Prokofiev, Sergey (Sergeyevich)

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Prokofiev, Sergey (Sergeyevich) (b Sontsovka, 1891; d Moscow, 1953). Russ. composer and pianist. Was taught pf. at age 3 by his mother, who encouraged him to compose (he wrote an opera at age 9). Studied privately with Glière 1903–4. Entered St Petersburg Cons. 1904, studying harmony and counterpoint with Lyadov, pf. with A. Winkler, and orch. with Rimsky-Korsakov. Later studied pf. with Anna Essipova and cond. with Tcherepnin. Comp. and pubd. several works while student, incl. 2 pf. sonatas and first two pf. concs., all of which were condemned by the critics. Visiting Paris and London in 1914 he met Diaghilev, who commissioned a ballet from him (the war upset this plan and the mus. survives as the Scythian Suite, Ala and Lolly). In 1917 he comp. his first sym., the Classical, a superb 20th-cent. reincarnation of Haydn. After its f.p. in Petrograd in 1918 he left Russia for USA, appearing in NY as solo pianist in his own works. His opera Love for Three Oranges was commissioned by Chicago Opera, perf. 1921. From 1920 he made his home in Paris, writing 3 ballets for Diaghilev, and having several of his works perf. at the orch. concerts cond. Koussevitzky, another Russ. exile. He completed another opera, The Fiery Angel, in 1923, but it was not staged in his lifetime. Never fully at home in the W., Prokofiev re-visited Russia in 1927 and 1929 and returned there to live in 1933, choosing an inopportune moment when the doctrine of ‘socialist realism’ in the arts had just been propounded. He found an outlet for his particular gifts in film mus.—brilliant scores for Lieutenant Kijé and Alexander Nevsky—and ballet (Romeo and Juliet and, later, Cinderella), In 1941 he began work on his most ambitious opera, War and Peace, and in 1944 wrote his richest and most heroic sym., the 5th. In spite of its success, he was among those in 1948 condemned for ‘formalism’ and was compelled to ‘confess’ his shortcomings in an open letter to the Union of Soviet Composers. He died on the same day as Stalin.

Though regarded as impossibly dissonant and avant-garde in his youth, Prokofiev can now be seen as in the direct line of Russ. comps., embodying the bold and colourful strokes of 19th-cent. nationalists into a 20th-cent. style strongly marked by its brittle wit and capacity for pungent dramatic characterization. Like Walton and Poulenc, he was fundamentally a romantic melodist and his style is formed like theirs from a reconciliation of the two strains in his personality, the tough, astringent modernist and the lyrical traditionalist. He was successful in a wide range of works: War and Peace is a great opera on the largest scale and Love for Three Oranges and The Fiery Angel have found their way into the repertory of several opera houses, the syms. and concs. are fine mus., at least 3 of his ballets are masterpieces, the pf. sonatas are crucial to the 20th-cent. pf. repertory; and in Peter and the Wolf he created the most enduring, touching, and instructive of young persons’ guides to the orch. Prin. works:OPERAS: Maddalena, Op.13 (1911, rev. 1913, completed in pf. score but only Scene 1 orch. Scenes 2–4 orch. Downes, 1977–8); The Gambler (Igrok), Op.24 (1915–17, 2nd version 1927–8); Love for Three Oranges (Lyubov k tryom apelsinam), Op.33 (1919); The Fiery Angel ( Ognennyï Angel), Op.37 (1919–23, rev. 1926–7); Semyon