As we wrap up the semester with this issue and look forward to winter break, the world has begun preparing for the holiday season. Unfortunately, the holidays this year will differ from those of the past since COVID-19 has forced us to cancel our traditional gatherings with friends and family. Nonetheless, I hope that the piece I chose will make it possible to maintain a festive mood whilst enjoying the upcoming winter holidays at home.
Sergei Prokofiev – Troika
Prokofiev was a 20th-century Russian Soviet pianist and composer whose pieces encompassed many genres—his most famous works include the ballet Romeo and Juliet, two classical violin concertos, and music from the film “Lieutenant Kijé,” in which the piece “Troika” is played. “Lieutenant Kijé” is a 1934 movie that tells the satirical story of a fictional lieutenant in Russia under Emperor Paul I’s reign, while the word Troika means a Russian sled pulled by three horses. Accordingly, the piece is also commonly referred to as “Sleigh Ride” and has a lively ambiance that is perfectly suited for the festivity of the holiday season. Being only two and a half minutes, “Troika” is similar in length to many modern Christmas songs, and from beginning to end, the piece maintains an upbeat energy. The piece is set in D major, which is a key that is known for its joyful tendencies. To further its cheery mood, “Troika” dynamically remains consistent more or less all throughout the piece, rather than having many contrasting dynamics like other classical pieces. This will help you enjoy the listening experience of pure festivity instead of picking up on seemingly extraneous details; after all, for many of us, the holiday season is a time to distance ourselves from unnecessary thoughts.
The piece begins with the cellos performing the melody, accompanied by the other stringed instruments playing pizzicato (plucking the strings) and the percussion instruments playing the underlying rhythm. When you hear these rhythmic downbeats of the percussions, they will be reminiscent of the beats of modern-day carols. Later in the piece, the melody shifts to the pizzicato parts then to the wind instruments, and when this second shift occurs, the ambiance of the piece changes to become more majestic than before. This shift in the piece adds to its uplifting, optimistic spirit that perfectly encapsulates the holiday spirit and the joyful suspense associated with unwrapping Christmas presents. Toward the end, the key changes to E-flat major and continues building up until the very last note. Through this piece, I hope that you can transition into a festive mood and get ready to enjoy your winter break to the fullest.
This time, I chose the Berliner Philharmoniker’s interpretation of “Troika” because I felt that this renowned orchestra flawlessly pulls off the vivacious nature of the piece, in addition to the fact that the orchestral musicians themselves wear cheerful expressions as they perform the piece. Since the main melody is a catchy tune that recurs multiple times throughout the piece, it is likely that you will find yourself humming along to “Troika” around the house this Christmas.