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Sergei Prokofiev in New York, 1918

Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev (Russian: Сергей Сергеевич Прокофьев;[1] Ukrainian: Сергій Сергійович Прокоф'єв)[2] (23 April [O.S. 15 April] 1891 – 5 March 1953)[3] was a Russian composer, pianist[4][5] and conductor who mastered numerous musical genres and came to be admired as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.

Contents

Biography

Childhood compositions

Prokofiev was born in Sontsovka (now Krasne in Donetsk oblast), an isolated rural estate in Yekaterinoslav Governorate, Russian Empire. He displayed unusual musical abilities by the age of five. His first piano composition to be written down (by his mother), an 'Indian Gallop', was in the Lydian mode (F major with a B natural instead of B flat) as the young Prokofiev felt 'reluctance to tackle the black notes'.[6] By the age of seven he had also learned to play chess.[7] Much like music, chess would remain a passion his entire life, and he became acquainted with world chess champions José Raúl Capablanca[8] and Mikhail Botvinnik.

At the age of nine he was composing his first opera, The Giant,[9] as well as an overture and miscellaneous pieces.

Formal music education and controversial early works

In 1902, Prokofiev's mother obtained an audience with Sergei Taneyev, director of the Moscow Conservatory. Taneyev initially suggested that Prokofiev should start lessons in composition with Alexander Goldenweiser;[10] but when Taneyev was unable to arrange this[11] he instead arranged for Reinhold Glière to spend the summer of 1902 in Sontsovka teaching Prokofiev.[12] This first series of lessons culminated, at Prokofiev's insistence, with Glière supervising the 11-year-old's first attempt to write a symphony.[13] Glière subsequently revisited Sontsovka the following summer to give further tuition.[14] Prokofiev, while giving due credit to Glière's sympathetic qualities as a teacher, later complained that Glière had introduced him to "square" phrase structure and conventional modulations which he subsequently had to unlearn.[15] Nonetheless, now equipped with the necessary theoretical tools, Prokofiev started experimenting with dissonant harmonies and unusual time signatures in a series of short piano pieces which he called "ditties" (after the so-called "song form" - more accurately ternary form - they were based on), laying the basis for his own musical style.[16]

After a while, Prokofiev's mother felt that the isolation in Sontsovka was restricting his further musical development.[17] Although his parents were not too keen on forcing their son into a musical career at such an early age[18], in 1904 he was taken by his mother to Saint Petersburg where he applied, after encouragement by the composer Alexander Glazunov, to the Saint Petersburg Conservatory.[19] By this point Prokofiev had composed two more operas, Desert Islands and The Feast during the Plague and was working on his fourth, Undine.[20] He passed the introductory tests and started his composition studies the same year. Being several years younger than most of his classmates, he was viewed as eccentric and arrogant, and he often expressed dissatisfaction with much of the education, which he found boring.[21] During this period he studied under, among others, Anatoly Lyadov, Nikolai Tcherepnin and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (though when the latter died in 1908, Prokofiev noted that he had only studied orchestration with him 'after a fashion' – that is, in a heavily attended class with other students – and regretted he otherwise 'never had the opportunity to study with him').[22] He also became friends with Boris Asafyev and Nikolai Myaskovsky.

As a member of the Saint Petersburg music scene, Prokofiev expanded his reputation as a musical rebel, while also getting praise for his original compositions, which he would perform himself on the piano. In 1909, he graduated from his class in composition, getting less than impressive marks. He continued at the Conservatory, studying piano under Anna Yesipova and conducting under Nikolai Tcherepnin.[23]

In 1910, Prokofiev's father died and Sergei's economic support ceased. Luckily, at that time, he had started making a name for himself as a composer, although he frequently caused scandals with his forward-looking works.[24] The Sarcasms for piano, Op. 17 (1912), for example, make extensive use of polytonality,[25] and Etudes, Op. 2 (1909) and Four Pieces, Op. 4 (1908) are highly chromatic and dissonant works. His first two piano concerti were composed around this time, the latter of which caused a scandal at its premiere (23 August 1913, Pavlovsk). According to one account, the audience left the hall with exclamations of "'To hell with this futuristic music! The cats on the roof make better music!'", but the modernists were in raptures.[26]

In 1911 help arrived from renowned Russian musicologist and critic Alexander Ossovsky, who wrote a letter in strong support of Sergei Prokofiev to famous music publisher Boris P. Jurgenson[27], thus a contract was offered to the composer.[28] Prokofiev made his first excursion out of Russia in 1913, travelling to Paris and London where he first encountered Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.

