About this work
This is powerful, virtuosic piano music drawn by the composer from his great ballet score Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64. It is likely that the composer arranged it as a salvage job for a major project that appeared doomed. Before he returned to Russia permanently, Prokofiev had contracted with the State Academic Theater of Leningrad for a full-length ballet on Romeo but later canceled the production on grounds that choreographed Shakespeare was a "sacrilege."
When Radlov persuaded the Bolshoi Theater of Moscow to accept the ballet, Prokofiev continued. Bowing to the demands of "Socialist Realism," Prokofiev and Radlov even devised a "happy ending." But following the infamous Pravda denunciation of Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, known to reflect Stalin's personal opinion, the Bolshoi decided to take no more chances and canceled the production.
Prokofiev sought to salvage the work he had done by making suites of the music: Two orchestral suites (Opp. 64a and 65b) and this piano suite. He performed both as widely as possible, even conducting and recording the former despite the fact that he was an unusually poor conductor. These performances had their intended secondary result: A Yugoslav ballet company liked the music and premiered the ballet in Brno, Czechoslovakia, in 1938. (The Kirov danced it in 1940, and the Bolshoi in 1946.)
Prokofiev was an outstanding piano composer who developed his own unique style of writing for the instrument. Although he wrote prolifically for piano in the early part of his career, during his Soviet period he composed only four original piano sonatas, plus five piano suites drawn from stage works.
The ten numbers Prokofiev chose for this piano version all concern the beginning of the love between Romeo and Juliet, with some additional character and ensemble dances. No. 1, "Folk Dance" (Morning Dance), and No. 2, "The Street Awakens" set the scene in Verona.
The music shifts to the depiction of the ball at the Capulets' with the "Arrival of the Guests." Meanwhile, Juliet is being dressed in her finery in "The Young Juliet." Its playful music ends in her catching sight of herself in a mirror and suddenly realizing she has become a young woman.
The percussive beat of "Masques" shows Romeo and the other Montagues, in disguise, crashing the party at the enemy Capulet villa. "Montagues and Capulets" is the name Prokofiev uses here for the ballet's "Dance of the Cavaliers," adopting its martial tone to depict the strife between the two houses. It turns the mood of the suite, for Romeo and Juliet are now in love.
The calm tones of "Friar Lawrence" advise Romeo concerning his romantic dilemma, but are succeeded by the joking tones of "Mercutio." The "Dance of Girls with Lilies" serves to introduce Juliet's intended, Paris. The final movement, "Romeo and Juliet before Parting" is a transcription of the movement of the same name from the Orchestral Suite No. 2, which it itself a concatenation of four different numbers from Act III of the ballet.