The Symphonic Juncture

A [Symphonist]: "The one who is not afraid to raise the primal force."

- Boris Asafiev (1917)

In Retrospect: The DSO and their Symphonism Pt. 2

Welcome to the inaugural post of In Retrospect, an opportunity to go head-first into the sonic world of music and discover what makes it goes 'boom' and what that 'boom' means. Each post will correlate to a different performance that was simply too marvelous to not allocate more time towards, and thus The Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Feb.12th Digital Concert was the perfect beginning! Their concert program was Magnus Lindberg’s three-movement, 'Chamber Symphony' Souvenir which was then followed by Prokofiev's Op.25 First Symphony, a fitting pair which would make even B. Asafiev proud.

Interesting fact: Prokofiev's Op.25 was dedicated to none other than the famed Soviet Musicologist Boris Asafiev himself who, with just cause, considered Prokofiev a true, pre-revolutionary Russian composer!


[This is Pt.2 of a two-part post, be sure to check the previous posts for Pt.1]


[For $12 dollars, you can follow along and hear the concert by clicking here]

The sun’s rays seeped through my mediatory portals to Nature, accompanied in suspended animation with their eternal, guardian shutters, giving me a chance to complimentarily absorb in its wake benevolent illumination and unmitigated warmth. As the omniscient cause of life itself casts its organic cheerfulness, rendered veiled by the coverlet of night then pre-dawn opacity, across the Earth’s Western face once again in her 4.6 billion-year maturity, one is unavoidably reminded of the ephemerality of all things both sinister and pleasurable. Even music, at its core being a simple, fugitive result of oscillating frequencies generated by nothing more than vibrations of various natures manifested from an instrument of choice, has no lasting body to which one can reference back to, video and recordings being yet another variation of man’s attempt to forestall the inevitability of death’s final kiss [recordings and videos could be considered sonic fossils and by no means truth of any sort]. This dilemma of ‘what is real music’ and ‘is a recording real music’ must be saved for another post, but it stands to note that even Asafiev, the great Soviet Musicologist whose formidable legacy carved a socio-psychological path from music back to its source [life], had agreed with such a point, ‘there is no music outside living reproduction and reception.’


However, when Detroit Symphony Orchestra performed Prokofiev’s first numbered symphony, namely Symphony No.1 [Op.25], the first symphonic iteration of Prokofiev’s confident sagaciousness, after having read Boris Asafiev’s appraisal, “This music is motion...it is life...it reflects ugly and caricaturist...sides of it in the sharp, sarcastic, and whimsical figures[...],” my qualitative hesitancy ceased to be and all that remained was an excitable anticipation to ‘hear.’ Described as, ‘touchingly romantic...and irresistibly attractive’ through sonic gems conveying ‘diary-like moods,’ harnessing the undulating complexities of human existence from the perspectives of proletariat peasantry all the way to ballroom-bound gentry and up, Sergei Prokofiev certainly lives up to the title of ‘Symphonist’ through his willingness to save Russia through sonifying ‘the consciousness of the mass.’ Prokofiev’s clear reverence for the tumultuous fragility of man was conditioned 1) by his tenuous acceptance of Stalin’s mandated ‘trend’ of Socialist Realism at odds with his ‘stagnant, non-political musical environment’ yet ‘profound love for man and nature’ (Nestyev 1946).


Additionally, 2) by his fundamental Russianness, whose fully-integrated amalgam of ‘modern European exotics’ and ‘Russian folk’ produced a ‘cinematographic’ hallmark capable of upgrading the Western world’s rationalist default with a ‘melos’ [song-like lyricism] reproducible nowhere else but within Russia and by Russians themselves. Prokofiev’s Symphony No.1 could then be considered an inadvertent tribute to the Mighty Five’s commitment to Russia’s folk heritage, in particular Borodin’s ‘Polovtsian Dances’ as recognized by Asafiev, and testament to his juxtapositional devotion to 1) a ‘romantic national mythology’ (Taruskin 2010), the musical variant o