Sergei Prokofiev quotes

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Sergei Prokofiev

Birthdate: 11. April 1891
Date of death: 5. March 1953

Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev was a Russian Soviet composer, pianist and conductor. As the creator of acknowledged masterpieces across numerous music genres, he is regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century. His works include such widely heard pieces as the March from The Love for Three Oranges, the suite Lieutenant Kijé, the ballet Romeo and Juliet—from which "Dance of the Knights" is taken—and Peter and the Wolf. Of the established forms and genres in which he worked, he created – excluding juvenilia – seven completed operas, seven symphonies, eight ballets, five piano concertos, two violin concertos, a cello concerto, a symphony-concerto for cello and orchestra, and nine completed piano sonatas.

A graduate of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, Prokofiev initially made his name as an iconoclastic composer-pianist, achieving notoriety with a series of ferociously dissonant and virtuosic works for his instrument, including his first two piano concertos. In 1915, Prokofiev made a decisive break from the standard composer-pianist category with his orchestral Scythian Suite, compiled from music originally composed for a ballet commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev of the Ballets Russes. Diaghilev commissioned three further ballets from Prokofiev—Chout, Le pas d'acier and The Prodigal Son—which at the time of their original production all caused a sensation among both critics and colleagues. Prokofiev's greatest interest, however, was opera, and he composed several works in that genre, including The Gambler and The Fiery Angel. Prokofiev's one operatic success during his lifetime was The Love for Three Oranges, composed for the Chicago Opera and subsequently performed over the following decade in Europe and Russia.

After the Revolution of 1917, Prokofiev left Russia with the official blessing of the Soviet minister Anatoly Lunacharsky, and resided in the United States, then Germany, then Paris, making his living as a composer, pianist and conductor. During that time, he married a Spanish singer, Carolina Codina, with whom he had two sons. In the early 1930s, the Great Depression diminished opportunities for Prokofiev's ballets and operas to be staged in America and western Europe. Prokofiev, who regarded himself as composer foremost, resented the time taken by touring as a pianist, and increasingly turned to the Soviet Union for commissions of new music; in 1936, he finally returned to his homeland with his family. He enjoyed some success there – notably with Lieutenant Kijé, Peter and the Wolf, Romeo and Juliet, and perhaps above all with Alexander Nevsky.

The Nazi invasion of the USSR spurred him to compose his most ambitious work, an operatic version of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. In 1948, Prokofiev was attacked for producing "anti-democratic formalism." Nevertheless, he enjoyed personal and artistic support from a new generation of Russian performers, notably Sviatoslav Richter and Mstislav Rostropovich: he wrote his ninth piano sonata for the former and his Symphony-Concerto for the latter.

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„Formalism is music that people don’t understand at first hearing.“

—  Sergei Prokofiev

Quoted in Boris Schwarz Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia, 1917-1970 (1972) p. 115.

„This is my best work, but only because The Flaming Angel is my greatest.“

—  Sergei Prokofiev

He made a rare admission to a visiting musicologist when he was conducting his Third Symphony in Rome in 1934.
time.com http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,864759,00.html

„The first was the classical line, which could be traced back to my early childhood and the Beethoven sonatas I heard my mother play. This line takes sometimes a neo-classical form (sonatas, concertos), sometimes imitates the 18th century classics (gavottes, the Classical symphony, partly the Sinfonietta). The second line, the modern trend, begins with that meeting with Taneyev when he reproached me for the “crudeness” of my harmonies. At first this took the form of a search for my own harmonic language, developing later into a search for a language in which to express powerful emotions (The Phantom, Despair, Diabolical Suggestion, Sarcasms, Scythian Suite, a few of the songs, op. 23, The Gambler, Seven, They Were Seven, the Quintet and the Second Symphony). Although this line covers harmonic language mainly, it also includes new departures in melody, orchestration and drama. The third line is toccata or the “motor” line traceable perhaps to Schumann’s Toccata which made such a powerful impression on me when I first heard it (Etudes, op. 2, Toccata, op. 11, Scherzo, op. 12, the Scherzo of the Second Concerto, the Toccata in the Fifth Concerto, and also the repetitive intensity of the melodic figures in the Scythian Suite, Pas d’acier[The Age of Steel], or passages in the Third Concerto). This line is perhaps the least important. The fourth line is lyrical; it appears first as a thoughtful and meditative mood, not always associated with the melody, or, at any rate, with the long melody (The Fairy-tale, op. 3, Dreams, Autumnal Sketch[Osenneye], Songs, op. 9, The Legend, op. 12), sometimes partly contained in the long melody (choruses on Balmont texts, beginning of the First Violin Concerto, songs to Akhmatova’s poems, Old Granny’s Tales[Tales of an Old Grandmother]). This line was not noticed until much later. For a long time I was given no credit for any lyrical gift whatsoever, and for want of encouragement it developed slowly. But as time went on I gave more and more attention to this aspect of my work. I should like to limit myself to these four “lines,” and to regard the fifth, “grotesque” line which some wish to ascribe to me, as simply a deviation from the other lines. In any case I strenuously object to the very word “grotesque” which has become hackneyed to the point of nausea. As a matter of fact the use of the French word “grotesque” in this sense is a distortion of the meaning. 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.“

—  Sergei Prokofiev

Page 36-37; from his fragmentary Autobiography.

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