Written in the dark and hungry years of the First World War and the two Russian Revolutions of 1917, the ‘Classical’ Symphony has become one of Prokofieff’s best-loved and most joyful pieces. A worldwide concert favourite since its first appearance, this bubbling and irrepressibly melodious score was intended by the composer as an affectionate tribute to the civilised 18th century world of Haydn. ‘I wanted’, wrote Prokofieff, ‘to write the kind of music Haydn would have written had he lived in our day’. He himself gave the symphony its provocative title, ‘Classical’. He said he hoped by doing so to annoy the critics… or, as he put it, ‘to tease the geese’.
The symphony is in four movements and is lightly scored for no more instruments than a real classical symphony. It begins and ends with two effervescent sonata-form movements, filled with attractive dancing rhythms. In between come a sweetly romantic-sounding larghetto, and a catchy and immensely famous Gavotte. The composer himself often used to perform this movement on its own as one of his ‘greatest hits’.
Note by Gerard McBurney