Sergei Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet

There are many things a composer can do to upset the general equilibrium of the play or text they’re setting. Find out more about Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, today used as theme tune to The Apprentice. Watch and listen to different recordings and download your favourite.

These include excising huge chunks of text or leaving entire characters on the cutting-room floor, unable to do them musical justice. However, Prokofiev’s first big idea for his ballet music for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was probably just a little beyond the pale: he was going to change it to a happy ending. In the end, he considered, almost certainly correctly, that this would have been a step too far. He wrote the work for the Kirov Ballet, but the huge demands it placed on the dancers meant it wasn’t performed for a few years, receiving its premiere in Brno in 1938. Prokofiev wrote new sections for a 1940 production and it was then that the music really took off, eventually forming the basis of three popular suites.

The centrepiece of the work, musically, must be The Montagues and Capulets (sometimes known as The Dance of the Knights), music that has possibly not been matched for sheer drama since it was written. It has gained notoriety as the theme tune to the television programme The Apprentice and is also the music to which the players from Sunderland Athletic Football club run onto the pitch at home games.

Recommended Recording

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor). Decca: 4360782. 

Illustration: Mark Millington