The first ballets

In 1914, Prokofiev finished his career at the Conservatory by entering the so-called 'battle of the pianos', a competition open to the five best piano students for which the prize was a Shreder grand piano: Prokofiev won by performing his own Piano Concerto No. 1.[29] Soon afterwards, he made a trip to London where he made contact with the impresario Diaghilev. Diaghilev commissioned Prokofiev's first ballet, Ala and Lolli, but rejected the work in progress when Prokofiev brought it to him in Italy in 1915; however Diaghilev then commissioned Prokofiev to compose the ballet Chout. Under Diaghilev's guidance, Prokofiev chose his subject from a collection of folktales by the ethnographer Alexander Afanasyev[30]; the story, concerning a buffoon and a series of confidence tricks he performs, had been previously suggested to Diaghilev by Igor Stravinsky as a possible subject for a ballet, and Diaghilev and his choreographer Léonide Massine helped Prokofiev to shape this into a ballet scenario.[31] Prokofiev's relative lack of experience in ballet composing meant he subsequently agreed to revise the ballet extensively in the 1920s, following Diaghilev's detailed critique of the score[32], prior to its first production.[33] The ballet's premiere in Paris on 17 May 1921 was a huge success and was greeted with great admiration by an audience that included Jean Cocteau, Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel. Stravinsky called the ballet "the single piece of modern music he could listen to with pleasure," while Ravel called it "a work of genius."[34]

First World War and Revolution

During World War I, Prokofiev returned again to the Conservatory, now studying the organ in order to avoid conscription. He composed his opera The Gambler based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel of the same name, but the rehearsals were plagued by problems and the première scheduled for 1917 had to be cancelled because of the February Revolution. In the summer of that same year, Prokofiev composed his first symphony, the Classical. This was his own name for the symphony, which was written in the style that, according to Prokofiev, Joseph Haydn would have used if he had been alive at the time.[35] Hence, the symphony is more or less classical in style but incorporates more modern musical elements (see Neoclassicism). This symphony was also an exact contemporary of Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19, which was scheduled to premiere in November 1917. Political events, however, delayed the first performances of both works until 21 April 1918 and 18 October 1923, respectively. After a brief stay with his mother in Kislovodsk in the Caucasus, because of worries of the enemy capturing Petrograd (the new name for Saint Petersburg), he returned in 1918, but he was now determined to leave Russia, at least temporarily.[36] In the current Russian state of unrest, he saw no room for his experimental music and, in May, he headed for the USA. Despite this, he had already developed acquaintances with senior Bolsheviks including Anatoly Lunacharsky, the People's Commissar for Education, who told him: "You are a revolutionary in music, we are revolutionaries in life. We ought to work together. But if you want to go to America I shall not stand in your way."[37]

Life abroad

Sergei Prokofiev

Arriving in San Francisco, after having been released from questioning by immigration on Angel Island on 11 August 1918,[38] Prokofiev was soon compared to other famous Russian exiles (such as Sergei Rachmaninoff), and he started out successfully with a solo concert in New York, leading to several further engagements. He also received a contract for the production of his new opera The Love for Three Oranges but, due to illness and the death of the director, the premiere was postponed. This was another example of Prokofiev's bad luck in operatic matters. The failure also cost him his American solo career, since the opera took too much time and effort. He soon found himself in financial difficulties, and, in April 1920, he left for Paris, not wanting to return to Russia as a failure.[39]

Paris was better prepared for Prokofiev's musical style. He reaffirmed his contacts with the Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. He also returned to some of his older, unfinished works, such as the Third Piano Concerto. The Love for Three Oranges finally premièred in Chicago in December 1921, under the composer's baton.

In March 1922, Prokofiev moved with his mother to the town of Ettal in the Bavarian Alps for over a year so he could concentrate fully on his composing. Most of his time was spent on an opera project, The Fiery Angel, based on the novel The Fiery Angel by Valery Bryusov. By this time his later music had acquired a certain following in Russia, and he received invitations to return there, but he decided to stay in Europe. In 1923, he married the Spanish singer Lina Llubera (1897–1989), before moving back to Paris.

There, several of his works (for example the Second Symphony) were performed, but critical reception was lukewarm.[40] However the Symphony appeared to prompt Diaghilev to commission another ballet from Prokofiev: this was Le Pas d'acier (The Steel Step), a 'modernist' score intended to portray the industrialisation of the Soviet Union. This was enthusiastically received by Parisian audiences and critics.

Prokofiev and Stravinsky restored their friendship, though Prokofiev did not particularly like Stravinsky's later works[41]; it has been suggested that his use of text from Stravinsky's A Symphony of Psalms to characterise the invading Teutonic knights in the film score for Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky (1938) was intended as an attack on Stravinsky's musical idiom.[42] However, Stravinsky himself described Prokofiev as the greatest Russian composer of his day, other than Stravinsky himself.[43]

Around 1927, the virtuoso's situation brightened; he had some exciting commissions from Diaghilev and made a number of concert tours in Russia; in addition, he enjoyed a very successful staging of The Love for Three Oranges in Leningrad (as Saint Petersburg was then known). Two older operas (one of them The Gambler) were also played in Europe and in 1928 Prokofiev produced his Third Symphony, which was broadly based on his unperformed opera The Fiery Angel. The conductor Sergei Koussevitzky characterized the Third as "the greatest symphony since Tchaikovsky's Sixth."

During 1928–29 Prokofiev composed what was to be the last ballet for Diaghilev, The Prodigal Son, which was staged on 21 May 1929 in Paris with Serge Lifar in the title role.[44] Diaghilev died only months later.

