45. Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev [365 Composers for 2013]


14th February – Sergei Prokofiev


Prokofiev (23rd April 1891 – 5th March 1953) is our composer for 14th February, to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day.
Nationality: Russian
Lifespan: 61 years
Genre: 20th Century
Education: St. Petersburg Conservatory
Fame Ranking: 1

It’s St. Valentines Day, so who better to feature as our composer of the day than the creator of the music for the ballet Romeo and Juliet!

Prokofiev was a child prodigy. At the age of thirteen, having already composed three operas, he gained a place at the prestigious St. Petersburg. He was a headstrong student however, determined to follow his own ways and interests rather than those on the school curriculum, and his grades suffered as a result. His early compositions as an adult demonstrated his genius and innovative ideas – but he met with little success as his works were considered too ahead of their time for contemporary audiences. Full of discords, clashing notes and chromaticism, many concert goers were appalled by the cacophony.

Prokofiev continued to compose however, and early 20th century audiences gradually became accustomed to the new modern techniques that many composers were now experimenting with, and Prokofiev began to gain popularity. It was after collaborating with wealthy patron of the arts, Sergei Diaghilev, that Prokofiev really rose to fame. Diaghilev commissioned several ballets which Prokofiev wrote the music for, all of which were hugely popular. Prokofiev also then turned his hand to opera, gaining particular acclaim for his opera “The Love for Three Oranges”.

Prokofiev travelled widely, spending much time in the United States, Germany and France. He returned to Russia in the 1930s and it was there he wrote Romeo and Juliet, one of the most loved ballets in music history. Prokofiev also recycled many of the themes into orchestral suites and a piano work. Romeo and Juliet is unusual in that it features a tenor saxophone, viola d’amore (a 6- or 7- stringed instrument similar to a violin but with a warmer tone) and mandolins, to complement the orchestra and produce a unique orchestral sound. Another of Prokofiev’s enduringly popular works is “Peter and the Wolf”.

Here is an extract from Romeo and Juliet. Notice the saxophone at 2:08!



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