Analysis Of Prokofiev’s Romeo And Juliet Along With Bernstein’s West Side Story

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Introduction (A Brief description of the music composers.):

Both Sergei Prokofiev and Leonard Bernstein were and are well known and successful music composers. Prokofiev is from the Russian Soviet and is regarded as one of the major composers and innovators of the 20th century who composed the music for Romeo and Juliet. Bernstein on the other hand is from America and was among one of the first composers born and educated in the U.S. to receive such worldwide acclaim for composing West Side Story. Both composers have accounted for very different and unique styles of music from the Era of the 20th century which have been shown to become extremely popular and significant all around the world.

Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet along with Bernstein’s West Side Story have many elements and characteristics in common subsequently being both based off Shakespeare’s original play of Romeo and Juliet. The two inspired works created in the same musical era had numerous obstacles and challenges to overcome before they came through the production period to performance, but in the end were both abundantly and immensely successful each in their own ways. Both Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights, and Bernstein’s Jet Song, are two similar in regarded pieces that each similarly and clearly reflect the musical context and country created in. Each involve their own treatment of musical elements, contextual issues associated, compositional devices, choreography links with relationship to the music of how they both sit within a multi-art performance setting and choice of dialogue with music to present the story. This will all be further explained down below.

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Romeo and Juliet vs West Side Story Synopsis:

Both Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and Bernstein’s West Side story are based off the original play by Shakespeare. Due to this there are many similarities yet many differences in both of what was composed and created. Both stories tell of the age of masterpiece through the main characters of a young female and male instantly in a forbidding love. In Prokofiev’s Ballet this is danced as sweet innocent Juliet and head over heels Romeo whereas on the other hand in Bernstein’s West Side Story it is Maria the immigrant and Tony the second generation immigrant. Each of these two characters come from the two opposing feuding families know and the Capulets and Motangues verses the Jets and Sharks. Through the take of a more traditional way by Prokofiev with a more modern relevant issues take by Bernstein, both however successfully portray the story. Both the ballet and musical follow the story of Shakespeare’s original through their love, loss and death adventure of two star crossed lovers through the outstanding and miraculous musical compositions of Sergei Prokofiev and Leonard Bernstein.

The Era of the 20th Century 1901-2000:

The 20th Century was a time in history that began in 1901 and went until the year 2000. In this century included both of the World Wars, The Great Depression, The Russian Revolution and Communism/Capitalist power, the rise of dictatorship and the evolution of music, architecture, surrealism and modern advancements took over. During the 20th Century of music, this was regarded a time of high innovation, change, exploration and musical experimentation with subsequently lead to the new Era of music. During this Era which both Prokofiev and Bernstein were apart of, music was now seen as stepping away from its natural forms and traditions and was now being pushed and altered by ingenious composers. For example, this was a time when tone colour and timbre were considered the most important musical element out of any other. Musical instruments were pushed to there extremes now making them able to play higher octaves and lower octaves than ever before. The transformation didn’t stop with the sound the instruments sounded, but also changes were made so that they could now be played differently. Examples include mainly the woodwind and brass that were played with different mouth techniques and the string instruments that were now struck instead of drawn. Also this was a time when percussion instruments were highly prominent. This creative way of playing allowed for more dynamic and instrumental colour which ultimately lead to a more percussive rather than melodic melodies. Less emphasise was on the blend of the music but now rather the clash of dissonance chords, clashing notes and unstable phrasings. Tonality was also now more experimental with more polytonality, bitonality, atonality and the 12 chromatic scale allowing for more depth and more layering of instruments to therefore be incorporated. Lastly time signatures and modulations were now varying with frequent changes throughout and irregular rhythms and ostinatos were favoured. Overall the 20th Century was a complete time of change and exploration of what could be further developed and added to music. This Era with no doubt played an immense role in the contextual influence of both Prokofiev’s and Bernstein’s works with both contributing to this muscle change of experimental ways.

Romeo and Juliet: Prokofiev

Intro of his life (Who, what, when, where, why)

