ALEXANDER NEVSKY / PROKOFIEV / THEREMIN
Alexander Nevsky is one of the great heros of Russian history. He is reputed to have driven an army of Livonian Knights (German “warrior monks”) from Russia in the year 1241. The decisive battle was on the ice of the frozen lake Peipus (in Russian “Chudsko-Pskovskoe ozero”) in the spring of 1242.
The Russian film director, Sergei Eisenstein, made a movie of this epic battle in 1938 and hired composer Sergei Prokofiev to write the music for it. ALEXANDER NEVSKY is considered by many experts to be one of the great movies of all time, and the piece of music in this video (transcribed for theremin) is from that film.
Following the Battle On The Ice, there are hundreds of dead soldiers lying in the snow and a young maiden walks out onto the frozen lake looking for her lover, and sings, “I shall go across the snow-clad field, I shall fly above the field of death, I shall search for valiant warriors there…..”
The composer Prokofiev had spent some time in Hollywood in the 1930’s, and had made a study of the new science of soundtracking for film. Director Eisenstein said of Prokofiev, “He is a man of our time and a man of the screen. He understands how the screen can reveal not only the outer appearance of things but their inner nature as well. He is able to dress objects in sound and instrumentation, bringing them to life with shifts in tone and timbre, adding an emotional dimension to images through his orchestration”.
Prokofiev later took his score for ALEXANDER NEVSKY and made a cantata out of it for mezzo-soprano, chorus and orchestra. The interesting thing about the composition is that the music, as powerful as it is, does not overshadow the film. It complements it perfectly while remaining one of the composer’s most enduring works.
The theremin in this video is the 1929 RCA that was once the property of the late Hollywood thereminist, Dr. Samuel Hoffman.