Dinner Topics for Friday
Do you have a wolf at your door? Join Peter to defeat the wolf, and get stress relief from Classical Music.
Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev (pron.: /prəˈkɒfiɛv/; Russian: Сергей Сергеевич Прокофьев; 23 April 1891 – 5 March 1953) 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.
A graduate of the St Petersburg Conservatory, Prokofiev initially made his name as an iconoclastic composer-pianist, achieving notoriety with a series of ferociously dissonant and virtuosic works for his instrument and his first two piano concertos. Prokofiev’s first major success breaking out of the composer-pianist mould was with his purely 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 – which at the time of their original production were all highly successful. Prokofiev’s greatest interest, however, was opera, and he composed several works in that genre, including The Gambler and The Fiery Angel. Prokofiev’s one relative success in that genre during his lifetime was The Love for Three Oranges, composed for Chicago and subsequently performed over the following decade in Europe and Russia.
After the Revolution, Prokofiev left Russia with the official blessing of the Soviet minister Anatoly Lunacharsky, and he lived in the United States, then Germany, then Paris, during which time he married a Spanish singer, Carolina Codina, with whom he had two sons. Because of the increasing economic deprivation of Europe, Prokofiev returned to Russia in 1936. He enjoyed some success there – notably with Lieutenant Kijé, Peter and the Wolf, Romeo and Juliet, and perhaps above all with Alexander Nevsky. The Nazi invasion of the USSR spurred him to compose his most ambitious work, an operatic version of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. In 1948 Prokofiev was criticized for “anti-democratic formalism“, and with his income severely curtailed was forced to compose Stalinist works such as On Guard for Peace. However, he also enjoyed personal and artistic support from a new generation of Russian performers, notably Sviatoslav Richter and Mstislav Rostropovich and for the latter he composed his Symphony-Concerto.
Prokofiev was born in 1891 in Sontsovka (now Krasne in the Donetsk Oblast province of eastern Ukraine), an isolated rural estate in the Yekaterinoslav Governorate of the Russian Empire. His father, originally from Moscow, was an agricultural engineer, while his mother was described by Reinhold Glière as: “a tall woman with magnificent, intelligent eyes … who knew how to create around herself a warm, natural atmosphere.” Having lost two daughters she devoted her life to music and spent two months a year in Moscow or St. Petersburg taking piano lessons. Sergei Prokofiev was inspired by hearing his mother practising the piano in the evenings – mostly works by Chopin and Beethoven – and composed his first piano composition at the age of five, an ‘Indian Gallop’, which was written down by his mother: this was in the Lydian mode (a major scale with a raised 4th scale degree) as the young Prokofiev felt ‘reluctance to tackle the black notes’. By seven, he had also learned to play chess. Much like music, chess would remain a passion, and he became acquainted with world chess champions José Raúl Capablanca, whom he beat in a simultaneous exhibition match in 1914, and Mikhail Botvinnik. At the age of nine he was composing his first opera, The Giant, as well as an overture and various other pieces.