The nineteenth-century Russian operatic roots of Prokofyev’s War and peace
Dean, Terry Lynn
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More than fifty years after Prokofyev’s death, War and Peace remains a misunderstood composition. While there are many reasons why the opera remains misunderstood, the primary reason for this is the opera’s genesis in Stalinist Russia and his obligation to uphold the “life-affirming” principles of the pro-Soviet aesthetic, Socialist Realism, by drawing inspiration from the rich heritage “Russian classical” opera—specifically the works of Glinka, Chaikovsky, and Musorgsky. The primary intent of this dissertation is to provide new perspectives on War and Peace by examining the relationship between the opera and the nineteenth-century Russian opera tradition. By exploring such a relationship, one can more clearly understand how nineteenth-century Russian operas had a formative effect on Prokofyev’s opera aesthetic. An analysis of the impact of the Russian operatic tradition on War and Peace will also provide insights into the ways in which Prokofyev responded to official Soviet demands to uphold the canon of nineteenth-century Russian opera as models for contemporary composition and to implement aspects of 19th-century compositional practice into 20th-century compositions. Drawing upon the critical theories of Soviet musicologist Boris Asafyev, this study demonstrates that while Prokofyev maintained his distinct compositional voice, he successfully aligned his work with the nineteenth-century tradition. Moreover, the study suggests that Prokofyev’s solution to rendering Tolstoy’s novel as an opera required him to utilize a variety of traits characteristic of the nineteenth-century Russian opera tradition, resulting in a work that is both eclectic in musical style and dramaturgically effective.