Sergei Prokofiev: Dance of the Knights

Context

Taken from his 1935 ballet Romeo and Juliet, Dance of the Knights, also known as Montagues and Capulets, is one of Sergei Prokofiev’s most iconic works. The piece is also included in Prokofiev’s second suite of ballet music from Romeo and Juliet. In the ballet this music accompanies a fateful encounter between the two rival houses and then the first time that Juliet meets Romeo at her family’s masquerade ball. 

 

The Music

After a tumultuous clash of the houses at the start of the piece, the music quickly drops from fff to pp. The quiet section is led by the strings, with the horns and woodwind slowly layering on top. The music returns back to  hell raising ff dynamic before dropping again so that Prokofiev can create the dark and foreboding atmosphere. The extreme dynamics and the harsh dissonances sets the scene for the iconic Dance of the Knights section coming up next.

Pulsating brass set the scene as the dramatic string melody begins to play out. The strong foundation for this melody is what gives this piece such a presence. After a rousing horn section the theme repeats once more before moving to the developmental section. The powerful opening of Dance of the Knights is then counteracted with a quiet and much more subdued section that is led by the strings and woodwind. The atmosphere is now calm and serene and the total opposite of the first half.

Reminisces of the pulsating brass theme begin to seep in in the background as the theme slowly builds in texture and dynamic before exploding back into the epic reprise of the piece. As the orchestra unite they finish the piece with a bold and powerful cadence back in the home key. 

 

Final Thoughts

Sergei Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights is no doubt his most popular work still to this day. It is often performed as a stand-alone concert piece, as well as being used in a range of TV programmes and films such as the title music for BBC’s The Apprentice, God’s Wonderful Railway and in the film Caligula. The pulsating brass theme has also been hot for sampling on various rap tracks too. A timeless piece.

 

Happy Reading!

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You might also enjoy… Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

 


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