In 1929, Prokofiev wrote the Divertimento, Op. 43 and revised his Sinfonietta, Op. 5/48, a work started in his days at the Conservatory. Prokofiev wrote in his autobiography that he could never understand why the Sinfonietta was so rarely performed, whereas the "Classical" Symphony was played everywhere. Later in this year, however, he suffered a car accident, which slightly injured his hands and prevented him from performing in Moscow, but in turn permitted him to enjoy contemporary Russian music. After his hands healed, he made a new attempt at touring in the United States, and this time he was received very warmly, propped up by his recent success in Europe. This, in turn, propelled him to commence a major tour through Europe.

In 1930 Prokofiev began his first non-Diaghilev ballet On the Dnieper, Op. 51, a work commissioned by Serge Lifar, who had been appointed maitre de ballet at the Paris Opéra.[45] The years 1931 and 1932 saw the completion of Prokofiev's fourth and fifth piano concertos. The following year saw the completion of the Symphonic Song, Op. 57, a darkly scored piece in one movement.

In the early 1930s, Prokofiev was starting to long for Russia again;[46] he moved more and more of his premieres and commissions to his home country instead of Paris. One such was Lieutenant Kijé, which was commissioned as the score to a Soviet film. Another commission, from the Kirov Theater in Leningrad, was the ballet Romeo and Juliet. Today, this is one of Prokofiev's best-known works, and it contains some of the most inspired and poignant passages in his whole output.[47] However, there were numerous problems related to the ballet's original 'happy end' (contrary to Shakespeare), and the premiere was postponed for several years.

Return to the Soviet Union

Prokofiev and his second wife Mira

In 1935, Prokofiev moved back to the Soviet Union permanently; his family came a year later. At this time, the official Soviet policy towards music changed; a special bureau, the "Composers' Union", was established in order to keep track of the artists and their doings. By limiting outside influences, these policies would gradually cause almost complete isolation of Soviet composers from the rest of the world. Both Prokofiev and Shostakovich came under particular scrutiny for "formalist tendencies." Forced to adapt to the new circumstances (whatever misgivings he had about them in private), Prokofiev wrote a series of "mass songs" (Opp. 66, 79, 89), using the lyrics of officially approved Soviet poets. At the same time Prokofiev also composed music for children (Three Songs for Children and Peter and the Wolf, among others) as well as the gigantic Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, which was banned from performance and had to wait until May 1966 for a partial premiere.

In 1938, Prokofiev collaborated with the Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein on the historical epic Alexander Nevsky. For this he composed some of his most inventive dramatic music. Although the film had a very poor sound recording, Prokofiev adapted much of his score into a cantata, which has been extensively performed and recorded. In the wake of Alexander Nevsky's success, Prokofiev composed his first Soviet opera Semyon Kotko, which was intended to be produced by the director Vsevolod Meyerhold. However the première of the opera was postponed because Meyerhold was arrested on 20 June 1939 by the NKVD (Stalin's Secret Police), and shot on 2 February 1940.[48] Only months after Meyerhold's arrest, Prokofiev was 'invited' to compose Zdravitsa (Hail to Stalin) (Op. 85) to celebrate the dictator's 60th birthday.[49]

Subsequent to Meyerhold's arrest, Prokofiev composed his Piano Sonatas Nos. 6, 7, and 8, Opp. 82–84, widely known today as the "War Sonatas." Premiered respectively by Prokofiev (No. 6: 8 April 1940)[50], Sviatoslav Richter (No. 7: Moscow, 18 January 1943) and Emil Gilels (No. 8: Moscow, 30 December 1944)[51], they were subsequently championed in particular by Richter. These sonatas contain some of Prokofiev's most dissonant music for the piano. Ironically, Sonata No. 7 received a Stalin Prize (Second Class), and No. 8 a Stalin Prize First Class[51], even though the works have been subsequently interpreted as representing Prokofiev "venting his anger and frustration with the Soviet regime."[52]

Prokofiev had been considering making an opera out of Leo Tolstoy's epic novel War and Peace, when news of the German invasion of Russia on 22 June 1941 made the subject seem all the more timely. Prokofiev took two years to compose his original version of War and Peace. Because of the war he was evacuated together with a large number of other artists, initially to the Caucasus where he composed his Second String Quartet. By this time his relationship with the 25-year-old writer Mira Mendelson (1915–1968) had finally led to his separation from his wife Lina, although they were never technically divorced: indeed Prokofiev had tried to persuade Lina and their sons to accompany him as evacuees out of Moscow, but Lina opted to stay in Moscow.[53]

During the war years, restrictions on style and the demand that composers should write in a 'socialist realist' style were slackened, and Prokofiev was generally able to compose dissonant and chromatic works. The Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 80, The Year 1941, Op. 90, and the Ballade for the Boy Who Remained Unknown, Op. 93 all came from this period. Some critics have said that the emotional springboard of the First Violin Sonata and many other of Prokofiev's compositions of this time "may have more to do with anti-Stalinism than the war"[54], and most of his later works "resonated with darkly tragic ironies that can only be interpreted as critiques of Stalin's repressions."[55]

