Sergey Prokofiev

Visions fugitives (20), for piano, Op. 22

    Description by Rovi Staff

    While Prokofiev had written many provocative and often masterful piano compositions in his early career, this set of 20 pieces, along with the Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 14 (1912), may have been his most important works in the solo realm until he produced his cycle of so-called "War Sonatas," Nos. 6 (1940), 7 (1942) and 8 (1944). Certainly the range of mood and the subtle gradations of color found in the Visions Fugitives show a deepening of expression in the young composer, not evident in his other piano music from the period with the exception of the Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 16 (1913; rev. 1923) and the Piano Sonata No. 2.

    This set of many very short piano sketches was composed at roughly the same time Schoenberg was struggling with tonality and tending to construct works of very short atonal units. Prokofiev's work, also constructed of short units, is far from atonal. But it does share some harmonic restlessness with the nearly contemporary works of Scriabin. This strange gem of piano writing, in many very tiny movements, evokes a half-dream in which one mood or impression is quickly replaced by a contrary or illogical leap out of the subconscious. It is one of Prokofiev's most striking and individual creations, unlike not only any other composer's piano music in tone and structure, but quite unlike much of Prokofiev's own music. It is certainy suited to listening with the lights dimmed and in a mood for free association. Incidentally, conductor Rudolf Barshai has arranged approximately the first two thirds of this set into an evocative orchestral version.

    The title of the work, Visions Fugitives, is French for "Fleeting (or Fugitive) Visions." It derives from the words of Russian poet Konstantin Balmont: "In every fugitive vision I see worlds, full of the changing play of rainbow hues." Prokofiev thus fashioned an appropriate moniker for this assorted collection of short pieces, which in spirit -- though not in style -- are close to some of Schumann's piano compositions, like Carnaval.

    Each of the 20 pieces bursts with musical ideas, and each conveys such vivid colors despite their generally short length -- the entire collection lasts about 20 to 22 minutes in a typical performance. Only two or three of the pieces run over two minutes, with most of the others having a duration of around a minute. Several clock in at about a half minute.

    Of those in this last group, No. 5, marked Molto giocoso, is perky and not a note too short or too long in its 25-second length. No. 7 (Pittoresco) is dreamy and serene, and sounds close to the hazy but slightly darker No. 20 (Lento Irrealmente). The tart dissonances that lead off No. 9 (Allegretto tranquillo) sound almost gentle, even cute, but never threatening. Threatening is how No. 14 (Feroce) begins, but its middle section features a subtle and arresting lyrical theme. The gloomy and mysterious No. 12 (Assai moderato) contrasts nicely with its predecessor, the buoyant and playful No. 11 (Con vivacita). The innocence and peacefulness of No. 1 is quite appealing, but probably the most popular and one of the finest of the 20 pieces here is No. 16 (Dolente), whose falling theme has an air of gloomy meditation about it.

    This work was first published in Russia in 1917 and is today among Prokofiev's most popular piano works, though the pieces are often played in recitals only as excerpts. Performances of the whole collection are relatively rare.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Lentamente
    2. Andante
    3. Allegretto
    4. Animato
    5. Molto giocoso
    6. Con eleganza
    7. (Harp) Pittoresco
    8. Comodo
    9. Allegretto tranquillo
    10. Ridiculosamente
    11. Con vivacita
    12. Assai moderato
    13. Allegretto
    14. Feroce
    15. Inquieto
    16. Dolente
    17. Poetico
    18. Con una dolce lentezza
    19. Presto agitassimo e molto accentuato
    20. Lento irrealmente

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Nimbus Alliance NI 6361
    2018 Crier CR 1801
    2016 Tacet TACET 222
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796288
    2015 Encora ENC 014
    2015 Acousence Classics ACOCD 12014
    2015 Ondine ODE 12532
    2014 Phaia Music PHU 044
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon / ECM
    2014 ECM / ECM New Series 4811157
    2013 Entertainment Group 14151
    2013 Entertainment Group 14154
    2013 Entertainment Group 14155
    2013 Hyperion CDA 67896
    2013 Dynamic CDS 726
    2013 Dorian Sono Luminus DSL 92165
    2012 Bridge BRIDGE 9355
    2012 ICA Classics ICAC 5077
    2012 Entertainment Group 12005
    2012 Earhertz APT 1002CD
    2012 Mirare MIR 165
    2012 Brilliant Classics 9286
    2011 Brilliant Classics 9010
    2011 Pear Records PR 32712
    2011 Ondine 11032Q
    2010 MSR Classics 1357
    2009 Brilliant Classics 8909
    2009 Brilliant Classics 9014
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 4778122
    2008 Bel Air Music BAM 2043
    2008 EMI Classics
    2008 EMI Classics
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099920686
    2008 EMI Classics 517852
    2007 Decca / Eloquence 4428414
    2007 Musicus 1003
    2007 Onyx ONYX 4017
    2007 Vista Vera 90
    2006 Classical Records 54
    2005 Megadisc 7804
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 585246
    2003 EMI Classics
    2002 Decca 4732772
    2002 Real Sound (RS) 23
    2001 Summit Records 283
    2001 Pierian 0007/0008/0009
    2001 Harmonia Mundi 2907301/10
    1999 Ondine 947
    1999 Danacord 391
    1997 Edition Abseits 012
    1997 Naxos 8 553429
    1997 Triton 17015
    1997 Melodiya 332182
    1996 Harmonia Mundi 907169
    1996 Decca 444803
    1994 Vox 5514
    1992 Chandos 8881
    1992 EMI Classics 62542
    1991 ASV 314
    1991 ASV 753
    1990 Tacet 032
    Debra Lew Harder
    Melodiya 610
    MSR Records 1188
    Historical Performers 24
    Newport Classic 60094
    Koch International Classics 37105
    Victoria 19024
    Tacet 32
    As Disc 5008
    Melodiya 33230
    Conifer 51204
    Erasmus 91
    Nimbus 5176
    Partridge 1126
    Melodiya 25172