Sergei Prokofiev

(1891 - 1953)

Q&A

Quiz yourself on facts about Prokofiev


Suggestion Diabolique (1908)

Composed in 1908 at the tender age of only 17, this works as a great  example of what Prokofiev called his “motoric” or “machine-like” music, or the “toccata-like” element in his musical style….One can see why Prokofiev was called the "bad boy" of modern music at the time! Pianist Evgeny Kissin is simply remarkable in this live performance.


Piano Concerto no. 1 (1912)

Prokofiev's first major success as a composer was his Piano Concerto no. 1, composed in 1912 (age 21), and first performed that year to great acclaim. Prokofiev composed a total of five piano concertos. The final few minutes of the Concerto are offered here as an example of the young Prokofiev's angular, strident, and muscular early style. Prokofiev himself was the soloist at the premiere performance. Remarkable mastery at such a young age! This is a superb performance by pianist Martha Argerich.


Classical Symphony (1917)

The Classical Symphony is one of the composer's most beloved creations and one of his most often performed works as well. A composition that bubbles over with sparkle, wit, and joy, the Finale heard here is noteworthy in that Prokofiev set himself the challenge of ONLY used major triads: not a single minor chord is used in the entire movement. Now THAT is happy music!


Overture On Hebrew Themes (1919)

Although Prokofiev was one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century (along with Paul Hindemith and Darius Milhaud), he did not compose a lot of chamber music: seven chamber works out of over 140 opus numbers, if we don't include two violin sonatas and one cello sonata. Prokofiev certainly leaned toward the larger forces and genres associated with symphony, ballet, concerto, and opera. However, there are some real gems in his chamber output, and the Overture on Hebrew Themes, composed in 1919 while in America, is a wonderfully evocative piece of music. Early in 1919, he was commissioned by a Russian sextet called the Zimro Ensemble, which had just arrived in America from the Far East on a world tour sponsored by the Russian Zionist Organization. The members played the instruments in this work's instrumentation, and were led by their clarinetist Simeon Bellison, who was trained in Moscow and had been principal clarinettist of the Mariinsky Theatre from 1915. Prokofiev also arranged this work (no surprise!) for orchestra. Oddly enough, Prokofiev himself did not think very highly of the piece...


"March" from The Love for Three Oranges (1919)

Here is one of my favorites! Jascha Heifetz playing the March from The Love for Three Oranges. Classic!  Did you all know that I was accepted as a youngster into Jascha Heifetz’s violin studio in Los Angeles? Since it meant taking me out of school, my parents were opposed to the idea, so I never had the opportunity of working with the greatest violinist in the history of Western music (after Paganini). Many years later, I used to bump into him at USC (literally, once—and he gave me that icy stare that completely destroyed me….)


Piano Concerto no. 2 (1923)

Prokofiev composed his Piano Concerto no. 2 one year after completing his Piano Concerto no. 1. However, the original score was destroyed in a fire, and the work we know today is actually a reconstruction made in 1923. Prokofiev claimed that he strove for "greater depth" in the Second Piano Concerto. The brilliantly flashy second movement, heard here, is chock-full of breathlessly effective scherzando writing. The premiere left the audience in a state of utter confusion, with a critic complaining "To the devil with all this futurist music! We came here to enjoy ourselves. The cats at home can make music like this!" Another critic carped: "A cacophony of sounds that has nothing in common with civilized music." It was Prokofiev's most famous scandal to date.


Peter and the Wolf (1936)

One of MY all-time favorites of this composer, to be sure. Composed in 1936--the same year that Prokofiev returned for good to the Soviet Union--this work exemplifies Prokofiev's stylistic change toward a type of music accessible to all (including children, of course). The composer called it "light-serious" music. Here is a fantastic adaptation (of the final moments) that will be certain to please you and bring a smile to your face. Prokofiev really was one the greatest melodic writers of the 20th century!


Romeo and Juliet  (1936)

Prokofiev completed 7 ballets in his lifetime, and they contain some of his most riveting and deeply felt music. He is certainly one of the most important composers of ballet in the 20th century. Here we have one of the climactic scenes in the ballet Romeo and Juliet, where Romeo kills Tybalt after Tybalt has slain Mercutio. Overwhelmingly powerful, to say the least.


Cinderella (1944)

Prokofiev's ballet Cinderella, completed in 1944, contains some of the composer's most arresting and beautiful music. The climax of the work is the famous Waltz and Midnight scene, with its brilliant orchestration and effects as the clock strikes twelve. Here is a wonderful performance by the Dutch National Ballet.


