The score he wrote for the film Lieutenant Kijé was a particularly important one for Prokofiev. It was the first music he composed upon returning to his Russian homeland in 1933 after a ten-year residency in Paris which had made him, in his own words, "restive, and afraid of falling into academism"; and it was his first effort in the film medium.
Prokofiev's biting humor and penchant for the grotesque were tailor-made for the satiric story of Kijé, which evolves from an incident of Hollywood-type madness: Through a wildly unlikely mistake, the non-existent name Lieutenant Kijé has been entered into the rolls of a military company, and in order to prevent official embarrassment, a Kijé is invented. The film then chronicles in narrative the Lieutenant's arrival, marriage, and burial.
Prokofiev made a five-movement symphonic suite based on the film music, revising the original orchestration considerably by adding such instruments as a cornet and saxophone to produce a more colorful, "visual" score.
The Suite is in five sections.
The Birth of Kijé. A distant cornet call brings on Kijé, and then other flourishes, such as those for drum and piccolo, confirm the (satiric) military setting.
Romance. Love enters Kijé's life.
Kijé's Wedding. The festivities are both sentimental and boisterous, the main themes being wonderfully tipsy and endearing. Did the ceremony take place in a tavern?
Troika. The Russian horse-drawn transportation is suggested in the accompaniment to a typical tavern song.
The Burial of Kijé. The soldier's demise brings reminiscences of his (imaginary) life and a wistful, touching, final farewell.
-- Orrin Howard served as the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Director of Publications and Archives for over 20 years. He continues to contribute to the program book.