Piano Sonata No. 8 in B-flat major, Op. 84
In March 1939, Prokofiev began working seriously on a cycle of three piano sonatas, the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth, to be known later in the West as the “War Sonatas.” The circumstances of their composition were summed up by Mira Mendelson, Prokofiev’s partner for the last twelve years of his life, “In 1939 Prokofiev began to write three piano sonatas… working on all ten move- ments at once, and only later did he lay aside the Seventh and Eighth and con- centrated on the Sixth.” It took Prokofiev five years to complete the cycle, from 1939 through 1944.
During the summer of 1944, in a state of great optimism, Prokofiev worked on both his Fifth Symphony and the Eighth Sonata. These two works represent not only the distillation and perhaps culmination of Prokofiev’s creative life, they might also be deemed metaphors for his country’s past history, the hopelessness of the early war years, and finally, victory. Indeed, both works embody what he called “an expres- sion of the greatness of the human spirit.” The first theme group of the opening movement, derived from melodies from his music for the film The Queen of Spades (Op. 70), consists of three different melodic profiles. Following a bridge section, a new theme in G minor flows into the allegro of the development. The recapitulation restates the first theme slightly modified.
Much of the thematic material of the second movement was taken from the ball scene in his incidental music for Eugene Onegin (Op. 71). Its dream-like quality is ex- pressed in its marking: Andante sognando, “slow and dreamy.”
The third movement, Vivace, is a bril- liant, fast sonata-rondo form, forging ahead with an extensive middle section and coda. The Piano Sonata No. 8 received its public premiere on December 30, 1944, played by Russian pianist Emil Gilels.