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Composing for the Red ScreenProkofiev and Soviet Film$
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Kevin Bartig

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199967599

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199967599.001.0001

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The Wartime Films

The Wartime Films

(p.105) 5 The Wartime Films
Composing for the Red Screen

Kevin Bartig

Oxford University Press

Chapter 5 addresses four scores from 1940–42, all for films begun either immediately prior to or in the first year of the Great Patriotic War. These included two historical biopics, Albert Gendelshteyn's Lermontov and Alexander Fayntsimmer's Kotovsky, as well as two pictures that chronicled contemporary wartime events: Abram Room's Tonya and Igor Savchenko's Partizanï v stepyakh Ukrainï (Partisans in the Ukrainian Steppe). However slight, these four films involved generous contracts and provided Prokofiev with much-needed income. Prokofiev's work on the wartime films is, however, worthy of reconstruction and analysis, and not simply to redress the lack of information on a forgotten chapter in the composer's career. Although Lermontov and Kotovsky were historical films, Tonya and Partisans represent his first treatments of contemporary subjects in film. All four screenplays were, moreover, among the most straightforwardly Socialist Realist subjects he had tackled in any genre to date (save for his first “Soviet” opera, Semyon Kotko, discussed later). Prokofiev responded with concessions to mainstream film-music practice, notably framing scores with “theme songs” that set simple but powerfully didactic lyrics. Music underlines simple visual contrasts and metaphors, largely reinforcing a narrative expressed through dialogue and image. The wartime scores are, by their subjects, among Prokofiev's most overtly political works; stylistically and dramaturgically, they are among his most conservative.

Keywords:   evacuation, alma-ata, lermontov, tonya, partisans in the ukrainian steppe, kotovsky, albert gendelstein, abram room, alexander fayntsimmer, igor savchenko, kiev studios

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