Personalities | Sergei Prokofiev | Modern Era | Opera

1891–1953, Russian

One of the most accessible and well known of twentieth-century Russian composers, Prokofiev merged an experimental approach with melodic conventionality to create music that was distinct in its national style.

A fine pianist and impetuous personality who studied orchestration at the St Petersburg Academy with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1909), Prokofiev wrote three childhood operas by the age of 16 and composed his first mature one, Maddalena, four years later. A short spell in London was followed by a piano tour of America, where the Chicago Opera commissioned him to write an opera based on Gozzi’s play The Love for Three Oranges (1919). A rambunctious, comedic, surrealist fantasy, this received an enthusiastic response, yet many Americans considered the music of ‘the Bolshevik’ to be barbaric, and after several years of living in Paris he returned to his homeland for good in 1933. Unfortunately, this was a bad move.

Castigated as unpatriotic by the Soviet authorities after completing War and Peace (1944), an opera that he considered to be among his finest works, Prokofiev tried to court government approval with his final operatic project, The Story of a Real Man (1948). However, even this transparently partisan work was banned, and the composer died a broken man just five years later. In 1954 his opera The Fiery Angel, which he had written in 1922–23 and then worked on intermittently for the next 30 years, was premiered in Paris.

Introduction | Modern Era | Opera
Major Operas | The Love for Three Oranges by Sergei Prokofiev | Modern Era
Major Operas | War and Peace by Sergei Prokofiev | Modern Era
Personalities | Maurice Ravel | Modern Era | Opera


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