Sergei Prokofiev

(1891 - 1953)

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.


“There are still so many beautiful things to be said in C major.”



“My chief virtue (or if you like, defect) has been a tireless lifelong search for an original, individual musical idiom. I detest imitation, I detest hackneyed devices.



“I have never doubted the importance of melody. I like melody very much, and I consider it the most important element in music, and I labor many years on the improvement of its quality in my compositions.



“Of course I have used dissonance in my time, but there has been too much dissonance. Bach used dissonance as good salt for his music. Others applied pepper, seasoned the dishes more and more highly, till all healthy appetites were sick and until the music was nothing but pepper.



“I detest imitation, I detest hackneyed devices.”



“It seemed to me that had Haydn lived to our day he would have retained his own style while accepting something of the new at the same time. That was the kind of symphony I wanted to write: a symphony in the classical style. And when I saw that my idea was beginning to work, I called it the Classical Symphony.”



“I strenuously object to the very word "grotesque" which has become hackneyed to the point of nausea...I would prefer my music to be described as "Scherzo-ish" in quality, or else by three words describing the various degrees of the Scherzo - whimsicality, laughter, mockery.”



Prokofiev on working in the (Stalinist) Soviet Union:

“Here is how I feel about it: I care nothing for politics—I'm a composer first and last.  Any government that lets me write my music in peace, publishes everything I compose before the ink is dry, and performs every note that comes from my pen is all right with me.”



Prokofiev's close friend Vernon Duke on the composer's appearance and style of performance:

“….a tall young man of extraordinary appearance. He had white-blond hair, a small head with a large mouth and very thick lips, and very long, awkwardly dangling arms, terminating in a bruiser's powerful hands.  Prokofiev wore dazzlingly elegant tails, a beautifully cut waistcoat and flashing black pumps.  The strangely gauche manner in which he traversed the stage was no indication of what was to follow; after sitting down and adjusting the piano stool with an abrupt jerk, Prokofiev let go with an unrelenting muscular exhibition of a completely novel kind of piano playing. This young man's music and his performance of it reminded me of the onrushing forwards in my one unfortunate soccer experience—nothing but unrelenting energy and athletic joy of living.”



Prokofiev recalls his conversation with first Commissar of Education and Enlightenment, Anatoly Lunacharsky, with regard to leaving Russia in 1918:

“'I have been working rather hard,' I told him, 'and I would like to get a breath of fresh air.' 'Don't you think we have enough fresh air here now?'

'Yes, but I would like the physical air of seas and oceans.'

Lunacharsky thought it over for a few minutes, and then said gaily, 'You are a revolutionary in music, we are revolutionaries in life. We ought to work together.  But if you want to go to America I shall not stand in your way.'

I received a passport for foreign travel and an accompanying document to the effect that I was going abroad on an art mission and to improve my health.  There was no indication as to the length of my stay.  In vain did one wise friend warn me, 'You are running away from history, and history will never forgive you: when you return you will not be understood.'  I paid no heed to these words…..”



“I must admit that I, too, have indulged in atonality, but I must also say that I have felt an attraction toward tonal music for a considerable time, after I clearly realized that the construction of musical work tonally is like erecting a building on a solid foundation, while a construction without tonality is like building on sand.”



Prokofiev on the disastrous premiere of his Second Symphony:

“Neither I nor the audience understood anything in it….it was too thickly woven….my friends preserved an embarrassed silence.  This was perhaps the first time it occurred to me that I might be destined to be a second-rate composer.”



Prokofiev's (second) wife Mira on Prokofiev's work ethic:

“Sergey Sergeyevich could not conceive of a single day without work.  With his remarkable singleness of purpose he could work under any circumstances—all he needed was a piano and a desk.  But he composed music even when there was neither piano nor desk—in trains, in ships' cabins and in hospital wards.  He worked in all moods—in moments of spiritual elation and at times when he felt weary and depressed; when he felt so energetic and vigorous that even his doctors would be satisfied.”



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