Prokofiev (1891 - 1953)
: April 27, 1891, rural Ukraine
: March 5, Moscow, Russia
: 20th Century
Sergei Prokofiev was a Russian composer, pianist and conductor who mastered numerous musical genres and is regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century. His best-known works are the five piano concertos, nine completed piano sonatas and seven symphonies. Besides many other works, Prokofiev also composed family favourites, such as the March from The Love for Three Oranges, the suite Lieutenant Kijé, the ballet Romeo and Juliet – from which "Dance of the Knights" is taken – and Peter and the Wolf.
Prokofiev was an only child and was doted on by his parents. His mother supervised his early arts education and took him to Moscow and St. Petersburg, in 1899-1900, where he saw his first operas. Sergei returned home and immediately wrote one. His parents were persuaded in 1904 to let Sergei study music full time at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. He completed his composition study in 1909 and graduated with performance degrees in piano and conducting in 1914.
Prokofiev initially made his name as a composer-pianist, achieving notoriety with two ferociously dissonant piano concertos. Prokofiev's first major success breaking out of the composer-pianist mould was with his orchestral Scythian Suite, compiled from music originally composed for a ballet commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev of the Ballets Russes. Diaghilev commissioned three further ballets from Prokofiev – Chout, Le pas d'acier and The Prodigal Son. Prokofiev's greatest interest, however, was opera, and he composed The Gambler, The Fiery Angel and The Love for Three Oranges.
After the Revolution in 1918, Prokofiev left Russia and lived in the United States, then Germany, then Paris. Because of increasing economic deprivation in Europe, Prokofiev returned to Russia in 1936. He enjoyed some success there – notably with Lieutenant Kijé, Peter and the Wolf, Romeo and Juliet, and with Alexander Nevsky. The Nazi invasion spurred him to compose his most ambitious work, an operatic version of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace.
In 1948, Prokofiev's music was denounced in Central Committee resolutions. Prokofiev was forced to make a public admission of his guilt. Broken, he continued to compose, writing his Seventh Symphony. His death, on the same day as Stalin, went unreported for a week, and only 40 people showed up for a simple funeral.