Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)



  1. Excerpt L'Usine from the ballet Le Pas d'Acier ("The Steel Step")

Sergei Prokofiev & Georgi Yakoulov
Excerpt L'Usine from the ballet Le Pas d'Acier, 1925-27, 2'16". MP3
Conductor – Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
Orchestra – USSR Ministry Of Culture Orchestra
Recorded – 1990
Original Label – Melodiya Record Company, ex-USSR, 1991
Production Date (recreation) – 2006

The musician Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev (b. Sontsovka/Ukraine 1891 - d. Moscow 1953) and the painter Georgi Yakoulov, pseudonym of Georgii Bogdanovich Yakoulian (b. Tiflis/Georgia 1884 - d. Erevan/Armenia 1928), collaborated on the ballet Le Pas d'Acier ("The Steel Step"), a commission by Serge Diaghilev with choreography by Leonide Massine, premiered in Paris by the Ballet Russe. The ballet's intention was, in the words of Andre Lischke, to gather up "the Soviet achievements during the period of war communism, exalting the social structures of the new regime, along with work in the factories, the power of machines and the love that flowered in that setting". When Prokofiev heard this proposal he was surprised: "I couldn't believe what I was hearing, It seemed to me that a window had opened and the fresh air that Lunacharsky spoke of was blowing in", especially when he had hopes of returning to Russia. The ballet is made up of two scenes, where the characters (dancers) express their social position through physical attitudes and mime: sailors, peddlers, an orator, a young female worker, policemen, thieves and small shopkeepers. Prokofiev composed the music between 1925-26, and Georgi Yakoulov designed the sets where, for numbers 9 and 10 of the score called L'Usine [Factory] and Les Marteaux [The Hammers], he made a constructivist mobile setting with ladders, platforms, turning wheels, luminous signs and hammers of different sizes in which all the elements were put in motion while different workers on the platform beat out the rhythm with loud hammer blows. In the second scene - in the factory - the noises generated by the set mingled with those of the orchestra while at the same time a duet was performed by the young female worker and the sailor (who had become a worker when he met her) consisting of a pantomime. It was premiered in Paris on June 7, 1927, to good audience response, but the reaction of both Russian emigres and the Soviet commissars was negative. For the emigres the work was a "Thorny flower of Proletkult", and they accused Diaghilev of being a "Soviet propagandist". The commissars, on the other hand, criticised Prokofiev for his ambiguity in the second scene - in the factory - asking, is this" a capitalist factory, where the worker is slave, or a soviet factory, where the worker is the master?", questioning Prokofiev's interpretation. "If it's a Soviet factory, when and where did Prokofiev examine it? From 1918 to the present day he has been living abroad and came here for the first time in 1927". Prokofiev excused himself, replying "That is the concern of politics, not music, and therefore I will not reply". But even if the composer was not interested in politics, politics was interested in him, and when he decided to return to live in Russia many of his works were banned (including Le Pas d'Acier). The version included here is an experiment in which the supposed noises that would have been generated by the set have been mixed in with the orchestra in a hybrid attempt to get close to the actual sonorous effect produced in the historic performances, thus going beyond simple present-day interpretations in which only the musical score is heard.


RELATED RESOURCES:
Russian Futurists from the GLM Collection (1920-1959)
Sound Experiments in The Russian Avant-Garde (1908-1942)