Biography of Sergei Sergeievich Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Composer, director of Orchestra and Russian Soviet pianist, born on April 23, 1891 in Sontzovka, near Yekaterinoslav (now Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine) and died on March 5, 1953 in Moscow.

Sergei Sergievitch Prokofiev.


He received the first lessons of piano from his mother and already nine years had composed a small opera in three acts entitled Krolik (the giant). In 1902 he began studying music privately with pianist and composer Reinhold Glière, who taught him music theory, composition, orchestration and piano. Two years later he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory to study with Rimsky-Korsakov , Anatoly Liadovand Tcherepnin, among others. Later he studied musical forms with Vītols and had the opportunity to meet to the also composer Nicolai Myaskovsky, who locked a deep friendship. In 1909 he completed his composition studies, but he continued to study piano, since its intention was to become a concert of this instrument. His teachers were Alexander Winkler and Anna Yesipova.

During his years as a student he wrote some compositions that would later form part of his adult work, as the Sonata in f minor for piano in 1907, which later would become his first Sonata op. 1; or his Sinfonietta in a major in 1909, which after a review became the op. 5.

His first appearance as a soloist in Moscow took place in 1910, in a concert whose program included his Sonata op. 1, among other works. At that time he also participated in the evenings of contemporary music held in Petersburgo. There could release several of his pieces for piano, thanks to which acquired reputation for innovative. Also in the first decade of the 20th century, Prokofiev was able to publish his Sonata op. 1 and the four pieces op. 3 for piano with editor Boris Jürgenson, but thereafter his works would be published by Gutheil.

After the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, Prokofiev decided to move to the United States of America, where he arrived in September 1918. That same year he gave a piano recital in New York where he performed his own works. Prokofiev was hoping to find in America the great success he enjoyed by other composers and performers Russian as Rachmaninov and did, that came to participate actively in American musical life. Proof of this is the assignment that made him in 1919 the Jewish Simro ensemble to write the Overture on Hebrew themes op. 34 for Clarinet quartet of string and piano, premiered in New York the following year; as well as the premiere of his opera the love for three oranges (Chicago, 1921).

In 1922 he moved to a quiet area in the South of Germany, not far from the monastery of Ettal. There he began to write the angel of fire op. 37, opera which was premiered not complete until 1954, after the composer's death. In 1923 he married Carolina Codina (1897-1989), Spanish singer whose stage name was Lina Llubera. That same year, Prokofiev moved to Paris together with his wife. The premiere of his Concerto for violin No. 1, there took place with Koussevitzky at the front of the Orchestra. The concert was severely criticized by the French composers of the Group of six. Best reviews obtained with works such as the Scythian Suite, premiered in Paris the following year, or the opera player, whose first performance took place in Brussels in 1929.

Already in 1927, there were his first approaches to the Soviet Union after a concert tour of several cities like Leningrad, Kiev or Moscow. In addition, his opera the love for three oranges began to frequently set in Soviet scenarios. This approach caused their final transfer to the Soviet Union with his wife and two sons in 1936, although he continued to travel abroad until 1938, date in which his passport was withdrawn. During the second world war he was evacuated to Georgia and Kazakhstan, and returned to Moscow in 1943.

In 1948 Prokofiev and other Soviet musicians produce works were accused "of anti-democratic tendencies", and it was necessary for the composer to write a letter from self-incrimination against this fact. That same year came the arrest of his wife Lina Llubera, whom Prokofiev had left in 1941 to go live with the writer Mira Mendelson. Llubera spent eight years in labor camps and died in London in 1989.

Despite the pressures suffered by his country's Government, Prokofiev continued composing works such as the Ballet Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella or the stone flower, as well as writing music for the film. Famous is the soundtrack for the film Alexander Nevsky (1938), SergeiEisenstein. In recognition to his musical work, the Government granted him various awards, among which are the State Prize (1943, twice in 1946, 1947 and 1951), artist of the people of the Federation of Russia (1947) and the Lenin Prize (in 1957, posthumously). His death occurred in Moscow the day 5 March 1953 (the same day as Stalin), during rehearsals of his ballet the stone flower, which premiered a year later.


Prokofiev drank directly from the sources of the Russian romantic tradition, but he decided to take them to the end and, in some ways, caricaturing them. Hence the derisive name of certain works as a diabolical suggestion or sarcasm. He was also sometimes a traditionalist composer of neoclassical tendencies, although he joined the modernist movement of the second decade of the 20th century.

His piano concerto no. 1 of 1912 is its first truly mature, according to the composer himself. It already is reveal traits that would later be characteristic of Prokofiev: texture and formal economy and a sharp and marked pace. His interest in show a simple and melodic musical expressiveness made him to look toward forms of classicism. This can be seen especially in its classical Symphony of 1917, which has greatly influenced the musical style of Haydn, in addition to be composed for a reduced, typical of late 18th century orchestral template.

During the time he lived in the United States, he composed some works of great importance, as his opera the love for three oranges op. 33, based on the work of the same title by Carlo Gozzi. The opera, composed in 1919, is a drama of Russian argument but cosmopolitan musical language, with some elements which parody the traditional opera. The characters, very numerous, come from fairy tales and are linked to the tradition of the commedia dell'Arte Italian.