In 1943 Prokofiev joined Eisenstein in Alma-Ata, the largest city in Kazakhstan, to compose more film music (Ivan the Terrible), and the ballet Cinderella (Op. 87), one of his most melodious and celebrated compositions. Early that year he also played excerpts from War and Peace to members of the Bolshoi Theatre collective.[56] However, the Soviet government had opinions about the opera which resulted in numerous revisions.[57] In 1944, Prokofiev moved to a composer's colony outside Moscow in order to compose his Fifth Symphony (Op. 100) which would turn out to be the most popular of all his symphonies, both within Russia and abroad.[58] Shortly afterwards, he suffered a concussion after a fall due to chronic high blood pressure.[59] He never fully recovered from this injury, which severely reduced his productivity rate in the ensuing years, though some of his last pieces were as fine as anything he had composed before.[60]

Serge Prokofiev with Mstislav Rostropovitch

Prokofiev had time to write his postwar Sixth Symphony and a ninth piano sonata (for Sviatoslav Richter) before the Party, as part of the so-called "Zhdanov Decree," suddenly changed its opinion about his music.[61] The end of the war allowed overall creative attention to turn inward again, resulting in the Party tightening its reins on domestic artists. Prokofiev's music was now seen as a grave example of formalism, and was branded as 'anti-democratic'. With a number of his works banned, most concert and theatre administrators panicked and would not program Prokofiev's music at all, leaving him in severe financial straits.

On 20 February 1948, Prokofiev's wife Lina was arrested for 'espionage', as she tried to send money to her mother in Spain. She was sentenced to 20 years, but was eventually released after Stalin's death and later left the Soviet Union.

His latest opera projects were quickly cancelled by the Kirov Theatre. This snub, in combination with his declining health, caused Prokofiev to withdraw more and more from active musical life. His doctors ordered him to limit his activities, which resulted in him spending only an hour or two each day on composition. In 1949 he wrote his Cello Sonata in C, Op. 119, for the 22-year old Mstislav Rostropovich, who gave the first performance in 1950, with Sviatoslav Richter. The last public performance of his lifetime was the première of the Seventh Symphony in 1952, a piece of somewhat bittersweet character.[62] The music was written for a children's television program.

Death

Grave of Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev
A Soviet stamp marking Prokofiev's centenary in 1991

Prokofiev died at the age of 61 on 5 March 1953: the same day as Stalin. He had lived near Red Square, and for three days the throngs gathered to mourn Stalin, making it impossible to carry Prokofiev's body out for the funeral service at the headquarters of the Soviet Composer's Union. Paper flowers and a taped recording of the funeral march from Romeo and Juliet had to be used, as all real flowers and musicians were reserved for Stalin's funeral. He is buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.[63]

The leading Soviet musical periodical reported Prokofiev's death as a brief item on page 116. The first 115 pages were devoted to the death of Stalin. Usually Prokofiev's death is attributed to cerebral hemorrhage (bleeding into the brain). Nevertheless it is known that he was persistently ill for eight years before he died[64], which is why the precise nature of Prokofiev's terminal illness is uncertain.

Lina Prokofieva outlived her estranged husband by many years, dying in London in early 1989. Royalties from her late husband's music provided her a modest income. Their sons Sviatoslav (born 1924), an architect, and Oleg (1928–1998), an artist, painter, sculptor and poet, have dedicated a large part of their lives to the promotion of their father's life and work.[65][66]

Recordings

Prokofiev was a soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Piero Coppola, in the first recording of his Piano Concerto No. 3, recorded in London by His Master's Voice in June 1932. Prokofiev also recorded some of his solo piano music for HMV in Paris in February 1935; these recordings were issued on CD by Pearl and Naxos.[67] In 1938, he conducted the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra in a recording of the second suite from his Romeo and Juliet ballet; this performance was also later released on LP and CD. Another reported recording with Prokofiev and the Moscow Philharmonic was of the First Violin Concerto with David Oistrakh as soloist; Everest Records later released this recording on an LP.

Posthumous reputation

Prokofiev may well be the most popular composer of 20th century music.[68] His orchestral music alone is played more frequently in the United States than that of any other composer of the last hundred years, save Richard Strauss and Dmitri Shostakovich,[69] while his operas, ballets, chamber works, and piano music appear regularly throughout the major concert halls world-wide.

Yet he has never won the admiration of Western academics and critics, currently enjoyed by Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg, composers purported to have a greater influence on a younger generation of musicians.[70] While his Symphony No. 1, Op. 25, "Classical" is likely the first definitive neo-classical composition, arriving 4–5 years before such works as Stravinsky's Pulcinella, some sources contend that "the movement started in earnest with Stravinsky",[71] or even cite the "influence" of Stravinsky's neo-classicism on Prokofiev.[72]

Nor has Prokofiev's biography captured the imagination of the public, in the way that Shostakovich appeared, for example, in sources such as Volkov's Testimony, as an impassioned dissident. Whilst Arthur Honegger proclaimed that Prokofiev would "remain for us the greatest figure of contemporary music",[73] his reputation in the West has suffered greatly as a result of cold-war antipathies.[74]

But Prokofiev's music and his reputation stand well-positioned to benefit from the demise of cultural politics.[75] His fusion of melody and modernism and his "gift, virtually unparalleled among 20th-century composers, for writing distinctively original diatonic melodies",[76] may stand him in good stead as we begin to appreciate the unique genius of this most prolific and enigmatic of composers.