Sergei Prokofiev was a Russian renowned composer and conductor born in the late nineteenth century on the 23rd of April 1891 in Sontsivka, what today is known as eastern Ukraine. He grew up in Russia and became to love the Russian folk music and traditions but during his growing up being in Russia was harsh due to it’s tough climate and strong politics. Composing the first of his music around the age of five, he soon then entered St. Petersburg Conservatory at the age of thirteen which is a well known successful musical training school. He soon became extremely innovative with a strong self-assured persona that he empowered by his non ‘hackneyed’ creations of compositions. Steering away from everything traditional he began to create a new/ his very own unique style of music. He took aspects from both the Classical and Baroque Era’s and parts in between to make stand out creations for his audiences. This however didn’t go to plan as the critics were being very harsh and he was being looked on as ‘crazy’. His music soon became an unpopular style to many as it was not structured, went all over the place, had no melody, was messy, keeps wandering, had an unclear scale, clashing dissonance chords, was unpredictable, unusual and very uncomfortable. This did not stop him in pursuing his commitment and love for music. Soon he forced/aimed to make his name made known nationwide, but not until after the Russian Revolution when the communists came to power, he realised that he had little scope in Russia and left the country. Prokofiev wasn’t political nor had no interest so he left and went to the United States of America. In the USA he was seen a stop ‘out there’ and too Russian. The audiences much preferred to listen to and were use to the Romantic and pure Classical styles of music because it was much easier to listen to. The had no luck so then travelled to Paris where audiences had similar views although he had some success working with Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe. Later he returned to his loving home country Russia where Stalin was now in power. During this tough political time Prokofiev’s family (wife and children) got sent to a Siberian camp along with many other disappearing members of the Russian communities. He tried and aimed to be a good Russian Citizen with soon his music being banned due to breaching living up to the ‘Social Realism’ law 1929. Up to four hundred artists were executed during this time along with many innocent Jews and thousands of innocent citizens. Five years later the urge people power ordered for his music to be heard again bringing back inspired by Russian folk music and traditional dance tunes Prokofiev’s creative juices began to start flowing clearing a path for creating one of his most famous ballets, Romeo and Juliet. He was asked to assist in the making of the first Russian Ballet which was still at the beginning of the Stalin period. Working with the Kirov Ballet was soon put to a halt when Kirov himself was assassinated. Right from the start the struggles to get this ballet on the way was difficult and confusing for many. Now collaborating with avant-garde Sergei Radlov a theatre director, and also assistance from the choreographer Leonid Lavrovsky challenges were overcome with several set backs, changes, creative tensions and striking dances. The Bolshoi Theatre took on the commission of Romeo and Juliet however with dancers soon describing the music as ‘undancable’ with Prokofiev being forced to change and add into composition. Romeo and Juliet was first presented at the Kirov Theatre (now Mariinsky Theatre) in Leningrad on the 11th of January 1940 with soon receiving international acclaim and being awarded the Stalin Prize. Stalin loved Prokofiev’s works and music and therefore got his help to write the National Anthem of Russia. Prokofiev had a successful life leaving us with so much beautiful music. His particular style of powerful, definite, and stand out music is said to have picked up where Tchaikovsky left off. Prokofiev’s last years were spent in ill health and financial constraints. He died on the 5th of March 1953, in Moscow, Russia. Stalin died an hour earlier than Prokofiev so subsequently his death wasn’t shared to distract from the worldwide grief of Stalin.

Dance of the Knights:

Prokofiev’s extremely successful musical production of Romeo and Juliet consisted of 52 episodes of musical scenes throughout one of the longest ballet pieces taking up two and a half hours of performance time. Romeo and joliet is a ballet telling the story of two star crossed lovers through the pain of loss, feuding and death. Throughout the music Prokofiev has utilised use of repetition, leitmotifs, building sections and many distinct themes including the well known theme called ‘Dance of the Knights’. With its strong horns, growling bass, and strings, this composition is one of the most popular works by the 20th-century Russian composer Prokofiev.

Treatment of elements of music (examples) Reference to Structure, form, instrumentation, rhythm, time and organisation of time, structure of melody, harmony, texture, timbre, expressive qualities, including dynamics, articulation and phrasing. Analysis

In Prokofiev’s music he bases his work form 5 musical elements being; classical, innovation, toccata, lyrical and grotesque. Throughout his music career he based all of his works from these 5 main principals and subsequently gave Prokofiev his own unique musical influence and style.Prokofiev used these stylistic elements to produce the Dance of the Knight’s from Romeo and Juliet the Ballet.