Symphony no. 7 (1952)

The Seventh Symphony was Prokofiev's last completed symphonic work, finished one year before his death in 1953. Prokofiev's last years were dominated by very poor health: during the 8 years before his death, he suffered from episodic headaches, nausea and dizziness. He died, at age 61, of a supposed intracerebral brain hemorrhage. The first open concert performance of the Seventh Symphony proved to be Prokofiev's last public appearance. I offer here a wonderful performance of the final movement of this final symphony, under the direction of Maestro Valery Gergiev.


Prokofiev Video Links

Offered below are ten video selections that illustrate (in correct chronological order, no less) the amazing development and variety of Prokofiev's musical output, beginning with youthful works from his teenage years and winding up with selections from his very last works in the early 1950s.


Important Works by Prokofiev


OPERAS

The Gambler (1917)

The Love for Three Oranges (1919)

The Fiery Angel (1923)

War and Peace (1943) considered to be his greatest work


BALLETS

The Buffoon (1915)

Le Pas d’acier  (The Steel Step)  (1926)

The Prodigal Son  (1929)

Romeo and Juliet (1936)

Cinderella   (1944)

The Stone Flower (1953)   one of his very last works


SYMPHONIES

Symphony no. 1 "Classical" (1917)

Symphony no. 2     (1925)

Symphony no. 3     (1928)

Symphony no. 4     (1930)

Symphony no. 5     (1944)

Symphony no. 6     (1947)

Symphony no. 7     (1952)


OTHER ORCHESTRAL WORKS

Sinfonietta     (1909)

Scythian Suite      (1915)

American Overture      (1928)

Lieutenant Kijé     (1934)

Peter and the Wolf  (1936)

Alexander Nevsky   (1939)

  

CONCERTOS

Piano Concerto no. 1     (1912)

Piano Concerto no. 2     (1923)

Piano concerto no. 3     (1921)

Piano Concerto no. 4     (1931)

Piano Concerto no. 5     (1932)

Violin Concerto no. 1     (1917)

Violin Concerto no. 2     (1935)

Sinfonia Concertante for Cello and Orchestra (1952)


CHAMBER MUSIC

Overture on Hebrew Themes (1919)

String Quartet no. 1     (1930)

String Quartet no. 2     (1941)

Flute Sonata     (1943)

Violin Sonata no. 1     (1946)

Cello Sonata     (1949)


Prokofiev also composed 9 Piano Sonatas and an immense amount of other solo piano works, including such masterpieces as Sarcasms (1914), Visions fugitives (1917), and others. He also composed numerous songs and occasional works composed to order for the Soviet government.  Prokofiev also composed the music for 8 Soviet films. His opus numbers run to Opus 138: quite a lot of music for a 20th century composer. In fact, he is regarded as one of the most prolific of all 20th century composers.





COMMENTARY



We tend to play a lot of Prokofiev — WHY? A couple of important reasons come to mind:

     1)     He generally calls for large orchestras with comprehensive percussion sections, which keeps our percussionists busy back there.

     2)     His music is both accessible to the general public and rewarding and demanding for players, making for a win-win combination


Lieutenant Kijé Suite (1934)

PROGRAM NOTES


   One of Prokofiev's most distinctive gifts was his flair for combining satire and sentiment. When Prokofiev returned to the U.S.S.R. in the early 1930s and finally decided to settle there after many years of living in both Europe and America, he was anxious to start working on Soviet subjects and to develop his own musical style in a direction suited to Soviet life. "But the musical idiom in which one could speak of Soviet life was not yet clear to me," he wrote in his Autobiography. "It was clear to no one at this period, and I did not want to make a mistake."


Prokofiev & His Contemporaries


An in-depth look at the composers who influenced Ravel, as well as those composers who were his contemporary colleagues.

PROKOFIEV ON MUSIC

Here are some famous and not-so-famous quotes by the composer, giving an idea of his views on music and his colleagues.


CYS Performance History:

Works by Sergei Prokofiev

Romeo and Juliet   (1992, 2000, 2006, 2010)

Cinderella  (1995, 2005, 2014)

Suite from Lieutenant Kijé (2018)

Piano Concerto no. 1   (1994)

Piano Concerto no. 2   (2006)

Piano Concerto no. 3   (1994)

Symphony no. 5   (1999, 2006, 2018)

Violin Concerto no. 1   (2003, 2016)

Violin Concerto no. 2   (2007)

Suite from Love for Three Oranges   (2008)

Sinfonia Concertante for Cello and Orchestra   (2008, 2016)