Symphony No. 3 (Prokofiev)

Sergei Prokofiev wrote his Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 44 in 1928.


The music derives from Prokofiev's opera The Fiery Angel, a touching love story set against the backdrop of demonic possession.[1] This opera had been accepted for performance in the 1927–28 season at the Berlin State Opera by Bruno Walter, but this production never materialised; in fact, the opera was never staged in Prokofiev's lifetime. Prokofiev, who had been working on the opera for years, was reluctant to let the music languish unperformed, and after hearing a concert performance of its second act given by Serge Koussevitzky in June 1928, he adapted parts of the opera to make his third symphony (shortly afterwards, he drew on his ballet The Prodigal Son for his Symphony No. 4 in similar fashion). The symphony, which was dedicated to Nikolai Myaskovsky was premiered on 17 May, 1929 by Pierre Monteux conducting the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris.[2]


The symphony is in four movements, lasting around 30–35 minutes.

  1. Moderato
  2. Andante
  3. Allegro agitato — Allegretto
  4. Andante mosso — Allegro moderato

Though the music of the symphony is based on that of the opera, the material is developed symphonically; the symphony is therefore absolute rather than programmatic.

The first movement, in traditional sonata form, opens with clashing chords played by the whole orchestra, along with tolling bells, setting a mood of threat and unrest. An impassioned first theme enters on strings, while a melancholy second theme on bassoons and lower strings provides contrast. The climactic development section follows, finding space for a third theme, which eventually combines with the first two themes. After a grave climax with gigantic orchestral chords and a last "struggle" in marching rhythms, the ethereal recapitulation ensues, in which the first and second themes are integrated, although much reduced and played softer, as if only the shadow of what was before remains.

The second movement, a meditative andante with a tripartite structure, displays Prokofiev's talent in creating fragile, gossamer textures. The central section is more brooding in nature, with the theme consisting of semitones.

In the third movement, we hear hybrid elements from both of the movements that preceded it: though the textures are lighter than in the first movement, the sense of foreboding is back, as dithering strings create a chilling effect. They are intensified by insistent announcements from the brass choir and bass drum. [3]

Finally, in the fourth movement, Prokofiev reprises musical materials from earlier in the symphony, beginning at a comfortable andante pace and gradually accelerating. The themes of the opening movement are threaded into the narrative before the Third comes to rest on a fearsome juggernaut of violent chords.[3][4]


The work is scored for the following:


Orchestra Conductor Record Company Year of Recording Format
French National Orchestra Charles Bruck His Master's Voice 1956 LP
Utah Symphony Orchestra Maurice Abravanel Vanguard 1964 LP/CD
Boston Symphony Orchestra Erich Leinsdorf RCA (LP);
Testament (CD)
1966 LP/CD
London Symphony Orchestra Claudio Abbado Decca 1969 LP/CD
USSR Ministry of Culture State Symphony Orchestra Gennady Rozhdestvensky Melodiya 1969 LP/CD
French National Orchestra Jean Martinon Vox Records 1971 LP/CD
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Kirill Kondrashin Philips 1975
(live recording)
London Philharmonic Orchestra Walter Weller Decca 1977 LP/CD
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra Zdeněk Košler Supraphon 1982 LP/CD
Junge Deutsche Philharmonie [de] Riccardo Chailly Deutsche Grammophon 1984 LP
Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra Dmitri Kitaenko Melodiya 1985 LP/CD
Scottish National Orchestra Neeme Järvi Chandos 1985 LP/CD
Orchestre National de France Mstislav Rostropovich Erato 1986 LP/CD
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Seiji Ozawa Deutsche Grammophon 1990 CD
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Riccardo Chailly Decca 1991 CD
Philadelphia Orchestra Riccardo Muti Philips 1991 CD
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine Theodore Kuchar Naxos 1994 CD
London Symphony Orchestra Valery Gergiev Philips 2004
(live recording)
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra James Gaffigan Northstar Recordings 2015 SACD


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ May, Thomas. "Program Notes: Prokofiev's Fourth Symphony". San Francisco Symphony. Retrieved 13 June 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Prokofiev - Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 44 - Utah Symphony". www.utahsymphony.org. Retrieved 2016-09-29.
  4. ^ May, Thomas. "San Francisco Symphony - Prokofiev: Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Opus 44". www.sfsymphony.org. Retrieved 2016-09-29.

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