Review: Embodied Visions: Performance & Pedagogical Considerations for Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives, Opus 22. Jessie Welsh speaker and piano.

  • Issue: Volume 63, No.1
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18177/sym.2023.63.pll.11593

The lecture-recital of Dr. Jessie Welsh (DMA, Texas Christian University) sets out to advocate for the performance of Prokofiev’s Opus 22 as a whole (instead of excerpts), to showcase her own analysis and performance of the set, and to suggest a particular successful pedagogical approach.

The author/performer gives a clear, concise roadmap of the piece, including history and background, sound production, and pedagogical considerations. The PowerPoint slides are attractive and well-constructed.

I found it interesting and captivating that the work is modeled after a poem titled “I Do Not Know Wisdom.” It was noted by Welsh that the preludes of Bach, Debussy, and Chopin are 24 works each, while the Prokofiev consists of twenty works without a specific key arrangement. She also walks the listener through some twentieth-century influences: pentatonic scales, planning-parallelism, chromaticism, and the use of modes and polytonality. Five characteristics (classical, modern, toccata, lyrical, and scherzo-esque/grotesque) also permeate this set and really describe Prokofiev’s oeuvre as a whole.

Welsh does a nice job of breaking down the five “characters” with examples and attributes of each, and correctly mentions that more than one character can be present (either within a single prelude or even simultaneously). The strategies for teaching and practicing were very helpful, and I enjoyed her chosen examples of each character trait. I appreciated the clarity and beauty of the classical and modern examples in particular.

Welsh’s discussion of the benefits of this approach, from programming to pedagogy, timbre to imagination, was a highlight of the presentation. These are wonderful character “etudes” for students beginning to explore advanced twentieth-century repertoire, without having to tackle the more difficult technical challenges of one of the Prokofiev sonatas or concerti (and perhaps delaying teaching some of the more famous or longer works of Debussy, Ravel, or Bartók).

After Dr. Welsh’s dissection of style, teaching points, and musical-technical considerations, the performance of the piece in its entirety begins. I performed these pieces during my undergraduate studies, so it was a delight to revisit these. For even more audience engagement, I suggest superimposing titles over the pieces during the performance, as the character/tempo markings are not visible to an audience member. Listing which of the “five lines” with the titles would also be helpful. For example, No. IV is a prime example of a scherzo-esque/grotesque work, and the “animato” title gives further context.

Welsh’s performance is imaginative, colorful, and clear. She invokes the worlds of the different characters with great affect and direction. She is clear in the tempo differentiation and uses a great deal of contrast in terms of articulation, pedaling, layering of sound, and bringing out the melody. I look forward to more creative output from this performer and educator.

Two small recommendations for improvement: The author/performer has, on occasion, misspelled and mispronounced the title – on the title page, it should be Visions Fugitives, and should be pronounced with a French accent (as would have been used by a Russian who spoke French due to education and privilege level). Note that the title is correct in other slides. There were also some clicking and other extraneous noises that might have been addressed by the audio engineer.

Click here to view the performance.

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Last modified on Sunday, 04/06/2023

Kristin Ditlow

Kristin Ditlow, DMA Eastman School of Music, also holds degrees from Oberlin, Westminster Choir College. She is a solo and collaborative pianist, conductor, and vocal coach, and currently is Associate Professor of Music at the University of New Mexico, where she also music directs the UNM Opera Theatre.

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