SERGEY PROKOFIEV

Sergey ProkofievSergei Prokofiev (Sontsovka, Ukraine, 11/23 April 1891 – Moscow, 5 March 1953), Russian composer, pianist and conductor. An innovator in many different genres and a fundamental contributor to the creation of neo-classicism in music, Prokofiev is one of the leading composers of the 20th century.

He was attracted to music from an early age and in his autobiography he remembers that he was still a child when he attempted to write his first compositions. In 1904, he entered the St Petersburg Conservatory and he was still a student when he began his career as a composer. His first breakthrough came with his recitals of the Evenings of Contemporary Music, where he achieved notoriety as an iconoclastic innovator. In 1915, trying to make a sensation as Stravinsky with the Rite of Spring, Prokofiev composed the Scythian Suite, but this work, despite its dissonances and the accumulation of innovative techniques, remains quite traditional in its structure.

These are also the years of the commissions for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and Prokofiev wrote three of them: Chout, Le pas d’acier and The Prodigal Son, all extremely controversial works. Prokofiev composed also several operas, The Gambler (1915-1917, after Dostoevsky’s novel), The Fiery Angel (1919-1923) and above all The Love for Three Oranges (1919, commissioned by the Chicago Opera).

When the February revolution broke, Prokofiev was truly excited by the radical break with tradition it caused, but chiefly from the artistic point of view. However, few months later he too chose exile as many other artists, including composers as Rachmaninov, ballerinas Matilda Kschessinskaya and Tamara Karsavina and the greatest Russian bass, Fyodor Chaliapin.

Prokofiev spent the next twenty years in the United States, in Germany, and finally in Paris, where he worked as a composer, pianist and conductor. His years in exile were not as successful as he hoped, though the first years in the USA were less disastrous than what Prokofiev states in his autobiography.

When he moved to Europe, he resumed contacts with the Soviet Union, travelling and performing often there, until he permanently settled in his native county in 1936. He was the only composer to return, perhaps because he was little concerned about the political system as long as it did not compromise his career. His most successful compositions were Lieutenant Kijé, Peter and the Wolf, Romeo and Juliet and Alexander Nevsky. Only the Cello Concerto op. 58 and Romeo and Juliet were not influenced by political concerns.

Until the end of the Second World War, Prokofiev was able to play a leading role in Soviet culture. When the Nazi troops invaded the USSR in 1941, he devoted himself to propaganda music as well as the creation of chamber works. Not by chance, he wrote the soundtrack for Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, a movie with evident political implications. His most significant work was War and Peace, inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel.

The relaxation of the war years towards the artists (for propagandistic support) came to an abrupt end few years later. Prokofiev, like other great Soviet composers as Myaskovsky, Shostakovich and Khachaturian was criticized for the «formalistic distortions and anti-democratic tendencies» of his works. Despite the support of young performers as Sviatoslav Richter and Mstislav Rostropovich, Prokofiev’s influence constantly declined and his death in 1953 (the same day of Stalin’s) passed unnoticed.

Prokofiev wrote every kind of works from opera to ballet to instrumental works as symphonies, piano concertos, violin concertos, a cello concerto, a symphony-concerto for cello and orchestra, and piano sonatas.

SELECTED DISCOGRAPHY

Sergey Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet Marin AlsopRomeo and Juliet

Complete ballet
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop, conductor
Naxos, 2018
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Nina Kotova Rachmaninov Prokofiev Cello SonatasNina Kotova – Rachmaninov & Prokofiev. Cello Sonatas

Fabio Bidini, piano
Warner Classics, 2017
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Sergey Prokofiev Alexander Nevsky Lieutenat Kijé Schytian Suite Claudio AbbadoAlexander Nevsky, Lieutenant Kijé, Scythian Suite

with Elena Obraztsova
London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Claudio Abbado, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 1996
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Sergey Prokofiev Suite from Romeo and Juliet Riccardo MutiSuite from Romeo and Juliet

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Riccardo Muti, conductor
CSO-Resound, 2014
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Lisa Batiashvili Visions of ProkofievLisa Batiashvili – Visions of Prokofiev

Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 2018
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Matsuda Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition Prokofiev Romeo and JulietMussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet

Kanon Matsuda, piano
Deutsche Grammophon, 2017
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Martha Argerich Sergey Babayan Prokofiev for TwoMartha Argerich & Sergey Babayan – Prokofiev for Two

Romeo and Juliet – Eugene Onegin – Hamlet – The Queen of Spades – War and Peace
Deutsche Grammophon, 2018
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