Sergei Prokofiev wrote his Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major (Op. 100) in Soviet Russia in one month in the summer of 1944.
Fourteen years had passed since Prokofiev's last symphony.
World War II was still raging during the symphony's gestation, and Prokofiev composed it in the Soviet Union. He gave out in a statement at the time that he intended it as "a hymn to free and happy Man, to his mighty powers, his pure and noble spirit." He added "I cannot say that I deliberately chose this theme. It was born in me and clamoured for expression. The music matured within me. It filled my soul."
The piece is in four movements, lasting 40–45 minutes:
- Andante (in B-flat major)
- Allegro marcato (in D minor)
- Adagio (in F major)
- Allegro giocoso (in B-flat major)
The first movement is in a tightly argued sonata form: its exposition presents two themes - one calm and sustained, the other soaring with tremolo accompaniment from strings - which are then involved in an elaborate and climactic development section. The movement is wrapped up with an electrifying coda, punctuated by a roaring tam-tam and low piano tremolos.
1st theme - mm. 1 - 7
mm. 8 - 10
mm. 29 - 30
2nd theme - mm. 54 - 64
mm. 74 - 77
Closing theme - mm. 83 - 86
The second movement is an insistent scherzo in Prokofiev's typical toccata mode, framing a central theme in triple time.
mm. 3 - 10
mm. 56 - 58
mm. 112 - 115
mm. 120 - 127
mm. 154 - 157
The third movement is a dreamy slow movement, full of nostalgia, which nevertheless builds up to a tortured climax, before receding back to dreaminess. mm. 4 - 8
mm. 55 - 62
mm. 82 - 84
"tortured climax" mm. 125 - 131
The finale starts with a cello choir playing a slow introduction containing elements from the first theme of the first movement, which then launches into the movement proper, a rondo. The playful ("giocoso") main theme is contrasted with two calmer episodes, one played by the flute, the other a chorale on strings. At the end, just as the movement is striving to end in a victorious tone, the music unexpectedly degenerates into a manic frenzy (rehearsal mark 111), which is then interrupted by a string quartet playing staccato "wrong notes" (rehearsal mark 113) with rude interjections from low trumpets, making the ultimate orchestral unison on B flat sound all the more ironic.
mm. 3 - 6
Theme from first movement - mm. 15 - 22
mm. 29 - 36
mm. 37 - 38
mm. 54 - 55
mm. 83 - 90
mm. 164 - 172
The work is scored for the following:
Violins (1st and 2nd)
The symphony was premiered on January 13, 1945, in the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory by the USSR State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Prokofiev himself. The premiere was very well received, and the symphony has remained one of the composer's most popular works. Then, in November of that year, Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra introduced the score to America and recorded it in Boston's Symphony Hall on February 6 and 7, 1946, for RCA Victor, using an optical sound film process introduced by RCA in 1941; it was initially issued on 78-rpm discs and later on LP and CD.