Striding Over Shifting Floors: Stepwise Motion, Disjunct Harmony, and Quasi-Tonal Accomplishment in Prokofiev's Soviet Symphonies

Joel Mott, Independent Scholar

Prokofiev's Soviet-era symphonic works employ a quasi-tonality that almost always makes use of triadic harmony, but largely without tonal syntax. Just as common-practice works often tie modulations together with linear melodies, Prokofiev's jarring harmonic landscapes that quickly modulate by semitone or tritone are also usually accompanied by surface and middleground stepwise structures. I use recent frameworks in virtual agency and a generalized approach to linearity to suggest new ways in which Prokofiev's lines express musical meaning in terms of freedom, will, striving, and the resultant accomplishment or failure of those goals when heard in this quasi-tonal environment. I illustrate multiple examples of brief yet salient melodic lines that attempt a number of different types of modulation throughout these late symphonies. I argue that the resulting drives toward a goal take on a new sense of "arrival" or "failure" to land in their opening keys.