There are many who assert this is the jewel of the so-called "War Sonata" trilogy. While the Seventh has been more popular over the years, the Sixth is more epic and dramatic, bigger and deeper in expressive range, and more dynamic and colorful. With the possible exception of the Eighth, it is arguably Prokofiev's greatest piano sonata.
The first of its four movements is marked Allegro moderato and begins with a powerful motif, or motto, built largely around a rhythmic four-note pattern that insistently repeats. Each hand is playing in a different key here -- A major and A minor -- thus setting the stage for the notion of conflict that dominates the work. An alternate theme brings serenity for a time, but in the development section, it is drawn into the warring atmosphere by the angry opening motto. Here the sense of terror is heightened as powerful dissonances (some chords are played col pugno -- with the fist) seem to crush everything in sight. The reprise is considerably abridged and filled with apprehension, and the movement ends in a mood of ambivalence with an abrupt statement of the motto.
The second movement (Allegretto) is lighter and dance-like, and even contains humor in its jaunty music. Still, its mysterious middle section features an undercurrent of tension and the movement on the whole hardly comes across as joyous or sunny. The succeeding panel is a slow waltz (Tempo di valzer lentissimo) of fragile, touching beauty in the outer sections. The interior is stormy and finally erupts, first violently, then with a passionate outpouring before fading back into the lovely waltz theme.
The finale (Vivace) is chock full of striking themes: it begins with a typically lively Prokofievian creation, whose rhythmic, percussive character brims with headlong drive. A calmer, somewhat playful theme follows immediately, and soon two more themes are heard in rapid succession, the first motoric and frenzied, the second humorous and playful and conveying a sense of mocking laughter. The middle section recalls the motto from the opening movement, but with its first note missing. Themes are reprised and the work concludes with a powerful coda, wherein the motto, transformed and abbreviated, is hammered out violently amid swirls of harried notes, and then played in full in rapid, stammer-like descending chords to proclaim a most crushing triumph.