the creation covers almost 12 years (1941– 1953), which is a record period in Prokofiev’s biography. In total, War and Peace underwent five editions. The article analyses the conditions which made the production of this timely work so much anticipated by Russian public impossible in Russia. War and Peace was a unique operatic composition created by a world-famous composer, however, it did not mean the opera would easily reach its audience. Leo Tolstoy is one of Russia’s patriotic classics, which means that any interpreter of his work is supposed to follow the ideological triad of “nationalism, optimism, and realism”. In addition, the plot centered around the Patriotic War of 1812 at the height of the Patriotic War of the 1940s had to be even more patriotic in its nature. In view of the above, Prokofiev was forced to transform the composition for a lyric chamber theater into a grandiose national and historical epic. It is hardly possible to say whether his attempt was a success, since he deliberately did not canonize any of the resulting redactions for future performances.

Two world premieres of War and Peace took place in Prague on June 25, 1948 (first stage redaction) and in Florence on May 26, 1953 (second stage redaction, a one-evening version). Five of the nine Prokofiev’s opera premieres were held abroad. Against the disappointing statistics, these five performances stand out as a symbol of freedom of musical creativity and a memorial to the defeated aspirations of a genius.

Keywords: Prokofiev, War and Peace, epic, history, nationalism, patriotism, concert performance, stage premieres, Prague, Florence

For citation: Petukhova S. A. War and Peace: Biographical Milestones [Electronic source]. In: Sovremennye problemy muzykoznaniya / Contemporary Musicology, 2021, no. 2, pp. 145–219. (In Russ.) DOI: 10.56620/2587-9731-2021-2-145-219


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.56620/2587-9731-2021-2-145-219

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