Prokofiev Sonata op. 94, Second Movement

For information on the composer, Sergei Prokofiev, and the general overview of the entire flute sonata (Op. 94) you should check out my analysis of the first movement before reading through the analysis of this movement. Understanding the background – including the conditions – Prokofiev was writing under will help inform the analysis of this movement:

II. Allegretto scherzando (Dotted Half = 69)

The suggested tempo is included in the G. Schirmer 1965 edition. The text “allegretto scherzando” roughly translates to fairly brisk and playful (or joking). The form of the second movement is ternary (ABA or ABA’) form which has some connection to a scherzo (a major scherzo of note for flutists is Mendelssohn’s Scherzo in A Midsummer Night’s Dream) which is in rounded binary form (AABA) with a ‘trio’ section that follows the recap of the A form.

A – mm. 1-161

The key feature in this movement is Prokofiev’s use of hemiolas. As far as the Grove Music dictionary is concerned a hemiola, “in the modern metrical system denotes the articulation of two units of triple metre as if they were notated as three units of duple metre.” More info on this term can be accessed here.

The motive that the flute first plays in the A section is an example of a hemiola:

Note the duple notation (duple = 2), but slurred as if they were triplets (3). As mentioned, this opening motive in the flute is prominent throughout the second movement: we see it transposed up a Perfect 5th in measure 15, down a Perfect 5th in measure 34; and we see echoes of it throughout later parts of the movement as the initial A section closes, as well as when the A’ section recaps.

In the primary A section we expect to see multiple phrases, an established tonic key, and an end with a PAC (typically in the tonic):

Multiple Phrases

There is no shortage of phrase variance in this section.

The first section that we see (amid several transpositions) is the hemiola phrase, which is characterized by the constant eighth notes. Each time this phrase appears the dynamic is marked piano and peaks at a mezzo forte. This section lasts from mm. 1-58.

The next phrase section is the sixteenth notes. The repeated figure “C-D-Eb-F Gb-Ab-Bb-C D-Eb-E-F” is accompanied by the piano playing Gb-Eb-Bb (which would be some borrowed chord, not quiet a Neapolitan because it is minor rather than Major) – perhaps it is simply put to be the tritone juxtaposing a minor (a to eb as a diminished 5th)?

Either way, this section is fleeting and promptly resolves to F Major – mm. 59-76.

The third section is interesting because unlike the first two which had very clear features, this one has a several elements. The first being the leaps/skips (the 1st and 2nd phrases were both stepwise) and particularly the use of the Perfect 4th followed by a Perfect 5th. Then following this with a dotted quarter to driving eighths. This section lasts mm. 77-102.

The fourth section could be lumped in with the third, however, I see the key change and addition of a new rhythmic figure (the triplet) as one of two possibilities: (1) a brief extension that is stretching the phrase to the return of the first phrase OR (2) a variation of phrase 3. Either way there are recognizable similarities between the 3rd and 4th phrases – take for example, mm. 107-112 and compare it to mm. 87-92.

Key/Establishing a Tonal Center

Considering how Prokofiev plays with intervals in this movement, the tonal center is relatively ambiguous – especially if one was to just regard the opening 6 bars of just the piano alone.

However, given the opening motive the tentative tonic is a minor, however as soon as Prokofiev has moved out of the hemiolas he begins to explore F Major and its relative minor (d minor). What’s interesting here (for all you advanced theory nerds) is that these are the notes of a d minor arpeggio: a (5), F (3), and d (1) which would be the parallel minor of the first movement set in D Major. How neat!

For simplicity’s sake I will refer to the section by key rather than scale degree, but the d minor arpeggio relation is an interesting avenue, perhaps to explore the next time you work through this movement.

We see the movement towards F Major punctuated by the octaves F’s in measures 75-76. The references to d minor are more apparent in the piano score, for example before the flute has the sixteenth note runs, the piano (mm. 58-61) plays an inverted d minor arpeggio d(1) a(5) f(3).

Ending with a cadence (PAC?)

There is the brief key change to c minor, however, as discussed in the section on phrases, it is more or less an extension or variation used to cycle back to the first phrase. By m. 123 the d minor version of the first phrase is back. The punctuation of the A’s in mm. 153-155 is a versatile choice on Prokofiev’s part as this can either be regarded as the 5th of d minor or the 3rd of F Major. The ambiguity is all part of the game – given the context of writing during Socialist Realism in Soviet Russia – Prokofiev could easily claim either to be the case, whichever put him a favorable light. As far as a PAC is concerned, I see the As as an IAC in d minor, however, I have seen other scholars regard it as the same but in F Major. To support my argument for d minor I point towards the use of C# and F#s which allude to the parallel Major – perhaps forecasting the key change that will begin the B section. Futhermore, I see the transition from F Major to D Major – not impossible, but the chord functions during the transition “o, m, o, m2, m3” given the context of the piano score which allude much more to minor tonalities than Major.

