Sergey Prokofiev perhaps contributed more new music to the standard ‘classical’ repertory than any of his contemporaries. Yet he remains a difficult figure to pin down. Born and raised in Tsarist Russia, he established himself as a musical enfant terrible in the years before the Revolution, cultivating novel dissonances while still a student pianist-composer at the St Petersburg Conservatory.
Like Beethoven, he completed five concertos for his own instrument, losing interest once he was no longer primarily an executant himself. Despite political and economic turmoil, a burst of creativity around 1917 produced a large pile of scores, not least the First Violin Concerto and the ‘Classical’ Symphony, in which the composer’s lyrical vein is more strongly apparent alongside his keen sense of irony.
After 1918 he lived abroad, first in the USA, where his opera The Love for Three Oranges (1919) was staged, later mainly in Paris, where he became a peripheral member of the Diaghilev set. Several key compositions from this period have a tortured, Expressionistic character, notably the opera The Fiery Angel (1919–23, rev. 1926–7) and the related Third Symphony (1928).
The 1930s brought a surprising and, to some, inexplicable reconciliation with the new Soviet Russia. Prokofiev spent the last 17 years of his life in the USSR, stimulated as well as stifled by the cultural politics dictated by Stalin. The two men even died on the same night (5 March 1953).
Prokofiev’s return to Russia coincided with a state drive for greater directness of expression in the cultural sphere and, whatever the personal and professional setbacks, Prokofiev was encouraged to showcase his melodic gift in a series of major works that have proved to have enduring appeal. Notable among these are the ballets Romeo and Juliet (1935–6) and Cinderella (1940–44), the last three (of seven) symphonies, the last four (of nine) piano sonatas, the film music for Alexander Nevsky (1938) and Ivan the Terrible (1942–5), and the children’s fable Peter and the Wolf (1936). Acceptance of his magnum opus, the epic opera War and Peace (1941–3, rev. 1946–52), has been hindered by the lack of a definitive text and perceived ideological problems. But, for good or ill, he was an artist for hire, who prided himself on his professionalism.
As we come to know the composer’s personality through his music – in all its bracing humour, tender nostalgia and considerable tragic power – we can sense a uniquely positive response to difficult and dangerous times.
Profile by David Gutman © BBC
- Clips (15)Latest ClipProkofiev: Cinderella
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- Prokofiev: Cinderellahttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01vxqpr.jpg2014-07-09T10:29:00ZIn this Proms Music Guide, Andrew McGregor talks about Prokofiev's Cinderella.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/0e43fe9d-c472-4b62-be9e-55f971a023e1?clipfocus=p022h5r9Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 3 mins
- Prokofiev: Symphony No.1 'Classical'http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01tcyz4.jpg2014-07-09T10:19:00ZIn this Proms Music Guide, Sarah Walker talks about Prokofiev's Symphony No.1 in C.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/0e43fe9d-c472-4b62-be9e-55f971a023e1?clipfocus=p022h5btSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 3 mins
Prokofiev: Symphony No.1 'Classical'
- Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliethttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01tqg9l.jpg2014-07-09T10:05:00ZIn this Proms Music Guide, Suzy Klein talks about Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/0e43fe9d-c472-4b62-be9e-55f971a023e1?clipfocus=p022h4p1Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 3 mins
Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet
- Sergey Prokofiev in the 1920shttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01z2s4m.jpg2014-05-14T15:35:00ZDonald Macleod explores Prokofiev's life and music during his time as an emigre in Europe in the 1920s, as well as his return to Russia.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/0e43fe9d-c472-4b62-be9e-55f971a023e1?clipfocus=p01z2s4nSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 1 hour 5 mins
Sergey Prokofiev in the 1920s
- Sergei Prokofievhttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01z2r0x.jpg2014-05-14T15:11:00ZDonald Macleod explores Prokofiev's music.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/0e43fe9d-c472-4b62-be9e-55f971a023e1?clipfocus=p01z2r14Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 1 hour
- Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 'Classical'http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01slvgc.jpg2014-05-03T12:50:00ZCharles Hazlewood and the BBC CO explore the world of Prokofiev's Classical Symphony.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/0e43fe9d-c472-4b62-be9e-55f971a023e1?clipfocus=p01ygz23Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 1 hour 15 mins
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 'Classical'
- Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01slt21.jpg2014-05-03T12:37:00ZDavid Nice and the BBC Symphony Orchestra examine Prokofiev's music.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/0e43fe9d-c472-4b62-be9e-55f971a023e1?clipfocus=p01ygyr3Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 41 mins
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5
- Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliethttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01tr332.jpg2014-05-03T12:22:00ZCharles Hazlewood charts the musical evolution of Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/0e43fe9d-c472-4b62-be9e-55f971a023e1?clipfocus=p01ygy7lSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 28 mins
Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet
- Prokofiev: Lieutenant Kijehttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01slwnf.jpg2014-05-03T12:09:00ZCharles Hazlewood explores Prokofiev's popular Lieutenant Kije suite.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/0e43fe9d-c472-4b62-be9e-55f971a023e1?clipfocus=p01ygx20Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 40 mins
Prokofiev: Lieutenant Kije
- Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01vrq37.jpg2014-03-19T14:37:00ZGeoffrey Norris recommends a version from the available recordings of Prokofiev's 5th Symphony, 'Hymn To Free And Happy Man'.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/0e43fe9d-c472-4b62-be9e-55f971a023e1?clipfocus=p01vrq4cSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 27 mins
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5
- Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 8http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01sxqlv.jpg2014-02-26T15:20:00ZDavid Fanning recommends a version from available recordings of Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 8.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/0e43fe9d-c472-4b62-be9e-55f971a023e1?clipfocus=p01sxqmpSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 49 mins
Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 8
- Leeds finalist Andrejs Osokins plays Prokofiev (III)http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p02cl8kk.jpg2012-10-15T23:00:56ZAndrejs Osokins performs the finale of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No 3.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/0e43fe9d-c472-4b62-be9e-55f971a023e1?clipfocus=p00zv2mjSelected ClipSelected ClipVideo 2 mins
Leeds finalist Andrejs Osokins plays Prokofiev (III)
- Leeds finalist Andrejs Osokins plays Prokofiev (II)http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p02cl8kr.jpg2012-10-15T23:00:10ZAndrejs Osokins performs the 2nd movement of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No 3.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/0e43fe9d-c472-4b62-be9e-55f971a023e1?clipfocus=p00zv318Selected ClipSelected ClipVideo 2 mins
Leeds finalist Andrejs Osokins plays Prokofiev (II)
- Leeds finalist Andrejs Osokins plays Prokofiev (I)http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p02cl8ky.jpg2012-10-15T23:00:00ZAndrejs Osokins performs the opening of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No 3.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/0e43fe9d-c472-4b62-be9e-55f971a023e1?clipfocus=p00zv43lSelected ClipSelected ClipVideo 2 mins
Leeds finalist Andrejs Osokins plays Prokofiev (I)
- BBC Proms: Prokofiev - Romeo and Juliethttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p02cb2y3.jpg2011-08-06T23:00:27ZPlayed by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, from the Royal Albert Hall, London. Watch the entire concert on BBC 2 at 9pm on Saturdayhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/0e43fe9d-c472-4b62-be9e-55f971a023e1?clipfocus=p00jnjp9Selected ClipSelected ClipVideo 2 mins
BBC Proms: Prokofiev - Romeo and Juliet
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