Works

Important works include (in chronological order):

Bibliography

Autobiography and diaries

  • Sergei Prokofiev Prokofiev by Prokofiev: A Composer's Memoir, trans. Guy Daniels; ed. David H. Appel. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1979. ISBN 0-385-09960-6
  • Sergei Prokofiev Soviet Diary 1927 and Other Writings. London: Faber and Faber, 1991.
  • Sergei Prokofiev Prokofiev: Autobiography, Articles, Reminiscences ISBN 0898751497
  • Sergei Prokofiev Diaries 1907-1914 translated and ed. Anthony Phillips. London, Faber and Faber 2006.ISBN 0571226299
  • Sergei Prokofiev Diaries 1915-1923 translated and ed. Anthony Phillips. London, Faber and Faber 2008.ISBN 0571226306
  • Sergei Prokofiev Dnyevnik 1907-1933 (3 vols, in Russian), Paris 2002. ISBN 2951813805, ISBN 2951813813, ISBN 2951813821

Biographies

  • Michel Dorigné, Serge Prokofiev, Paris, 1994
  • Daniel Jaffé, Sergey Prokofiev, London, 1998; rev. 2008
  • Simon Morrison, The People's Artist: Prokofiev's Soviet Years, Oxford, 2008
  • Israel Nestyev, Prokofiev, his Musical Life, New York 1946
  • Israel Nestyev (trans. Florence Jonas), Prokofiev, Stanford 1961
  • David Nice, Prokofiev: From Russia to the West 1891-1935, London 2003
  • M. P. Rakhmanova (ed.), Sergei Prokofiev on the 110th anniversary of his birth: letters, reminiscences and articles, (in Russian) Moscow 1991 ISBN 5201146073
  • Claude Samuel, Prokofiev, London, 1971 ISBN 0714504904
  • Victor Seroff, Sergei Prokofiev: A Soviet Tragedy, New York, 1968

Dictionary articles

  • The Concise Edition of Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 8th ed. Revised by Nicolas Slonimsky. New York, Schirmer Books, 1993. ISBN 002872416X
  • Prokofiev, Sergei by Richard Taruskin, in 'The New Grove Dictionary of Opera', ed. Stanley Sadie (London, 1992) ISBN 0-333-73432-7