B – mm. 162-227

Contrast is a fairly simple concept to understand in music theory. Opposites are a general concept that can be transferred from daily life (ie. Day and Night) which in music theory can translate to A and B sections. The B section is noticeably different than the A section, here’s what to look for: key the new key is usually related either the parallel Major/minor; this section ends with a PAC or HC; and there may be a short bridge that leads into the recap of A.

The most noticeable contrast between the B and A sections in this movement is the way Prokofiev alters the meter! Notice how the B section is in 2/2 while the A section is always in 3/4.

New Key

Tracing back to the end of the A section, my argument for the cadence being an IAC in d minor fits neatly since the B section is starting in the parallel Major – D Major. The key signature makes this key transition abundantly clear, as well as the opening statement start with an inverted D Major arpeggio.

Okay, hold on for this wild journey of keys/interval-play that I am about to suggest – with the knowledge that most of these transitions would be intervallically motivated (whether that is pushing the boundaries with something as ‘offensive’ as a tritone or maintain a Major quality to mask the deviation from traditional chord progressions).

There is a notated key change in measure 174 (removing the C# and F#s). Looking at the notated figure of a quarter triplet and two quarters – one could guess we have returned to a minor… there is after all an A being sustained in the piano mm. 174-176. However, isolating the arpeggio in m. 174 it appears to be two arpeggios combined a d minor with an inverted G Major (A-F-D-B-G-D). Prokofiev continues to play with that Perfect 4th (D to G) with the running sixteenths m. 177 and m. 181. However, keep in mind we are still technically in ‘a minor’ therefore at m. 182 we see an immediate shift to E Major (G#-B-E) because it is a the Dominant (V) in a minor. This is followed by a bm – g#m. Which is similar to the A section and how it brings out the d – f – a of d minor, this brief tonicization of the Dominant is bringing out E – B – G#.

By m. 190 the key of D Major returns… only for a short while. With a nod to the E Major, mm. 194-195, as well a a minor, the C# and F#s are quickly removed from the key yet again in m. 202. And this is where we begin to see the bridge back to A/A’.


The bridge out of the B section and back to the return of A is punctuated by the time signature change to 3/4, a return to the triple feel, while still closing out the motifs and tonal exploration featured in this contrasting section. This bridge spans mm. 208-227.

The piano part while the flute is playing the espressivo phrase and resting (mm. 212-227) is particularly of note tonally speaking. The inverted arpeggio running under the espressivo section is a bo (b diminished) arpeggio. Once the piano is alone this shifts into an alternating AM – C7. Again, an interesting (and safe) choice because these are common chords (although the quality varies) from D Major/minor and F Major.

Cadence (PAC or HC?)

This section is more or less ending with a Half Cadence. Although not a formal HC, the same function is present here…

A traditional HC is something ending with a V (Dominant). However, V is not the only Dominant function, VII can (on occasion) take the place of a V in a cadence. Nothing about this cadence is screaming authentic cadence (IAC or PAC), there is no tonic function in sight (this could be a i/I and occasionally a VI/vi).

If the piano bridge is considered to be in dm/DM there are two dominants AM (V) and C7 (VII7)… also if we really (and I mean reallllly) wanted to push for FM we could call the C7 the V7/III. Either way you spin it not tonic functions to be seen, especially with the seventh chord, therefore, definitely HC!

A/A’ – m. 228-370

Finally, a return to familiar material! This final section has a few key features: it can be varied (hence A’), it will start and end in the tonic, and ends with a PAC.

Variations: A versus A’

For the most part, this return is an exact copy of the initial A section. The flute line follows the A section to a T mm. 228-333 (the counterpart being mm. 7-112).

The first time this section deviates starts m. 335 with the descending eighth note figure. There is a new rhythmic figure (the sixteenth triplets) which allude to the ones featured in the first movement of the Op. 94 Sonata. Then, Prokofiev quotes the 3rd phrase from the A section before starting the 1st phrase… offset by one beat; and he interjects this with a hemiola-ified (adding ties to) another quote from the 3rd phrase before finishing with the 1st phrase, and a frenzied eighth pattern that ascends to the climatic C7.

Final Cadence – PAC?

If only… again it’s more of an IAC. But a very interesting feature in the Schirmer 1965 edition is that it includes the alternate violin part which ends differently!

Of course both endings are considered IAC if we are to consider the tonal center to be a minor: the flute’s C is the 3rd scale degree and the violin’s E is the 5th scale degree.

I had a lot of fun with this movement – the ambiguity lends itself to a lot of theorizing (within set Music Theory ha!) so I got a chance to explore questions I had about the score. Anything you noticed in this movement that I missed?

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