Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev is definitely a piece that should be in every violists repertoire and we highly recommend including it in your next recital. The more romantic scenes take advantage of the full expressive range of the viola (and in a couple of cases, two violas) and the complete dramatic arsenal of the pianist. The “Dance of the Knights” is amazing since it showcases the different sounds a viola can make through different bowing techniques and use of the full range of the viola, including harmonics. Additionally, the “The Street Awakens,” “Mercutio,” and “Morning Serenade” passages highlight the viola’s power and beauty through elegant use of pizzicato and harmonies. Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet was transcribed for viola by well-known violist Vadim Borisovsky (1900–72) several years after Prokofiev published the original Romeo and Juliet score for full orchestra.

IMSLP Entry: http://imslp.org/wiki/Romeo_and_Juliet_(ballet),_Op.64_(Prokofiev,_Sergey)

 

History

“Romeo and Juliet” by Prokofiev had a difficult start when it first came out. The Kirov Theatre commissioned Prokofiev to compose a ballet, but political changes resulted in cancellation of the planned production of “Romeo and Juliet.” Prokofiev signed a contract with the Bolshoi Ballet and completed the score in mid-1935. The music was judged impossible to dance to, but Prokofiev fought back  stating that the living can dance while the dead cannot. Still, the ballet remained unstaged until a 1938 performance in Brno. Meanwhile, Prokofiev’s success with two Symphonic Suites and a piano version of the ballet attracted the attention of both the Bolshoi and the Kirov companies, who finally staged the ballet in 1940 and 1946, respectively. With Prokofiev’s approval, the gifted Moscow-born violist Vadim Borisovsky transcribed an eight-movement suite of this ballet for viola and piano. Later, he transcribed a further five excerpts, two of which required a second viola, for a total  of 13 movements for viola. Considering the complexity and orchestral lushness of Prokofiev’s original score, Borisovsky created a remarkable transcription. Prokofiev’s use of leitmotifs in the original ballet is cleverly portrayed by imaginative use of the viola’s full register, harmonics, and bowing techniques.

 

Movements

The following movements were arranged by Vadim Borisovsky for viola and piano.

  1. Act I: Introduction
  2. Act I Scene 1: The Street Awakens
  3. Act I Scene 2: Juliet as a Young Girl
  4. Act I Scene 2: Minuet: Arrival of the Guests
  5. Act I Scene 2: Dance of the Knight
  6. Act I Scene 2: Mercutio
  7. Act I Scene 2: Balcony Scene
  8. Act II Scene 1: Carnival
  9. Act II Scene 1: Dance with Mandolins (for 2 violas and piano)
  10. Act II Scene 2: Romeo at Friar Laurence’s – Juliet at Friar Laurence’s
  11. Act II Scene 3: Death of Mercutio
  12. Act III Scene 3: Morning Serenade (for 2 violas and piano)
  13. Act IV Epilogue: Death of Juliet

Additionally, the following movements have since been transcribed for viola and piano by various composers.

  1. Act I Scene 2: Masks (arr. D. Grunes for viola and piano)
  2. Act II Scene 3: Death of Tybalt (arr. M. Jones and M. Hampton for viola and piano)
  3. Act III Scene 3: Dance of the with Lily Maidens (arr. D. Grunes for viola and piano)

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