(Born; Sontsovka, 23 April
1891; Died; Moscow, 5 March 1953). Russian composer. He showed precocious talent as a
pianist and composer and had lessons from Glière from 1902. In 1904 he entered the St
Petersburg Conservatory, where Rimsky-Korsakov, Lyadov and Tcherepnin were among his
teachers; Tcherepnin and Myaskovsky, who gave him valuable support, encouraged his
interest in Skryabin, Debussy and Strauss. He had made his début as a pianist in 1908,
quickly creating something of a sensation as an enfant terrible, unintelligible and
ultra-modern - an image he was happy to cultivate. His intemperateness in his early piano
pieces, and later in such works as the extravagantly Romantic Piano Concerto no.1 and the
ominous no.2, attracted attention. Then in 1914 he left the conservatory and travelled to
London, where he heard Stravinsky's works and gained a commission from Dyagilev: the
resulting score was, however, rejected (the music was used to make the Scythian Suite);
a second attempt, Chout, was not staged until 1921.
Meanwhile his gifts had
exploded in several different directions. In 1917 he finished an opera on Dostoyevsky's Gambler,
a violently involved study of obsession far removed from the fantasy of his nearly
contemporary Chicago opera The Love for Three Oranges, written in1919 and performed
in 1921. Nor does either of these scores have much to do with his Lsquo;ClassicalRsquo;
Symphony, selfconsciously 18th-century in manner, and again quite distinct from his
lyrical Violin Concerto no.1, written at the same period and in the same key. There were
also piano sonatas based on old notebooks alongside the more adventurous Visions
fugitives, all dating from 1915-19.
Towards the end of this rich
period, in 1918, he left for the USA; then from 1920 France became his base. His
productivity slowed while he worked at his opera The Fiery Angel, an intense,
symbolist fable of good and evil (it had no complete performance until after his death,
and he used much of its music in Symphony no.3). After this he brought the harsh, heavy
and mechanistic elements in his music to a climax in Symphony no.2 and in the ballet Le
pas d'acier, while his next ballet, L'enfant prodigue, is in a much gentler
style: the barbaric and the lyrical were still alternatives in his music and not fused
until the 1930s, when he began a process of reconciliation with the Soviet Union.
The renewed relationship was
at first tentative on both sides. Romeo and Juliet, the full-length ballet
commissioned for the Bol'shoy, had its première at Brno in 1938, and only later became a
staple of the Soviet repertory: its themes of aggression and romantic love provided, as
also did the Eisenstein film Alexander Nevsky, a receptacle for Prokofiev's
divergent impulses. Meanwhile his own impulse to remain a Westerner was gradually eroded
and in 1936 he settled in Moscow, where initially his concern was with the relatively
modest genres of song, incidental music, patriotic cantata and children's entertainment (Peter
and the Wolf, 1936). He had, indeed, arrived at a peculiarly unfortunate time, when
the drive towards socialist realism was at its most intense; and his first work of a more
ambitious sort, the opera Semyon Kotko, was not liked.
With the outbreak of war,
however, he perhaps found the motivation to respond to the required patriotism: implicitly
in a cycle of three piano sonatas (nos. 6-8) and Symphony no.5, more openly in his
operatic setting of scenes from Tolstoy's War and Peace, which again offered
opportunities for the two extremes of his musical genius to be expressed. He also worked
at a new full-length ballet, Cinderella. In 1946 he retired to the country and
though he went on composing, the works of his last years have been regarded as a quiet
coda to his output. Even his death was outshone by that of Stalin on the same day.
Operas: The Gambler (1917, perf. 1929); The Love for Three Oranges (1921); The Fiery Angel (1923,
perf. 1954); Semyon Kotko (1940); War and Peace (1943, perf. concert 1944, 1953); The
Story of a Real Man (1948, perf. 1960).
Ballets: Chout (1921); Le pas dPrime;acier (1927); The Prodigal Son (1929); Sur le Borysthène (1932);
Romeo and Juliet (1938); Cinderella (1945); The Tale of the Stone Flower (1954).
Film scores: Lieutenant Kijé (1933); Alexander Nevsky, Mez, chorus, orch (1938); Ivan the Terrible (1945).
Orchestral music: Sym. no.1,'Classical', D (1917); Sym. no.2, d (1925); Sym. no.3, c (1928); Sym. no.4, C (1930); Sym. no.5, BFlat; (1944); Sym. no.6, EFlat; (1947); Sym. no.7, cSharp; (1952); Pf Conc. no.1, DFlat; (1912); Pf Conc. no.2, g (1913); Pf Conc. no.3, C (1921); Pf Conc.
no.4, BFlat; (1931); Pf Conc. no.5, G (1932); Vn Conc. no.1, D (1917); Vn Conc. no.2, g
(1935); Scythian Suite (1915);Vc Conc., e (1938), rev. as Sym. Conc. (1952); Peter and the
Wolf, narrator, orch (1936); Vc Concertino, g (1952).
Chamber music: Qnt, g, ob, cl, vn, va, dbn (1924); 2 str qts, b, F (1930, 1941); Vn Sonata, f (1946), Fl/Vn Sonata, D (1943); Vc Sonata, C (1949)
Piano music: Sonata no 1, f (1909); Sonata no.2, d (1912); Sonata no.3, a (1917); Sonata no.4, c (1917); Sonata no.5, C (1923); Sonata no.6, A (1940); Sonata no.7, BFlat; (1942); Sonata no.8, BFlat; (1944); Sonata no.9, C (1947); Sarcasms (1914); Visions fugitives (1917)
Vocal music: cantatas, songs, partsongs, folksong arrs.
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