Now this question is by no means an attack on any conductor or orchestra, nor Prokofiev himself, but why does it seem that it's hard for everyone to get right into time with one another with this piece? In literally every recording and performance I've heard the timing is off, sometimes just barely, sometimes quite obviously. This video shows what I'm getting at, and particularly shows how the different registers of the brass section seem to be out of time with one another. Still, once everything gets going things click together, which leads me to believe it's just tricky timing. I'd really like a more professional answer beyond my own speculation.

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    I couldn't hear anything off in that video. It just sounded syncopated to me. May 14, 2014 at 9:41
  • Does syncopated mean deliberately off? It sounds like they start too fast compared to: youtube.com/watch?v=ljOMXgfflRI, and there could be something odd right at the start, but it seemed to go away after a few listens. Perhaps it's just the tempo that sounds wrong I'm used to listening to a slower version. May 14, 2014 at 10:38
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    I've got a couple recordings of this ballet, and don't hear what you hear. The score is very straightforward: nothing more than dotted-eighth ; sixteenth note pairings plus a "rhythm bass". I fear this may be your ear hearing things that aren't there. May 14, 2014 at 11:50
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    I must say, Gergiev isn't doing very well. His hands are severely shaking and some parts he falls behind. This may have caused the rather clumsy beginning.
    – 11684
    May 15, 2014 at 13:33
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    Well, @FélixGagnon-Grenier, you might ask why they're so clumsy! I'm sure those knights know how to party
    – RICK
    Jun 14, 2014 at 14:38

4 Answers 4


The score is here imslp.org/wiki/Special:ImagefromIndex/35364 The dance is at page 145 (131 in the pdf)

"the different registers of the brass section seem to be out of time with one another."

Low brass (f.e. tubas) tends to get the 1 and 3; higher brass (f.e. cornet) gets the 2 and 4 "afterbeat". This is in iteself not special or odd.

When I hear this piece, also in the recording you posted, I can simply count 1, 2, 3, 4, and the low brass is on 1 and 3. Does that work for you?

What might be putting you off is that in this recording, the first 2 beats start off a bit slower then the remainder. Perhaps the expectation of a slower tempo unsettles you?

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    "Corni" is Italian for "Horns" AKA french horns, not cornets. (There is a cornet solo in this piece but that comes later). Feb 12, 2022 at 10:12

You are right. The low brass (at beats 1 and 3) seems to start at a tempo that is slightly faster than the low strings that should answer at beats 2 and 4. It's sounds more like the strings answer at "2-and" and "4-and" in the first measure. They are a bit closer at second measure, and when the rest come in third measure, everything is on track. I think part of the problem is that the conductor "jumps in" when starting without any indication of the tempo.

  • I appreciate the input! Thanks for explaining what Gergiev himself was doing that made the timing rocky at the beginning.
    – RICK
    May 16, 2014 at 17:45

Yes, the first couple of bars are a disaster. Should be straight quarter notes, brass on 1 & 3, strings on 2 & 4. The strings are so late that it sounds swung!

Here's a version that gets it right.

And here's Gergiev on a happier day (starting at 1'30").

  • I'm not sure why, but the second video in your answer doesn't want to display as an imbedded video. Maybe you should change it to just a hyperlink. Feb 14, 2022 at 5:29
  • I guess the owner has disabled embedding. You can click the 'Watch on YouTube' link just as easily as on a plain URL link. I think I'll leave it like that, thanks anyway.
    – Laurence
    Feb 16, 2022 at 15:21
  • @LaurencePayne The second video is not playable for me either, and there is no "Watch on YouTube" link. It is not available for viewing in the USA, embedded or not. (I opened your answer in the editor and copied the link to try viewing directly.)
    – Theodore
    Feb 17, 2022 at 22:38
  • Oh, right. Hard luck, USA, then. I'll leave it up for those who CAN view it.
    – Laurence
    Feb 18, 2022 at 11:33

This is super old, but the phrasing is definitely intentional.

It's meant to be that dissonant and intense: Romeo and Juliet was a tragedy. The brass is going full tilt, is lilting, and is intentionally out of tune.

Dance of the Knights, colloquially speaking, one of the most badass movements in classical music and if it were perfect in tune and on beat it would be boring. It has to be a little scary!

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    The music is not dissonant, and it's intended to be played in tune and in time. The LSO plays in tune, but as other answers have already pointed out, the timing is a bit off in the first couple of bars.
    – PiedPiper
    Feb 12, 2022 at 20:18
  • They don't play it in tune, though. Those brass hits are, for lack of a better word, pretty funky. And there are lots of downright dissonant chords that people from the 17th century would think are Of The Devil. The timing isn't just a little off, it's extremely off, and as a brass player this isn't a hard piece to play (beyond the volume). Trust me, either the conductor did it on purpose or the LSO made a mistake worthy of a high school band. Almost positive it's an artistic liberty.
    – Slothario
    Feb 14, 2022 at 0:42
  • I guess in retrospect it's possible they did just screw this one up in the first bar, but the reason it's generally a "jerky" piece is that it's supposed to be that way, or is at least commonly interpreted that way. It's supposed to have a "lilt" to it. You're especially supposed to be jerky with those 16th notes.
    – Slothario
    Feb 14, 2022 at 0:44

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