Music: Battle for the Fatherland

When Hitler's armies marched into the Soviet Union in 1941, the Russian people's fight for survival inspired Sergei Prokofiev to write an opera that would embody their struggle. His hugely ambitious choice for a story: Tolstoy's War and Peace. What he finally produced in 1943, however, was written in an almost schizoid style—part introspective love story, part heroic showpiece—that was difficult to grasp, easy to misunderstand. Stalin's commissars gave only grudging approval, demanded more pageantry and patriotic fervor. At his death in 1953, the composer was still rewriting the work. He never saw...

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