Five Melodies, Op. 35
In the aftermath of the October Revolution of 1917, Prokofiev, despite the fame (or notoriety) he had achieved in Moscow and St. Petersburg for his radically progressive style, grew pessimistic about the opportunities for a young musician in Russia. As he later reflected in his autobiography, “the idea of going to America took root in my mind. I believed that Russia had no use for music at the moment, whereas in America I might learn a great deal and interest people in my music at the same time.” So, he obtained the requisite permission, and departed for San Francisco. Prokofiev remained in the States for a few years before he eventually grew disillusioned and moved to Paris.
The Five Melodies were originally composed while on a trip to California in 1920, conceived not in this evening’s configuration for violin and piano, but as wordless songs for the Ukrainian soprano Nina Koshetz. Koshetz had already grown famous in Russia and Europe, and had just immigrated to the United States that year. It was not until 1925, in Paris, that Prokofiev decided to rearrange the songs for violin. Far from making a simple transcription, Prokofiev dynamically adapted the songs to take advantage of the instrument’s capabilities, incorporating chords, harmonics, pizzicato writing, and other virtuosic flourishes. He was aided in this adaptation by the Polish violinist Paweł Kochański, whom Prokofiev had known in St. Petersburg shortly before leaving Russia in 1918, and who had also lent his advice to Prokofiev for the first Violin Concerto. Prokofiev dedicated the second melody to the superb violinist Cecilia Hansen, whose husband he had known from his conservatory days; the fifth melody to the Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti, whom he had recently heard in recital; and the rest of the set to Kochański, with whom he premiered the work.