I wanted to start with: Sergei’s first ‘numbered’ symphony is maybe his most classical work, hence the nickname he added to it himself. He modelled it after Haydn and Mozart. He should have left it there. But then I asked myself, so it is not his first ‘numbered’ symphony? What does that mean?
To look for earlier works of a composer, opus numbers seem the most logical. There is a catch however: they are usually given by the publisher, when it is… well, published. What about unpublished works, or works that were later published?
The numbering of symphonies is usually done by the composer. In the romantic era that led to some stress when a composer reached the tenth. Because Beethoven never made it that far, it was considered an ill omen. No idea if that is true, but this story is funny just the same.
But what about Prokofiev then? What nefarious plot has led us to lose track of these first symphonies? It looks like the answer is simple: yes, he made not one, but two childhood symphonies, that he neither numbered nor published. So there was no opus number, no symphony number. Sergei just didn’t recognise his little scribblings.
I have no idea if these works are often performed, or if they are even available in a published form. Maybe musicologists only know of them because of historical traces, like letters or fragments that turn up in later works.
I should say something here about the great Rozhdestvensky performing on this record. But I keep that for later. More to come!