Sergey Prokofiev

Simon Morrison

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:
Sergey Prokofiev

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Sergey Prokofiev (b. 1891–d. 1953) composed some of the most beloved works in the Western tradition, including Peter and the Wolf (1936), Romeo and Juliet (1935), the Third Piano Concerto (1921), and the “Classical” Symphony (1917). In his youth he produced self-consciously dissonant music, earning himself the reputation of a modernist enfant terrible. In the late 1920s he turned to a neoclassical aesthetic he dubbed “new simplicity.” These style periods, roughly speaking, ceded in the late 1930s to a more grandiose mode reflecting Stalinist artistic policies. After 1948, he experienced a creative decline precipitated by debilitating illness and political denunciation. Following his prodigious childhood in Ukraine and Russia, Prokofiev traveled the globe, living and working in the United States, France, Germany, and ultimately, the Soviet Union. He gave piano recitals in hundreds of cities, from Montreal to Morocco, Los Angeles to Lisbon. He prided himself on a diverse array of contacts, and indulged his interests in disparate philosophies, esoteric religions (he became a Christian Scientist in 1924), and the sister arts. There exist superb studies of the middle decades of his career (1918–1948) and several of his showcase scores. Much, however, remains unknown. The problem has never been a lack of source materials, but rather access to them. The principal holdings of Prokofiev’s manuscripts are the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art in Moscow, the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture in Moscow, and the Prokofiev Archive at Goldsmiths College, London. There are other important holdings in St. Petersburg, Paris, Washington DC, and New York. Certain collections remain closed at the request of the Prokofiev estate, owing to their sensitive personal contents. Research remains to be completed on Prokofiev’s abrupt decision to leave Russia in 1918 and his long-considered move back in 1936; the arrest and imprisonment of his first wife Lina; and the logic behind Prokofiev’s devastating official rebuke in 1948. There are other biographical gaps, including the nature of his relationship with Sergei Rachmaninoff; his interaction with the composers of Les Six; the background of his second wife Mira Mendelson; his health troubles; and the legal fight over his estate following Lina’s release from the Gulag in 1956. An even more pressing need is a critical edition of the works and a catalogue raisonné. The editions of the scores circulated by Prokofiev’s publishers in Europe (Sikorski), the United Kingdom (Boosey & Hawkes), and the United States (G. Schirmer) are error-filled, and the Soviet edition from 1962 is incomplete. To account for the lacunae, major opera and ballet theaters have assembled their own scores. In recent years, new editions of Prokofiev’s third and fourth operas, The Love for Three Oranges (1919) and The Fiery Angel (1930), have appeared, together with various reprints of his nine piano sonatas. Work is under way on critical editions of his ballet Romeo and Juliet and his opera War and Peace (1942). Several lesser works, including Prokofiev’s Fizkul’turnaya muzïka, conceived in 1939 for an athletic display, and Tonya, a short film score from 1942, are available only in manuscript.

Article.  7833 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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