Serguéi Prokófiev

April 23, 1891 - Sontsovka (Ucrania) — March 5, 1953 - Moscú (Rusia)

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Sergei Prokofiev, the unruly child of Russia

Sergei Prokofiev was a prodigy. At the age of thirteen, he had already composed a small opera, one symphony and two piano sonatas. The son of an engineer, he began music with two teachers: his mother for the piano and Reinhold Glière for composition. He then attended Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Anatoly Lyadov, and Alexander Tcherepnin’s classes at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. A virtuoso pianist, he began his career with an astounding second piano concerto, which caused a sensation in the musical world.

Sergei Prokofiev and the avant-garde

During a competition in 1916, Sergei Prokofiev created a scandal with his Scythian Suite causing Glazunov to leave the jury. Naturally wild, the composer fled Russia and lived in the United States from 1918 to 1923 where he had the first production of The Love for Three Oranges performed in Chicago. In 1923, between his numerous journeys, he settled in Paris where musical activity was intense. Although he was admired by the musical milieu, Prokofiev took little interest in French music. He only seemed to find favour with Maurice Ravel.

Honoured or disgraced, Sergei Prokofiev’s music is one of the most singular of his era. Using rhythms, popular melodies and harmonic harshness, the composer can switch from methodical violence to classical elegance. A virtuoso and a versatile man, Prokofiev left behind dynamic music, which always sidesteps vulgarity or conventionalism. Rabatet rightly noted that the composer offered, “An exciting countenance of a wild youth who, totally unrefined, had escaped from his steppes and ferociously eclipsed his compatriot and elder, Igor Stravinsky”.