Dance of the Knights, is also known as ‘Montague’s and Capulet’ is a work of classical interpreted music written by the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev in the time signature of 4/4 common time played with the articulation marking of pesante meaning ‘heavy and ponderous’. The piece begins the second out of three divided Orchestral Suites from Romeo and Juliet. The Dance of the Knights musical theme begins at the point in the ballet when the two families, the Capulets and Montages represents their dysfunctional and powerful relationship between one another that is conveyed through a grande & iconic dance. The music accompanies the Knights of the noble families that are dancing at the Capulet’s ball. The work is written in loose ternary form, with an abridged da capo section which simply means to repeat the sections with some variation. Written consisting of two main contrasting/ alternating sections A & B in which drastically contrast.EG. The stronger A sections of the male Knights dancing played in ff, standing for fortissimo and meaning ‘very loud”.The B sections are played in pp, standing for pianissimo and meaning ‘very soft”, with the Noble females dancing. Lastly the ending is again played with the couples dancing together in the A section. The Dance of the Knights music is played by the whole orchestra consisting of brass, woodwind, strings and percussion with the brass taking the stand out lead giving the entire piece it’s commanding and grande mood, thus the sense of seat of power from the Knights dancing. This highly ordered and noble feeling is created by the use of tensions/dissonance in the harmony then followed by a resolution. An example of dissonance which is used in the A section to represents the fighting between the Montague and Capulet families this is in bar ### when dissonance is used. The timbre created by this piece is very brassy thus giving it a royal grande and grounded mood as well as using the brass through a technique called growling. A growl allows for a deep rumbling which ultimately sound like growling giving the music a threatening sense and further depth. The instruments to this are also somewhat blended through the continuous quality of musical sound that obtains it’s distinct disposition. From listening to the piece you can gather there are two distinct melodies which could somewhat, for example represent the two families going back and forth fighting. The piece begins with a strong pulsating beat from the brass instruments bringing to the audience a sense of sounding like foot stomping. From bars (1-2) you hear the brass bass which keeps the rhythm during the A parts aswell as maintaining the off beats from bars (3-10), and then repeats bars (11-18). The part A section sounds aggressive, dotted and confronting. Being played there is contrast between the horns and woodwinds and the strings allowing for this section to have very dramatic dynamics, high highs and low lows. The contour of this melding also including section B consists of wide range leaps as well as some stepping notes. Prokofiev creates the dark and foreboding mood through the extreme dynamic range and very dissonant harmonies. Next the part B (beginning bar 19) section provides a stark contrast in which has a straight, more fluid and somewhat calmer melody. The tempo in this is slow adagio and is very calm and more serene with in contrast puncturing the original string theme having a majority the brass having the melody with the strings continuing with the part A as a continuo. Returning back with the part A section again eventually the strings join in, and the piece ends with a very strong cadence.

West Side Story-Bernstein

Intro of his life (Who, what, when, where, why)

Leonard Bernstein was born in the early twentieth century on the 25th of August, 1918, in Lawrence, Massachusetts USA. Bernstein was and is regarded as one of the foremost leading American conductors, a composer whose imaginative hustle stretched over a remarkably wide spectrum and one of the most astonishing musical characters of his century. Bernstein is the son of Ukrainian Jewish parents Jennie his mother and Samuel Joseph Bernstein a Russian immigrant his father who worked as a hairdressing supplies wholesaler originating from Ukraine. From an early age Bernstein was Need to write about the making of WSS: a bit about MCC All the creators, and how the idea came about, who came up with the plan, what challenges, accused of sympathisers MCC, writing of the book,

West Side Story and the Jet Song:

Bernstein’s significantly successful production of the musical West Side Story consists of approximately a two and a half hour production exploring the themes of racism, fairness, love, immigration and tragedy through a musical form. The Jets song is played in the beginning part of the production when the American Jets gang remind themselves of who and what they are and where they stand compared to the Puertorican Sharks. Composed by Leonard Bernstein in the late 1950’s this world wide successful musical is still being performed today along with the catchy lietmotivic catchy Jet Song.

Treatment of elements of music (examples) Reference to Structure, form, instrumentation, rhythm, time and organisation of time, structure of melody, harmony, texture, timbre, expressive qualities, including dynamics, articulation and phrasing. Analysis:


Overview/use of compositional devices (examples) used in both works

In the Dance of the Knights some of the compositional elements used to create the music including repetition, variation, and

Contextual issues associated in America and Russia:

Both Prokofiev and Bernstein are regarded similar in terms of there innovative and experimental ways but are difference and unique in their own styles of music. This would have ben due to the fact that there were numerous contextual issues related to where they lived that played an immense role in the outcome and style of their music. Prokofiev from Russian had no doubt a completely different upbringing and life situation compared to Bernstein who was living in America.

In Russia, this was referred to as the time of the Great Purge. It was the time of political repression in the Soviet Union which occurred from 1936 to 1938 lead by Joseph Stalin. In America on the contrary was known as the time of the Red Scare lead by Joseph McCarthy. Lasting from the late 1940s through the 1950s, was a time of the practice McCarthyism through making accusations of subversion or treason without proper evidence. Both Stalin and McCarthy were ruling and controlling with fear in Russia and America with are both similar contexts for Prokofiev and Bernstein.

Contextual issues on the Dance of the Knights:Prokofiev:

As written above Sergei Prokofiev had a tough and politically harsh life therefore was a given to influence his musical works along with other contextual influences such as fitting in with the time of the day and demands, his emotions, inspiration from traditions and his own personality. To begin with Prokofiev took inspiration from traditional Russian folk songs and tunes influencing his stimulation and regular use of the minor key.


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