The music for the ballet Romeo and Juliet was composed in the summer of 1935 for the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. However, when the work went into production, it was deemed too difficult for the dancers to follow. Pragmatically, Prokofiev then arranged his ballet music into two orchestral suites, which were performed in Russia in 1936 and 1937. Eventually, the complete ballet was staged for the first time in Brno, where its success led to productions by the Kirov and later Bolshoi ballets.
The second suite opens with The Montagues and Capulets, which is drawn from the beginning of the ballet and features the formal music for Juliet’s dance with Paris, chosen by her family to be her husband. Juliet the Young Girl is from Act I, Scene II, and portrays the playful nature of Juliet, who is only a child of fourteen. The music ends quietly as Juliet sees her reflection in a mirror and realizes she is on the threshold of becoming a woman. Friar Laurence represents the kind priest who befriends the young lovers, first by a melody given to the bassoons, tuba and harp, and later by one played by divided cellos. In the next movement, Romeo at Juliet’s before Parting, Romeo is in Juliet’s bedroom just before dawn. They swear their love before Romeo departs, and Juliet contemplates their fate. In the Dance of the Antilles Girls, West Indian slaves dance at the wedding feast for Juliet and Paris. Paris brings pearls as a gift for his bride. No-one realizes that Juliet is feigning death. Romeo at Juliet’s Tomb is the final scene, featuring the mourners carrying the body of Juliet, who is not dead but only drugged. After the grieving Capulets leave, Romeo appears and takes the poison that will kill him before Juliet awakes.