Their stay in the French capital brought about changes in their musical style, which became more dissonant and complex. There, he composed works such as the Quintet for wind and string (1924) or his second Symphony (1925).

From his return to the Soviet Union, and as a result of pressures suffered by the Communist regime, his work became more simple, conservative and popular, according to the official ideology of the party requiring a music suitable for a public majority. An example of this new trend is in their musical tale Pedro and the Wolf (1936), or in the orchestral suite the Lieutenant Kije, 1934. His last operas, as Semyon Kotko (1939) or Betrohal in a monastery (1941), were not immediately released because of ideological objections. On the other hand war and peace, based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy, was and continues to be a widely welcomed opera on stage around the world.

Links on the Internet ; complete website on the life and work of the composer. It contains bibliography, discography and links to other pages. In English. ; a page that contains different essays on aspects of the musical career of Prokofiev. In English. ; official website of the Prokofiev Association, based in London. In English.

Selected bibliography

DORIGNE, Michel: Serge Prokofiev, Paris: Fayard, 1994.

GUTMAN, David: Prokofiev: The Illustrated Lives of the Great Composers, London: Omnibus Press, 1990.

JAFFE, Daniel: Sergey Prokofiev: (20th Century Composers), London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1998.

LISCHKE, André: Prokofiev, Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1985.

ROBINSON, Harlow: Selected Letters of Prokofiev, Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998.

Selected discography


-Cinderella op. 87 (+ Pedro and Wolf). Performers: Scottish National Orchestra. Director: Neeme Järvi. 8511 CHANDOS. -Cinderella op. 87 (+ Symphony No. 1). Performers: London Symphony Orchestra. Director: André Previn. EMI 568604 2 CZS (2 CD). -Romeo and Juliet, Suites 1-3. Performers: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Director: Claudio Abbado. DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 453439. -Romeo and Juliet op. 64 performers: Boston Symphony Orchestra. Director: Seiji Ozawa. DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 23268.

Concerts for instrument solo

-No. 1-5 piano concertos. Cast: Michel Béroff (piano), Gewandhaus-Orchester Leipzig. Director: Kurt Masur. EMI 569452 2 CZS (2 CD). -Concerto for piano No. 1 + Suggestion diabolique, op. 4 No. 4. Cast: Andrei Gavrilov, London Sympony Orchestra. Director: Simon Rattle. EMI CDM 764329 2. -Concertos No. 1 and 2. Performers: Itzhak Perlman (violin), BBC Symphony Orchestra. Director: G. Rozhdestvensky. EMI CDC 747025 2. -Concertos No. 1 and 2. Performers: Kyung Wha Chung (violin), London Symphony Orchestra. Director: André Previn. DECCA 425 003-2.

Chamber music

-Quartets No. 1 and 2. Sonata for two violins. Performers: Emerson String Quartet. DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 31772. -Sonata for two violins. Performers: Itzhak Perlman (violin), Pinchas Zukerman (violin). EMI CDM 565994 2-Sonata for cello. Performers: Truls Mørk (cello), Lars Vogt (piano). VIRGIN VC 5 45274 2.

Orchestral music

-Sinfonia concertante. Performers: Truls Mørk (cello), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Director: Paavo Järvi. VIRGIN VC 5 45282 2.-Pedro and the Wolf. Cast: Sean Connery (Narrator), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Director: Antal Dorati. DECCA 444 104-2.-Symphony No. 3. Performers: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Director: Riccardo Chailly. DECCA 436 640-2.-symphonies No. 1-7. Performers: Orchestra national de France. Director: Mstislav Rostropovich. ERATO 2292-45737-2 (4 CD). -The love of three oranges/Suite Lieutenant Kije. Performers: London Symphony Orchestra. Director: Sir Neville Marriner. PHILIPS 426 640-2.

Music for solo piano

-Complete Piano Sonatas 1-9. Cast: Frederic Chiu (piano). HMF 907086. -Sonatas for piano No. 2, 3, 5 and 9. Performers: Yefim Bronfman (piano). SONY 53273. -Sonatas for piano No. 2, 7 and 8. Cast: Mikhail Pletnev (piano). DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 457588.


-The love of three oranges (complete opera). Performers: Evgeny Akimov, Zlata Bulycheva, Vassily Gerello, Mikhail Kit, Anna Netrebko, Orchestra and choir of the Kirov Opera. Director: Valery Gergiev. PHILIPS 462913. -Player (complete opera). Cast: Sergey Aleksanshkin, Nikolai Gassiev, Yelena Obraztsova, Orchestra and choir of Kirov. Director: Valery Gergiev. PHILIPS 454559. -War and peace (complete opera). Cast: Sergey Aleksanshkin, Irina Bogachova, Evgeny Boitsov, Olga Borodina, Orchestra and choir of Kirov. Director: Valery Gergiev, Giorgy Strautman, Alexandr Vasilyev. PHILIPS 34097.