Cello Symphony-Concerto in E Minor, Op. 125, 2nd movement
In this masterclass, Professor Franz Helmerson and student Joël Geniet venture through the Symphony-Concerto, the Second Movement by Sergei Prokofiev. Helmerson explains to Joël how finding a specific room to frame the piece's theme can easily affect its musical characteristic. A smaller frame can make the piece more lyrical and poetic, but on the other hand, a bigger frame can expand the rhythmical range of the piece. Keeping the flow, tempo, and pulse each time the theme comes back will push the rhythmical flow forward, which is the focus of what makes up a sinfonia concertante.
Furthermore, Helmerson discusses how the bow is an important element of the cello, and how the hair of the bow can sometimes be more important than the wood. Likewise, the flexibility of the wood and hair can give strength to the play in both articulation and sound density.
Expanding emotional range.
Framing of the theme.
Finding one’s musical voice.
Keeping the tempo.
Prokofiev first began work on a cello concerto in E minor in the 1930s. Unfortunately, the piece was not received well, and Prokofiev retired the work. However, in 1947, Prokofiev heard a young Rostropovich perform the piece at the Moscow Conservatory. Impressed, the composer was inspired to revise the concerto, which eventually became known as the Symphony-Concerto, or Sinfonia Concertante. Rostropovich, who later became touted as one of the finest cellists of the twentieth century, premiered a revised version of the work in 1952 and the final version in 1954, after Prokofiev’s death. This large-scale work for cello and orchestra is known for its superb orchestration, which allows the cellist to be clearly heard above the orchestra. The first movement, unusually, is an Andante that presents beautiful melodic material and technical challenges. The second movement, Allegro, is the longest and most substantial part of the work. The tempo fluctuates, though the material is generally quick and virtuosic, and the cellist presents an extended and demanding cadenza. The piece ends with Andante con moto– Allegretto – Allegro marcato, a set of variations on a lyrical theme initially introduced by the cello that eventually drives to an exciting conclusion.
Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this cello masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to Frans Helmerson’s feedback and comments.
In 1971 he won one of the most famous music prizes for cellists, the Cassado Competition in Florence.
Born in 1945 in Sweden, Frans Helmerson began playing the cello at the age of eight. After studying in Sweden, Rome, and London under the tutelage of Guido Vecchi, Giuseppe Selmi, William Pleeth, and later from Mstislav Rostropovich.
His solo career began in Stockholm, Sweden. Since the early days of his career, he has performed with some of the most esteemed orchestras across the five continents, performing with leading conductors of our time - Seiji Ozawa, Colin Davies, Neeme Järvi, Evgeni Svetlanov, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Herbert Blomstedt, Sergiu Comissiona, Rafal Frübeck de Burgos, and Kurt Sanderling.
His passion for chamber music has led him to numerous festivals, including the International Umeea-Korsholrn Festival in northern Sweden and Finland. He has performed in Verbier, Prades, Naantali, Kuhmo, and Ravinia. Presently, Helmerson works regularly as a conductor with Scandinavian orchestras.
As an educator, he teaches at the Musikhochschule in Cologne, where he is based, and at the Escuela Superior de Musica Reina Sofia in Madrid. He taught at the Villecroze Music Academy in 2012, 2014, and 2020.
Sergei Prokofiev was a pianist and composer, born in Sontsovka (present-day Ukraine) in 1891. Naturally gifted, he began composing at an early age, and by 11 years old, he had already written two operas and a series of small piano pieces that he endearingly called his “little puppies.” His composition style became more complex over time, using unconventional time signatures and key changes.
His formal musical education began under the tutelage of Reinhold Glière. At 13, he began his studies at the Conservatory in St Petersburg. Upon completing his studies at the Conservatory, he won first prize (the Rubinstein Prize) with his first piano concerto, although the decision was not unanimous. While celebrated by some critics for being modern and avant-garde, Prokofiev’s compositions were not enjoyed by all. After completing his studies, Sergei Prokofiev traveled to London, where he met Diaghilev of the Ballet Russes, and Igor Stravinsky, who was writing ballet music for Diaghilev at the time. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring made a particular impact on Prokofiev, notably in his compositions. The young composer wrote the opera The Gambler, based on a novel by Alekseï Alekseïevitch Broussilov, but the orchestra and singers struggled to understand the music, and refused to perform it. Prokofiev wrote his First Symphony, also known as the Classical Symphony, which resembles music from the Classical period, such as the works by Joseph Haydn. This work became internationally acclaimed and is still a very popular symphony today.
After living in New York for a few years to escape the chaos ensuing back home in Russia, Prokofiev eventually returned to Western Europe, proposing a ballet to Diaghilev in Paris. His ballet, now known as the Scythian Suite was not well received by Diaghilev. He wrote another ballet, The Tale of the Buffoon as well as his Third Piano Concerto, which were very popular, especially the latter.
Despite Prokofiev’s successful reputation in Western Europe, he returned to the Soviet Union after being beckoned by some of his contemporaries. Life was not easy for artists at the time. In spite of this, Prokofiev managed to write many of his major works during the Second World War, including but not limited to War and Peace (based on the novel by Tolstoy), Betrothal in a Monastery, and more.
Sergei Prokofiev died on March 5, 1953, of a brain hemorrhage. Due to the fact that Josef Stalin died on the same day, Prokofiev’s death was barely mentioned and went largely unnoticed in the media.