Sergei Prokofiev

(1891—1953) Russian composer

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Soviet composer and pianist. His earlier works express his mocking sense of humour, often underlined by dissonance, while his later works, composed after his return to the Soviet Union, are more relaxed and melodic.

From earliest childhood Prokofiev composed music; by the time he entered the St Petersburg Conservatory at the age of thirteen he had written four operas, two sonatas, a symphony, and numerous piano pieces. Prokofiev's student days were somewhat disturbed both by the current political unrest and by his own impatience with the teaching routine; however, he graduated in 1914 winning the first prize for the piano with his own first piano concerto (1911–12). In 1918, shortly after the successful first performance of his Classical Symphony (1916–17), Prokofiev emigrated to the USA, where he was well received as a pianist but met considerable criticism as a composer. However, his opera The Love for Three Oranges (1919) was eventually produced in Chicago in 1921. In 1922 Prokofiev moved to Paris, where Diaghilev commissioned him to write the ballet Le Pas d'acier (1925).

By 1936 Prokofiev was drawn back to his native Soviet Union, where he established his home with his wife, the Spanish-born singer Lina Llubera, and their two sons. Having no interest in politics, Prokofiev was ill-prepared for state criticism that, from time to time, accused him of ‘formalistic tendencies’. Nevertheless he managed to settle into the communist state, continuing his prolific flow of compositions until 1948, when ill health brought his creative life to an end.

Many of Prokofiev's works have found a regular niche in the repertoire. Among his principal works are the suite Lieutenant Kije (1934), Peter and the Wolf (1936), a ‘symphonic fairy-tale for young and old’, the ballets Romeo and Juliet (1935) and Cinderella (1944), the third piano concerto (1921), the two violin concertos (1914–35) and the opera War and Peace (1941–43; revised 1946–52).

Subjects: Music.

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