Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19 (1923)
II. Scherzo: Vivacissimo
III. Moderato – Allegro moderato
When Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953) left the newly formed Soviet Union in 1918, he did so with a rash of recently completed scores, including this Concerto which were awaiting their first performances. The October Revolution of 1917 had left the composer with the impression that Russia at the time had “no use for music” and that he was best off abroad. But the People’s Commissar for Education told him: “You are a revolutionary in music, we are revolutionaries in life. We ought to work together. But if you want to go to America I shall not stand in your way.” So Prokofiev packed his scores and left for the United States in April, and arrived in San Francisco in August after his release from questioning by immigration officials.
The Violin Concerto had to wait until Prokofiev settled in Paris in 1923 and made the acquaintance of his countryman in exile, the conductor and impresario Serge Koussevitzky, before he could get the work played. Koussevitzky had his concertmaster perform the solo part, and the work was not well received-the Parisian public at these new music concerts was looking for novelty and effect and this gorgeous score was simply not radical enough. However. the great Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti was in the audience, and he was so impressed that he vowed immediately to make it part of his repertoire, and its international career was launched. A few days after the premiere, a violin-piano performance of the piece was given in the new Soviet Union by Nathan Milstein and Vladimir Horowitz, and Milstein became another great champion of the work, making a classic recording of it and performing it all over the world.
The work is unusual for a Concerto in that the three movements are basically slow-fast-slow rather than the usual fast-slow-fast. The first and last movement are dominated by a gorgeous melody given out by the violin at the outset, which begins and ends the work. In between the music is evocative and colorful, but overwhelmingly melodic and romantic. The middle movement is more sardonic, but even here the musical colors are bright and delicate. There is something of the restraint of his Classical Symphony, written at the same time as the Concerto, although they inhabit vastly different sound worlds and musical intentions. Although very difficult, and with many passages of obvious virtuosity, this element is niever allowed to overwhelm the musical content.