ALEXANDER NEVSKY – Sergei Prokofiev
Original Review by Craig Lysy
Alexander Nevsky stands as one of the greatest examples of a nationalistic propaganda score in film score art. Renowned director Sergei Eisenstein made Alexander Nevsky during the dark pall of the Stalinist era. The film offers an obvious allegory on the historic Germanic-Russian animus, as well as the escalating distrust and tension felt with the Nazi regime. The film celebrates Grand Duke Alexander Nevsky, who achieves an apotheosis, passing unto legend after he leads the armies of Holy Mother Russia to victory over the crusading Catholic Teutonic Knights. Composer André Previn once remarked that Prokofiev’s music for Alexander Nevsky was “the greatest film score ever written, trapped inside the worst soundtrack ever recorded.” Fortunately for us, the score has been restored to all its original grandeur and breath-taking brilliance.
Serge Prokofiev returned to Russia after an 18 year estrangement to take up the project and brought the full weight of his classical training. The score abounds with patriotic nationalist fervor, and Prokofiev is both forthright and unabashed in his portrayals of the combatants; the invading Catholic Teutonic Knights are supported darkly by grim, low-register, dissonant bass, while the Eastern Orthodox Russians are supported warmly by wondrous chorus and an array of folksy woodwinds. Patriotic anthems abound and Prokofiev instills his evocative music with grandness, drama, and an inspiring resonating power, which is universal in its appeal. The human voice is featured prominently throughout this score, and presented either as gorgeous solos for mezzo-soprano by Evgenia Gorohovskaya, or chorale by men’s or mixed voice chorus. I must say that the choral writing is stirring and often achieves a wondrous communion with the orchestra, serving to elevate the film’s heroic narrative to the realm of the sublime.
The score begins darkly with Russia bleeding and in chaos during the aftermath of the Mongol scourge. We hear a Russian resurgence with the inspired choral call to arms of “Arise, People of Russia!” It is however with the “Battle on the Ice” cues (9-13) that the score culminates in a stunning parade of outstanding action cues, where Prokofiev whips his orchestra into patriotic fervor. We crescendo powerfully as the forces of Light and Darkness contest o’er the frozen lake, and Prokofiev lays bare the brutality, tragedy and heroism of war. Russia at last triumphs when the lake ice breaks and Lake Chud’s icy waters consume the Teutonic Knights. During the battle’s aftermath, Gorohovskaya stirs our hearts when she joins in a stirring lament in “Field of the Dead”. The score achieves its emotional zenith when Alexander Nevsky, and his heroic Russian troops return triumphant to Pskov, which Prokofiev supports gloriously with some of the finest celebratory music in film score art.
I have attached a Youtube link for those of you unfamiliar to enjoy the score:
Buy the Alexander Nevsky soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Prelude (3:47)
- The 13th Century (1:29)
- Plescheyevo Lake (2:28)
- Pskov in Flames (2:27)
- Death to the Blasphemer! (3:16)
- Arise, People of Russia (4:13)
- The Teutonic Camp (2:35)
- Nevsky’s Camp: Night Before the Battle (0:52)
- Battle on the Ice: April 5, 1242 (6:08)
- Battle on the Ice: Fight For Russia! (1:51)
- Battle on the Ice: Spears and Arrows (2:55)
- Battle on the Ice: The Duel With the Grand Master (1:22)
- Battle on the Ice: The Battle is Won (3:33)
- Battle on the Ice: The Ice Breaks (1:43)
- The Field of the Dead (5:37)
- Pskov – Procession of the Fallen and Judgement of the Prisoners (4:10)
- And Now Let’s Celebrate! (1:02)
- Final Chorus (0:49)
Running Time: 50 minutes 17 seconds
RCA Victor Red Seal 09026-68642-2 (1938/1993)
Music composed by Sergei Prokofiev. Conducted by Yuri Temirkanov. Performed by The St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. Orchestrations by Sergei Prokofiev. Album produced by Jay David Sachs.