Prokofieff is one of the greatest of all composers of childhood. He wrote wonderful music for children, like ‘Peter and the Wolf’, and haunting music about children, like ‘The Ugly Duckling’. The Seventh symphony belongs to both these categories. Commissioned to be performed on a children’s radio programme, it grew in the composer’s mind until it became something much bigger, a symphonic investigation into what childhood and children’s music mean in an adult’s mind.
The Seventh abounds in catchy tunes that instantly evoke a child’s world. The first movement suggests games and nursery rhymes, while the second is a delicious waltz, a child’s-eye fantasy of a Tchaikovsky ballet. The slow third movement suggests the kind of songs an adult might sing to a child, and the last brims over with memories of merry-go-rounds and marching toy-soldiers.
But there is a dark and deep side to this symphony too, an undertow of sadness and regret which make this work immediately and disturbingly affecting. Prokofieff wrote it when he was already very sick and could only work with difficulty. Much of his music at this time was banned by the Stalinist regime, and each new work he produced in these last years was subjected to fierce and humiliating official criticism. There is something profoundly touching in the way the ailing composer turned at such a time to create this loving and regretful celebration of all our earliest memories of music.
Note by Gerard McBurney