Kotko, Op.81 (1939); The Duenna (Betrothal in a monastery), Op.86 (1940); War and Peace (Voyna i Mir), Op.91 (1941–3, 1946–7, and rev. up to 1953); The Story of a Real Man (Povest’ o nastoyashchem cheloveke), Op.117 (1947–8).BALLETS: The Buffoon (Chout), Op.21 (1915, rev. 1920); Age of Steel (Le Pas d'acier), Op.41 (1925–6); The Prodigal Son (L'Enfant prodigue), Op.46 (1928–9); Sur le Borysthène, Op.51 (1930–1); Romeo and Juliet, Op.64 (1935–6); Cinderella, Op.87 (1940–4); The Stone Flower, Op.118 (1948–53).ORCH.: syms.: No.1 (Classical), Op.25 (1916–17, f.p. 1918), No.2 in D minor, Op.40 (1924, f.p. 1925), No.3 in C minor, Op.44 (1928, f.p. 1929), No.4 in C, Op.47 (1929–30, f.p. 1930, 2nd version, Op.112, 1947), No.5 in B♭, Op.100 (1944, f.p. 1945), No.6 in E♭ minor, Op.111 (1947, f.p. 1947), No.7 in C♯ minor, Op.131 (1951–2, f.p. 1952); Sinfonietta, Op.5/48 (1909, 1929); Esquisse automnale, Op.8 (1910); Scythian Suite, Op.20 (1914–15); Overture for 17 instr., Op.42 (1926); Divertimento, Op.43 (1929); Symphonic Song, Op.57 (1933); suite, Lieutenant Kijé, Op.60 (1934); Egyptian Nights, Op.61 (1934); Peter and the Wolf, narr., orch., Op.67 (1936); Russian Overture, Op.72 (1936); Suite, 1941, Op.90 (1941).CONCERTOS: pf.: No.1 in D♭, Op.10 (1911–12), No.2 in G minor, Op.16 (1912–13, rev. 1923), No.3 in C, Op.26 (1917–21), No.4 in B♭, Op.53, left hand (1931), No.5 in G, Op.55 (1932); vn.: No.1 in D, Op.19 (1916–17), No.2 in G minor, Op.63 (1935); vc.: No.1 in E minor, Op.58 (1934, rev. 1938), No.2 in E minor (1950–1) rev. as Sinfonia Concertante, Op.125 (1952).CHAMBER MUSIC: Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op.34, cl., pf., str. qt. (1919; orch. version 1934); quintet, wind, str., Op.39 (1924); str. qt. No.1, Op.50 (1930), No.2, Op.92 (1942); sonata for 2 vns., Op.56 (1932); vn. sonata No.1, Op.80 (1938–45), No.2 (from Op.94) (1944); fl. sonata, Op.94 (1943); solo vn. (or unison vns.) sonata, Op.115 (1947); vc. sonata, Op.119 (1949).CHORAL WORKS: Seven, They are Seven, ten., ch., orch., Op.30 (1917–18, rev. 1933); Mass Songs, Op.68, ch. (1936); Cantata on 20th Anniversary of October Revolution, Op.74, orch., band, perc., 2 ch. (1937); Songs of Our Days, Op.77, ch., orch. (1937); Alexander Nevsky, Op.78, mez., ch., orch. (1939); Tale of Boy Who Remained Unknown, Op.93, ch., orch. (1944); Winter Bonfire, reciters, boys’ ch., orch. (1949–50); On Guard For Peace, oratorio (1950).PIANO: sonatas: No.1 in F minor, Op.1 (1909), No.2 in D minor, Op.14 (1912), No.3 in A minor, Op.28 (1907–17), No.4 in C minor, Op.29 (1908–17), No.5 in C, Op.38 (1923, rev. as Op.135, 1952–3), No.6 in A minor, Op.82 (1940), No.7 in B♭, Op.83 (1939–42), No.8 in B♭, Op.84 (1939–44), No.9 in C, Op.103 (1947), No.10 (unfinished); 4 Études, Op.2 (1909); 4 Pieces, Op.3 (1907–11); 4 Pieces, Op.4 (1908–13); 10 Pieces, Op.12 (1908–13); Sarcasms, Op.17 (1912–14); Visions fugitives, Op.22 (1915–17); Tales of the Old Grandmother, Op.13 (1918); 2 Sonatines, Op.54 (1931); 10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op.76 (1937).SONGS: The Ugly Duckling, Op.18 (1914); 5 Poems, Op.23 (1915); 5 Songs to words of Anna Akhmatova, Op.27 (1916); 5 Melodies Without Words, Op.35 (1920); 7 Songs, Op.79 (1939).FILM & THEATRE MUSIC: Lieutenant Kijé (1934); Queen of Spades, Op.70 (1936); Eugene Onegin, Op.71 (1936); Boris Godunov, Op.74 (1936); Alexander Nevsky (1938); Ivan the Terrible (1942–5).