The Prokofiev March That Became a Theme Song For An FBI Radio Drama During The Cold War

Sep 16, 2019

In the early years of the Cold War, with tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union at all-time high, a tune by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev became the unlikely theme song for a radio drama about FBI cases involving international espionage. 

After the end of World War II, tensions escalated between the U.S. (allied with Western Europe) and the Soviet Union (allied with eastern satellite states).  The Cold War era, from 1946 to 1991, fueled an arms race and a space race, as well as a "red scare," in which thousands of Americans accused of Communist connections lost their jobs.

The FBI was growing into a powerful crime fighting agency under J. Edgar Hoover, and The FBI in Peace and War, a 1943 book by Frederick Collins, chronicled high-profile cases, including the capture of Al Capone. The book gave rise to CBS Radio's drama, The FBI in Peace and War, which ran from 1944 to 1958.

Its unlikely theme song? A march by Soviet-era composer Sergei Prokofiev from his opera, The Love for Three Oranges, arranged and orchestrated for the series by Amedeo De Filippi. 

Check out Opera Philadelphia's upcoming production of Sergei Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges! It's one of the opera's being featured in Festival 019 from Sept. 18th to 29th.

It's unclear how many people knew of the connection with the Soviet composer. The opera, which had premiered in Chicago in 1921, had become more popular in Europe than in the U.S., where it was not often performed.

In a 1955 Washington Post column, George Dixon wrote of "the heart-swelling theme music" of The FBI in Peace and War and his astonishment to discover that the drama "chases Communist and other misguided creatures to the tune of  The Love for Three Oranges by the late Soviet composer, Sergei Prokofiev!"

Prokofiev had transcribed the march for solo piano in 1922;  he included it in his orchestral suite based on the opera, and quoted it in his ballet Cinderella. But The FBI in Peace and War established its connection with law enforcement; Prokofiev's influence can be heard in similar rousing rhythms and harmonies in the theme from radio and TV series Dragnet.

So how was Prokofiev's music chosen to be the theme for The FBI in Peace and War? We don't really know. Any theories out there?