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Sergei Prokofiev

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(1891 – 1953)

Sergei Prokofiev (Russian: Сергей Сергеевич Прокофьев, 1891 -1953) was a major composer of the 20th century. Prokofiev was born in Sontsovka (now Krasne in Donetsk oblast, Ukraine).

Prokofiev took piano, theory, and composition lessons from Reinhold Glière, then enrolled at the St. Petersburg Conservatory when he was thirteen. He took theory with Anatoly Lyadov, orchestration with Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and became lifelong friends with Nicolai Myaskovsky. After graduating, he began performing in St. Petersburg and in Moscow, then in Western Europe, all the while writing more music.

Prokofiev’s earliest fame was as a pianist and composer for the piano, with works like the Sarcasms, op. 17 (1912-1914), and Visions fugitives, op. 22 (1915-1917), and his first few piano sonatas. He also wrote orchestral works, concertos, and operas, and talked to Sergei Diaghilev about producing ballets. The years immediately after the Revolution were spent in the U.S., where Prokofiev tried to follow Sergei Rachmaninov’s lead and make his way as a pianist/composer. His commission for The Love for Three Oranges came from the Chicago Opera in 1919, but overall Prokofiev was disappointed by his American reception, and he returned to Europe in 1922.

He married singer Lina Llubera in 1923, and the couple moved to Paris. He continued to compose on commission, meeting with mixed success from both critics and the public. He had maintained contact with the Soviet Union, even toured there in 1927. The Love for Three Oranges was part of the repertory there, and the government commissioned the music for the film Lieutenant Kijé and other pieces from him. In 1936, he decided to return to the Soviet Union with his wife and two sons.

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