5 Sarcasms

Hello telemasterclass pianists, today we will talk about a Russian composer pianist of the twentieth century: Sergej Prokofiev. The pieces that I want to present to you in these next videos are five and they are called Sarcasms.

They are a collection of 5 pieces written between 1912 and 1914. These pieces can be considered as the most radical thoughts of Prokofiev’s musical production so far. They certainly collect the echo of that futurist movement that is developing in Europe and which has as its aim the confirmation of the movement’s vitality to the point of excess. But contrary to what some musicologists say, this work is not simply a collection of shocking sounds or musical jokes that are grouped by the composer as a sort of series of works with a purely mechanistic character. In fact, in these pieces Prokofieff also shows his lyrical side, very rich, especially in the first “tempestoso” (stormy) piece and in the third “allegro precipitato”.


The first Sarcasm opens on a tritone interval : The tritone interval and is also defined “diabolus in musica”. An interval that Guido d’Arezzo considered really evil, because it deceives the human ear. For this reason it is always associated with something very dangerous, even malignant.

Liszt too, for example, uses a tritone interval for his incipit when he writes the Fantasia quasi Sonata after a reading by Dante,

which speaks precisely of Dante’s journey into hell, from hell to heaven. In fact it is very powerful, very frightening so we immediately understand that in the composer’s intentions there is the will of a conflict and violence. In fact, the indication

that is added is that the piece must be thought of precisely with a sort of sarcasm linked to the excess of intention. In fact, the first theme is almost burlesque, a quite burlesque irony. The second element instead becomes -precisely by contrast – extremely expressive and lyrical and shows an opposition – because of its introverted character – with the first element. In the second theme you can hear it is much more expressive and much more melodic.

Allegro rubato

The second piece, on the other hand, the Allegro rubato, contains difficulties that in a certain sense require the skills of a tightrope walker. Prokofiev’s writing here reminds us of Lisztian pianism and we also find aspects that are typical of Scriabin such as repeated chords or short thematic cells or phrases that fade.

Allegro precipitato

The third sarcasm “allegro precipitato” contains a very intense initial energy.



This energy that becomes richer in sounds seems to have to come to an explosion. In reality there is a central part that serves as a container for this anxiety which will then explode in the second half . This central part is a part in which Prokofiev indicates singhiozzando (sobbing) and this part leads to a very lyrical section. So in the part that precedes the sobbing you feel that you have gone through a bit panting part which is the part of sobbing and then we have a phrase so stretched out so expressive. This sentence ends with a  return to the energetic idea we had at the beginning and then with a conclusion that disappears right into thin air.


We have arrived at the fourth sarcasm which leads as an indication smanioso (eager). This piece is divided into two sections of contrasting character.

The first section seems to be an improvisation intended for the high register of the instrument, you feel that they seem like breaking glass. And this result so brilliant and so magical contrasts a lot with the second part in which we have the previous tension suffocated by a sound that is first obsessive and then becomes subdued.

Up to the conclusion in which we find a quotation of the initial theme which, however, is expressed in a very mysterious tone. The last sarcasm begins with a sonority that immediately catches the listener’s attention. You hear that it seems to hear a coarse laugh. This first section that contrasts so much with the final of the fourth that ends as we said with a citation of the theme in a mysterious tone with a conclusion that vanishes with 3 piano with an indication 3 p .. And then it resumes without interruption. This result is more effective.

The next page bears the indication “andantino resoluto”. This andantino constructs a fragile but very fascinating sound environment. There are only a few notes to define it and their irregularity of execution gives a sense of fragility. These two ideas have always made me think of two chicks that are emerging from the eggs begin to use their legs on the ground but I do not see and do not know where to go. However they are communicating with each other in a very uncertain way, then they work the two ideas work together … You can hear a sort of peep and the indication is also lamentable that this idea of ​​the uncertainty of even the irregular movement is given by the irregular writing of the line melodic.

This unresolved andantino then leads to a final page that tells a sonorous world of dark images, of nebulous images, even of anxiety. Do you hear that the initial theme is back, that diabolic laughter, much slower, almost a march? A march of soldiers, bad guys 😉
At the same time we have the rhythmic element that we have heard very often in this work. Not only in this sarcasm but also in the number four for example. There’s a note that is highlighted with a sort of upbeat. This is the note that needs to be highlighted.

It is very interesting, Prokofiev is a great composer.

Well, then you can find the videos of these sarcasms on youtube, don’t forget to subscribe to the channel and leave likes 🙏

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