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ComposerSergei Prokofiev, as he writes in his memoirs, "first saw the light of day on Wednesday 23rd April at five in the afternoon." The year was 1891, the centenary of Mozart’s death, the place a small village in the Ukraine, Sontsovka. Prokofiev’s father, originally from Moscow, was an agricultural engineer in this important region, his mother was, in Gliere’s words, "a tall woman with magnificent, intelligent eyes... who knew how to create around herself a warm, natural atmosphere." Having lost two daughters she devoted her life to music and spent two months a year in Moscow or St. Petersburg taking piano lessons. It was she who was the musical influence on young Sergei, beginning to teach him the piano at age 3. He wrote his first composition when he was six, The Indian Galop. After a trip to Moscow at age 8 where he was exposed to The Sleeping Beauty, Faust and Prince Igor, he declared "I want to write an opera." Three or four months later he presented his parents with The Giant, an opera in three acts and six tableau for solo piano. Prokofiev eventually was tutored by young Reinhold Gliere for whom he developed a great affection, especially after he had accepted Prokofiev’s challenge to a duel with pistols. From time to time he also took trips to Moscow to visit Taneyev (a composer and the future director of the Bolshoi Theater).
By age twelve it was decided that Prokofiev should continue his studies at a Conservatoire. Eventually, in 1904 he was sent to the St. Petersburg Conservatoire so that his mother could be close to him. The Conservatoire at this time was under the direction of Rimsky-Korsakov. He was also introduced to Glazounov. Despite a faltering first meeting Glazounov dedicated his Fantasy Waltz "To my dear colleague, Sergei Prokofiev, from Glazounov."
Against the established thinking of the Conservatoire, Prokofiev became a committed anti-Romantic, not liking the music of Chopin and Liszt. In 1914, despite not playing one of the prescribed Classical concertos, he won the Rubenstein Prize for piano performance playing his own composition.
The year of the Russian Revolution, 1917, turned out to be a creative time for Prokofiev producing the Violin Concerto in D major and the Classical Symphony. Prokofiev moved to the United States in 1918 where he gave his first recital November 11th. In America he was greatly discussed, somewhat admired but little liked being variously described as "the Bolshevik pianist" or "Steel fingers, steel biceps, steel triceps - he is a tonal steel trust." The lack of success for his opera The Love of Three Oranges, commissioned by the Chicago Opera in 1921, was enough to spur Prokofiev’s relocation to Europe.
On return trips to Russia in 1927 and 1929 Prokofiev was enthusiastically received. Following a comparative lack of success in Europe and the United States, he returned to Stalin’s Soviet Union for good in 1932. The next years produced Lieutenant Kije, Romeo and Juliet, War and Peace and Cinderella. In his homeland he was celebrated and honored until the 1948 crackdown on Soviet composers by the Central Committee under Stalin’s orders. (This was also the year of his marriage to Mira Mendelson.) After that time all music had to conform to strict criteria to "advance Soviet musical culture so as to lead to the creation, in all fields of music, of high-quality works worthy of the Soviet people." The result was uncontroversial music of artistic inconsequence.
Prokofiev died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Moscow, March 5, 1953, the same day that Stalin died. He was buried near Scriabin and Chekov.
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