Alexander Nevsky, cantata from the film score
Nº 7 - Alexander’s Entry into Pskov
London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
The cantata from Prokofiev’s score to Eisenstein’s epic propaganda film Alexander Nevsky is without a doubt one of my personal favorites in 20th century concert music; surely I’ve posted just about the whole thing by now. Its musical materials at times border on the banal, and that’s on purpose—what are you gonna do, what with Stalin peering over your shoulder and all—but those materials are treated ingeniously, if not entirely sincerely, in a way that only Prokofiev could have conceived and managed.
Eisenstein’s wartime film (1939) chronicles the victory of medieval prince Alexander Nevsky over Teutonic invaders: the obvious suggestion consists in comparisons between Nevsky and Stalin, and the Viking hordes and the Nazis. Here, in the closing victory march, the “Song about Alexander Nevsky” which opened the cantata is grandiosely reprised along with several other melodies from throughout the work. In the movement’s final moments, the noble diatonic melody is given a twisted, chilling harmonization which to me has always represented Prokofiev’s conflicted feelings about the ridiculousness of the whole enterprise, the large-scale squander of resources on such epic eye candy during harrowing times. That may be closer to Proko-fanfic than studious analysis, but on the other hand, I can’t think of any more compelling reason the composer might have colored the final triumph with such brutal strain.