Notes

  1. ^ Russian pronunciation: [sʲɪˈrɡʲej sʲɪˈrɡʲeɪvʲɪtɕ prɐˈkofʲjɪf], Sergéj Sergéjevič Prokófjef
  2. ^ Alternative transliterations of his name include Sergey or Serge, and Prokofief, Prokofieff, or Prokofyev.
  3. ^ While Prokofiev himself believed 23 April to be his birth date, the posthumous discovery of his birth certificate showed that he was actually born four days later, on 27 April. (Slonimsky, p. 793)
  4. ^ Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music, Michael Kennedy & Joyce Kennedy: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 5th edition 2007
  5. ^ Rita McAllister "Sergey Prokofiev" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians: London: Macmillan Publishers, 1980
  6. ^ Autobiography by Sergey Prokofiev: reprinted in Sergei Prokofiev: Soviet Diary 1927 and Other Writings. London: Faber and Faber, 1991.
  7. ^ Prokofiev by Prokofiev: A Composer's Memoir, Introduction p.xi
  8. ^ http://www.chesshistory.com/winter/extra/prokofiev.html
  9. ^ "He was a child prodigy on the order of Mozart, composing for piano at age five and writing an opera at nine". [1]
  10. ^ Prokofiev: From Russia to the West 1891-1935 by David Nice, p.15
  11. ^ see Prokofiev by Prokofiev: A Composer's Memoir, p.46
  12. ^ ibid, p.46
  13. ^ ibid, pp.51–3
  14. ^ Prokofiev, Sergey, article in Encyclopedia Britannica
  15. ^ Prokofiev by Prokofiev: A Composer's Memoir, pp.53–4
  16. ^ ibid, p.63
  17. ^ "The year was 1904, Prokofiev was thirteen, and it was clear to Maria Grigoryevna that the geographical isolation of Sontsovka was not conducive to the development of her son's burgeoning musical potential". [2]
  18. ^ "In fact, Prokofiev's parents focused most of his educational energies on non-musical subjects, particularly mathematics and the sciences." [3]
  19. ^ "Alexander Glazunov (1865 - 1936)". http://www.balletmet.org/Notes/Glazunov.html. 
  20. ^ Layton, Robert: "Prokofiev's Demonic Opera" Found in the introductory notes to the Philips Label recording of The Fiery Angel
  21. ^ "His memoirs indicate that even in his early Conservatory years he was self-confident, generally critical of his fellow students, yet disapproving of criticism he often received from his teachers. His unfailing belief in his own innovative musical style and his criticism of fellow students was interpreted as arrogance by many around him. This arrogance and propensity to shock his teachers with his music earned him the reputation as an enfant terrible-- a label Prokofiev actually enjoyed." [4]
  22. ^ Diary 3 August 1908, trans. Anthony Phillips
  23. ^ Autobiography, pp240-41
  24. ^ "In contrast to other composers such as Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky who wilted under critical assaults, Prokofiev welcomed the disapproving reviews. Throughout his career, in fact he would purposely push the limits of his compositions, all the while provoking and shocking listeners and critics. He relished his role as 'enfant terrible' of the music world." [5]
  25. ^ [6]
  26. ^ http://www.sprkfv.net/journal/three04/manyfaces2.html
  27. ^ Boris Jurgenson was a son of the publishing firm founder Peter Jurgenson (1836–1904)
  28. ^ David Nice, p.74
  29. ^ Nice, p99-100
  30. ^ Sergey Prokofiev by Daniel Jaffé, p.44
  31. ^ See Prokofiev's diary entry 6–9 March 1915, pp. 26–27 Diaries 1915-1923 by Sergey Prokofiev, trans. Anthony Phillips (Faber & Faber, 2008)
  32. ^ "Diaghilev pointed out a number of places which had to be rewritten. He was a subtle and discerning critic and he argued his point with great conviction. [...] we had no difficulty in agreeing on the changes." Short Autobiography by Sergey Prokofiev, republished in S. Prokofiev: Autobiography, Articles, Reminiscences p.56
  33. ^ Jaffé, p.75
  34. ^ [7]
  35. ^ As detailed in Prokofiev's autobiography. Listen to Discovering Music from 1:00 to 3:02, particularly from 1:45 to 2:39
  36. ^ "Prokofiev knew his prospects were much brighter in Western Europe. Blocked from heading west by war, Prokofiev headed east instead, toward the Pacific port of Vladivostok". [8]
  37. ^ Prokofiev, Sergei (2000) [1960]. S. Shlifstein. ed. Sergei Prokofiev: Autobiography, Articles, Reminiscences. Rose Prokofieva (translator). The Minerva Group, Inc.. pp. 50. ISBN 0898751497. 
  38. ^ Diary, p. 321 (trans. Phillips)
  39. ^ "Having avoided returning to Russia, Prokofiev asked his mother, who was in poor health, to join him in Paris." [9]
  40. ^ "While the Second Symphony is more remembered for its inauspicious debut, it did have a few supporters." [10]
  41. ^ Sergei Prokofiev, Autobiography, Articles, Reminiscences, compiled by S. Shlifstein, translated by Rose Prokofieva (Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific, 2000, ISBN 0898751497), [11] 61)
  42. ^ Kerr, M. G. (1994) "Prokofiev and His Cymbals", Musical Times 135, 608–609. Text also available at Alexander Nevsky and the Symphony of Psalms
  43. ^ Martin Kettle. "First among equals". The Guardian. http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,,1825040,00.html. Retrieved 2006-10-21. 
  44. ^ Jaffé, p.110
  45. ^ David Nice, p.279
  46. ^ "While his notoriety grew in Europe, Prokofiev longed to return to his homeland" [12]
  47. ^ "Now his most celebrated work has been given a new lease of life."
  48. ^ Jaffé, p.158
  49. ^ Jaffé, p.159
  50. ^ The People's Artist by Simon Morrison, p.163
  51. ^ a b Morrison, p.164
  52. ^ http://www.fortunecity.com/victorian/brambles/48/prodoc4.html
  53. ^ Morrison, p.177
  54. ^ "But beneath this veneer of prolificacy and thematic facility was a composer who could write music born of pain and suffering, like the Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano and Symphony No. 6. These are wartime works whose emotional springboard may have more to do with anti-Stalinism than with the war." [13]
  55. ^ http://spotlightonmusic.macmillanmh.com/national/teachers/articles/composers-and-lyricists/sergey-prokofiev
  56. ^ Morrison, p.211
  57. ^ "Prokofiev wrote the first version of War and Peace during the Second World War. He revised it in the late forties and early fifties, during the period of the 1948 Zhdanov Decree, which attacked obscurantist tendencies in the music of leading Soviet composers." [14]
  58. ^ "It quickly emerged as his most popular symphony and has remained to this day one of his greatest orchestral works." [15]
  59. ^ Morrison, p.252
  60. ^ "Prokofiev never fully recovered from this accident, although the greatness of works which were to follow gave no indication of it." [16]
  61. ^ "This orgy of government denouncements, censorship, and intimidation became known as Zhdanovshchina ('Zhdanov's Terror'.) Prokofiev became the target in early 1948. Zhdanov denounced Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Khachaturian among other composers, as too cosmopolitan and formalist." [17]
  62. ^ The Seventh Symphony is variously viewed as overly simplistic or banal by its critics, but with dark emotions beneath the surface.
  63. ^ "Prokofiev's body was later buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow." [18]
  64. ^ The tragedy of Sergei Prokofiev. [Semin Neurol. 1999] - PubMed Result
  65. ^ 'My father was naïve' - Telegraph
  66. ^ Obituary: Oleg Prokofiev | Independent, The (London) | Find Articles at BNET.com
  67. ^ Pearl Records, Naxos Records, amazon.com
  68. ^ "Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953), arguably the most popular composer of the twentieth century, led a life of triumph and tragedy." Morrison, S. (Ed.) "Sergei Prokofiev and His World." Princeton, 2008.
  69. ^ American Symphony Orchestra League
  70. ^ Dorothea Redepenning. "Grove Music Online."
  71. ^ Michael Kennedy. "Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music." Oxford, 2007. p.526.
  72. ^ Smith, S. "Prokofiev and the Spirit of Paris." New York Times. March 20, 2009.
  73. ^ Nestyev, I. Prokofiev. Stanford University Press, 1961. p.439.
  74. ^ Robinson, H. "A Tale of Three Cities: Petrograd, Paris, Moscow." Lecture at Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, Lincoln Center, New York, NY, March 24, 2009.
  75. ^ Randel, D.M. (Ed.) The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Cambridge, 2003.
  76. ^ Taruskin, R. in "New Grove Dictionary of Opera." Sadie, S. (Ed.) Oxford, 2004.

