The music of Sergey Prokofiev is known all over the world. Even amongst the musically uneducated, his music is recognised today more than ever, heard frequently in radio broadcasts, television adverts and sitcoms. His less known works are also becoming increasingly popular, with many of his ballets and operas getting played around the world. However, it is interesting that it is only in the past 10 years or so that his music has became more prevalent. Prokofiev often had to deal with harsh criticism and even bafflement when his musical works were first performed, specifically when he travelled to the west. Nevertheless, Prokofiev was an audacious pioneer and battled to get his music played. He became increasingly more popular as his career advanced, with his arrival in Europe, sparking partnerships with Les Ballet Russes. His return to Soviet Russia in 1936 is a move in Prokofiev’s life that is pivotal in the shift of his musical language. He struggled to write in the same style as he did abroad with the government criticising his ‘formalist’ approach. Although Prokofiev occasionally bent the injunctions imposed on him by the Government, the widely appealing style he used in works such as his 5th Symphony brought him wider audiences and acclaim compared to his modernist trends. Sergei Prokofiev is one of Russia’s most celebrated composers, who crafted various different styles of music from extraordinary piano concertos to the stunning themes conveyed in his ballet – Romeo and Juliet.
Born in 1891, Sergey Prokofiev grew up around music. His mother was an accomplished pianist playing Beethoven and Chopin – giving Prokofiev a taste for serious music from an early age. With his mother’s keen eye for the arts, she began teaching her son piano from the age of four. As Prokofiev grew up, he visited Moscow with his family on several occasions and took a particular interest in ballet and opera after going to see a handful on his visits. On one visit to Moscow, he was introduced to Sergei Taneyev, who advised him to make use of his stay in the city and study music theory. Prokofiev took this advice, but his lessons with Yuri Pomerantsev were not hugely successful:
“They seemed senseless to me. I wanted to compose operas full of marches, storms and blood-curdling scenes and instead they saddled me with tiresome nonsense.” (S. Shlifstien & R. Prokofieva, 2000: 19) Prokofiev’s attitude towards these few lessons remained the same, so Taneyev arranged him to travel to Sontsovka in the summer of 1902 to study under Reinhold Glière. The young Prokofiev had already tried his hands at composing a couple of operas, driven by the few he had seen in Moscow but under Glière he had a go at his first symphony – where he later showed to Taneyev: “He praised the counterpoint… but remarked that the harmony was a little too crude” (S. Shlifstien & R. Prokofieva, 2000: 20) Prokofiev’s attitude on harmony was strongly opinionated in the very first few pieces of music he wrote. It is interesting that he had this different view on harmony at this age, as it only radicalized when he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory
Now thirteen years old, Prokofiev was the youngest pupil ever to be admitted into the best Conservatoire in Russia. In his memoirs he talks about the success of his entrance exam, referring to it as ‘quite sensational’. However, Prokofiev found the beginning of his formal musical education quite dull. He was described as being difficult to handle in the conservatoire, principally because of his precocious ego. On the other hand, he had written many unpublished works and was advanced in his musical writings. His most accomplished of writings were for the piano and he really started to create his own style of lyricism. This is demonstrated in his work: Four Etudes Op. 2. The romantic disposition conveyed in these early piano works give characteristics of heavy, repeated bass lines and enlarged harmony. This harmony is not to...
Bibliography: Morrison, Simon (ed.) Sergey Prokofiev and his world (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).
Morrison, Simon. The people 's artist: Prokofiev 's Soviet years (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
Nice, David. Prokofiev: from Russia to the West, 1891-1935 (London: Yale University Press, 2003).
Prokofiev, Sergey. Prokofiev by Prokofiev: A Composer 's Memoir, trans. Guy Daniels; cut and edited for the British edition by Francis King (London: Macdonald and Jane 's, 1979).
S. Shlifstein, Rose Prokofieva. Sergei Prokofiev: Autobiography, Articles, Reminiscences (University of California: The Minerva Group, Inc., 2000)
Guillaumier, Christina K (2011). AMBIGUOUS MODERNISM: THE EARLY ORCHESTRAL WORKS OF SERGEI PROKOFIEV. Tempo, 65, pp. 25-37 doi:10.1017/S0040298211000143
Noëlle Mann, Simon Morrison
Articles in Periodicals
Christiansen, Rupert (2010)
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