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One of Prokofieff’s most ambitious works is his opera The Fiery Angel. It absorbed him for nearly a decade and includes some of his most turbulent and involved orchestral music, which is probably exactly why he decided to transform parts of it into this Third symphony, cunningly recomposing as he went. Despite many changes and new ideas, the Third preserves the dark atmosphere of The Fiery Angel, a tale of black magic and superstition, sexual obsession, devilish hauntings, and epic struggles between good and evil. The result is a pure concert work of disturbing drama, a mysterious story in sound, with some of the most experimental orchestral textures Prokofieff ever wrote.
The first movement depicts a battle of supernatural violence between the opera’s hero and his deadly rival. The second is a lyrical evocation of the calm life of a nun in a convent, yearned for by the opera’s heroine. The third movement draws on one of the opera’s wildest scenes, a bungled attempt to use black magic to conjure up a figure from the past. The strange and disconcerting last movement is based on music that originally accompanied the hero’s awkward encounter with a magician and a trio of dancing skeletons.