External links

Recordings


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev (1891-04-27 N.S. or 1891-04-15 O.S. – 1953-03-05) was a composer and pianist born in the Russian Empire. After a period as an emigré he returned to become one of the Soviet Union's most high-profile cultural figures.

Sourced

  • Formalism is music that people don’t understand at first hearing.
    • Quoted in Boris Schwarz Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia, 1917-1970 (1972) p. 115.

Sergei Prokofiev: Autobiography, Articles, Reminiscences (1960)

Edited by S. Shlifstein and translated by Rose Prokofieva.

  • My chief virtue (or if you like, defect) has been a tireless lifelong search for an original, individual musical idiom. I detest imitation, I detest hackneyed devices.
    • Page 7.
  • I strenuously object to the very word "grotesque" which has become hackneyed to the point of nausea…I would prefer my music to be described as "Scherzo-ish" in quality, or else by three words describing the various degrees of the Scherzo – whimsicality, laughter, mockery.
    • Page 37; from his fragmentary Autobiography.
  • It seemed to me that had Haydn lived to our day he would have retained his own style while accepting something of the new at the same time. That was the kind of symphony I wanted to write: a symphony in the classical style. And when I saw that my idea was beginning to work, I called it the Classical Symphony.
    • Page 46; from the Autobiography.
  • The time is past when music was written for a handful of aesthetes. Today vast crowds of people have come face to face with serious music and are waiting with eager impatience. Composers, take heed of this…But this does not mean that you must pander to this audience. Pandering always has an element of insincerity about it and nothing good ever came of that.
    • Page 106; from a notebook entry (1937).
  • In my view, the composer, just as the poet, the sculptor or the painter, is in duty bound to serve Man, the people. He must beautify human life and defend it. He must be a citizen first and foremost, so that his art might consciously extol human life and lead man to a radiant future. Such is the immutable code of art as I see it.
    • Page 136; from his "Music and Life" (1951).

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File:Sergei Prokofiev
Sergei Prokofiev in New York in 1918.

Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev (Russian: Сергій Сергійович Прокоф'єв) (b. Sontsovka, Ukraine 23 April 1891; d. Moscow 5 March 1953) was a Russian composer and pianist who came from Ukraine. During his lifetime, Ukraine was part of Russia. Together with Dmitri Shostakovich he is one of the greatest Russian composers of the 20th century. Children all over the world love to listen to his musical story Peter and the Wolf and the music for Lieutenant Kije, but he wrote many other great works including symphonies, concertos, piano sonatas, ballets and operas.

Contents

Early life

Prokofiev was born into an educated family whose mother recognized very early her son's musical gifts. His father was a college-educated agronomist who managed the farm-site of his employer in the Ukrainian steppe. His mother played the piano reasonably well in her son's opinion. The young Sergei started composing at a very early age. By the time he was eleven he had written two operas and a series of small piano pieces he would later call "little puppies". Soon he was writing music with unusual time signatures and in unusual changes of key.

Prokofiev's formal musical education began when, as a young boy, he started taking lessons from Reinhold Glière. In 1904 he went to study at the Conservatory in St Petersburg. He was a brilliant student, but he often disagreed with the way the professors were teaching. He was bored with the lessons in orchestration from Rimsky-Korsakov and the counterpoint lessons from Liadov although he could have learned more from these great men. His main friends were the composers Nikolai Myaskovsky and Boris Asafiev. He often showed them his latest piano compositions which sounded very modern. Many of St. Petersburg's newspaper critics did not like his music, while others felt he showed great promise and was sure to be a "futurist".

Prokofiev spent the summer of 1909 back at home in the small Russian farming village of Sontsovka in what is now Ukraine where his father was an estate manager. He worked in a way that was to be typical of him all his life: he carefully kept a diary until the middle 1930s, was an excellent chess player and writer, kept making changes to a number of his earlier works. He often borrowed music from one composition and put it in another, or used unfinished works in new compositions.

When he returned to St Petersburg he took piano lessons from a teacher at the St. Petersburg Conservatory called Anna Esipova. She worked hard to discipline him in his playing although he did not appreciate her efforts. He also took conducting lessons from Nikolai Tcherepnin who taught him to like late-Romantic composers such as Scriabin and Debussy. He wrote some music himself in this style, but most of the music he wrote at this time sounded very harsh and dissonant and, although he was becoming quite famous, many people hated it. When he finished his studies at the Conservatoire he won its top prize (the Rubinstein Prize) with his First Piano Concerto, although the examiners had found it hard to agree and Rimsky-Korsakov said that Prokofiev was "gifted but immature".

