Sergei Prokofiev

April 23, 1891 – March 5, 1953

Soviet composer, pianist and conductor Sergei Prokofiev was born on this day in the village of Sontsovka (today’s Ukraine). Of the 20th-century great composers – Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky and Alban Berg – Prokofiev is the most popular, but it is also the most difficult to classify. His creative path was influenced by the cultures of many countries, as well as the turbulent historical events with which he was a contemporary. Given that different styles have been observed in his composing techniques, many theorists and musicologists have discussed the subject, arguing that Prokofiev’s musical language became milder, more relaxed in his later years, primarily due to the political pressures he was exposed to. While others believe that he only followed the idioms of modernism. His works have humor in various shades, from gentle teasing, heartfelt jokes to cruel and grotesque mockery. They also contain sarcasm, which is very present in the composer’s artistic emotional expression, especially in his works from his youth. Later, in the more mature compositional period, he developed another aspect of his music that can be called patriotic style. In these works, the composer often uses sound imitation of bells, which are a frequent attribute of Russian music, especially in works of national character. However, the most important element of music for Prokofiev has always been melody; for him it is the melody which determines the character of the composition. From his rich compositional oeuvre, there are seven completed operas and symphonies, eight ballets, five piano concertos, two violin concertos, cello concerto, symphonic concerto for cello and orchestra, as well as nine completed piano sonatas. Work on his Piano Sonata No. 1  began at the age of 15 and was completed during his studies; despite the fact that he called it his “youthful work”, there was still some kind of respect and affection for the reason that it is one of his first serious compositions. Among the piano works of the student period, he wrote Obsession, Toccata, Sonata No. 2, two piano concertos and the Sarcasms cycle. He is also extremely important for ballet music, especially his works Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, from which the Dance of the Knights and the symphonic story Peter and the Wolf for children were later performed. He wrote the epic opera War and Peace based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy, music for the film Lieutenant Kijé and the masterpieces of the “seventh art” directed by Sergei Eisenstein – Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible.

Sergei Prokofiev – Toccata, op. 11 (Martha Argerich, 1962)

Martha Argerich, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Katarina Georgijević

Translation: Jelena Čolović