Prokofiev travelled to London where he met many famous people including Diaghilev who had a very skilled ballet group called Ballets Russes. The composer Igor Stravinsky had been writing ballet music for Diaghilev’s dancers. Prokofiev particularly loved Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and it influenced his music. He wrote an opera The Gambler based on the novel by Brusilov but the singers and the orchestra did not understand his music and refused to perform it. One of the first works of Prokofiev to become known all over the world was his First Symphony known as the Classical Symphony. He made the music sound like that of composers from the Classical period such as Haydn. This symphony is still very popular today.

America and Europe (1918-1936)

In 1917 the Russian Revolution took place. The country was in a chaotic state so Prokofiev went to the United States. After a journey which took four months via the Transsiberian railway, Tokyo and San Francisco, he arrived in New York. His first real success came from his connections with Cyrus McCormik in Chicago. His first major commission was the opera The Love for Three Oranges for the Chicago Lyric Opera. It was popular in Chicago but not in New York City where he really wanted to make his reputation. He soon traveled to Paris to see Diagalev again whom he had met earlier in London. His first ballet for him was Ala and Lolly which Diagalev did not like and would not perform. This ballet later became Prokofiev's Scythian Suite. His next ballet was more successful, The Tale of the Buffoon. He also wrote his Third Piano Concerto which is his most popular concerto for piano. Prokofiev lived off and on in Paris for fourteen years, but he often went on tour, performing his works on the piano. In 1928 his Third Symphony was first performed, much of which was based on music from his opera The Fiery Angel which was never performed completely in his lifetime. In the late-1920s he was invited back to Russia. Although many Soviet people tried to persuade him to stay there he decided to remain in the West where he was starting to have a very successful career. It was not until 1936 that he finally decided to move back to Russia. Life was not easy in the Soviet Union for all types of creative people such as musicians, poets, writers and film makers. Composers were expected to write music which would make ordinary people happy and make them feel proud of their country and of the communist revolution. Any music that did not do this was called “decadent” or “formalist”. Many artists where punished for creating works that did not do what the socialist politicians expected of them. Prokofiev had never been interested in politics, and he thought the politicians would leave him in peace so that he could write the kind of music he liked.

USSR: (1936-1953)

Back in Russia Prokofiev settled in Moscow. He wrote several children’s pieces including Peter and the Wolf. He was asked to write music for two important jubilees: the 20th anniversary of the Revolution and the centenary of Pushkin’s death. He took great care over this music. Much of what he wrote was to be directed by Meyerhold, but Meyerhold was arrested, later tortured and murdered so the whole project never happened. Some of the music written for the Pushkin centenary was later used in his opera War and Peace, the Stone Flower ballet and Symphonic Waltzes. He also wrote a very large piece called Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, using words by Marx, Lenin and Stalin for a total of 500 performers. The music included realistic effects such as gun shots, machine-gun fire and sirens. However, many critics said that the music was vulgar, and it was not performed until 1966, long after Prokofiev’s death. He tried to make the soviet authorities pleased by writing a "safe" opera called I am the Son of the Working People but the politicians stopped it during its early auditions. The opera was going to be produced by Meyerhold, but again it never happened because Meyerhold was arrested and executed.

The World War II was a time of change for Prokofiev for several reasons. In 1941 his marriage to Lina Llubera came to an end and his new companion Mira Mendelsohn, and later wife, saw him through his last years. Lina was a foreigner and marriage to foreigners was made illegal (forbidden) at that time. In 1948 she was arrested, charged with being a spy, and sent to a labour camp. On the other hand, Mira had lived her entire life within the Soviet system and was much more aware of how to survive in the politacally-charged times. In 1945, shortly after the premier of his Fifth Symphony, he had a stroke which was the beginning of a period of bad health. He spent a lot of time away from Moscow where it was unsafe. The first signs that his health was to be poor occurred in Alma-Ata in 1943 when he had a fainting spell. He was an workaholic and this, plus the pressures placed upon him by the Soviet system, forced him to withdraw from an active social life in Moscow. Prokofiev lived with Mira for the rest of his life. Lina was freed from the labour camp after Stalin’s death. Later she left the Soviet Union and she died in London in 1989.

During the war Prokofiev composed a lot of his best music. He wrote his last piano sonatas as well as working on his operas Betrothal in a Monestary after Sherican, and War and Peace (based on the novel by Tolstoy) and writing his film music for both Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible and composing his Fifth Symphony. The first performance of this symphony, given on 13 January 1945, was the last time he conducted in public. He spent the rest of his life in a house in the country to the west of Moscow, although during his last winters he lived in Moscow close to his doctors. Even in these last years he was not to find peace. Stalin’s rule of terror had serious effects on all Soviet artists. In 1948 a committee of the Communist Party spoke out against several Soviet composers including Prokofiev. They said that his music was “formalist” and “alien” to the Soviet people. His opera “War and Peace” was not allowed to be performed because it was neither lyrical nor patriotic enough. The works he wrote in his last years were mostly ones which the politicians officially approved. His last great work of this period is the Symphony-Concerto for cello and orchestra which used a lot of music from the unsuccessful Cello Sonata, and greatly revised with the help of the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.

Prokofiev died of a brain haemorrhage on 5 March 1953. His death was hardly mentioned in the newspapers because the dictator Stalin died on the same day.

References








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