Born in the Ukraine, this legendary Russian composer is celebrated regularly in his homeland. It isn’t surprising when you look at the achievements in music this one man had made. Of course, it all must start at the beginning and that’s where this post will begin by listing seven life facts about Sergei Prokofiev that explain exactly why he is the revered artist that he is.
1. He was a child prodigy.
On April 23, 1891, a young Sergei was born in a Ukrainian village, which was ruled by Russia. Sergei’s mother was a pianist who took great pride in educating her son on everything she knew about music and how it was created. Sergei began his training when he was three years old and within a few years was exhibiting talents that were difficult for older musicians.
The foundation he would receive from his mother was evident when she wrote his first composition on paper for him titled “Indian Gallop.” By the age of nine he completed his second composition The Giant, a full opera he wrote for his family to stage. His mother would also take him to Moscow to attend operas and ensure her son was experiencing the best music Russian culture had to offer.
It was also his childhood that would serve as inspiration for later works. He and his mother were musical but his family was predominantly farmers, and the tunes he remembered hearing as a child would stay with him until he died. Likenesses can be heard in his compositions.
2. His father died when he was young.
When Prokofiev was nineteen, his father passed away, and he was still in the middle of his education. The financial strain on his mother was rough but she still could see to the cost of his studies. He took a trip to Paris and London right before the declaration of World War I and tensions abroad were high. It is said that Prokofiev was not a fan of idealizing reality and could be a bit of a cynic, yet his over demeanor was healthy.
It was his father’s death that saved him from having to serve in WWI, being the only living son of a widowed woman. He didn’t take this exemption from service lightly and worked hard on learning his craft. The organ was a major instrument for Prokofiev when he was training and he would perform in many concerts in Russia.
3. His teachers were amazed by his talents.
We suppose there are downsides to being a child prodigy, and boredom in school is possibly one of them. For Prokofiev, it is said, he was considered by some to be ill-tempered, not very friendly, and rather hardheaded, yet it is also said that it is possible he was that way because he grew restless.
As we have mentioned, his earliest training came from his mother but then, knowing that she had limitations on what she could teach him, they enrolled young Sergei in the St. Petersburg Conservatory at the young age of thirteen. He continued his private lessons as well. While there he sought to be original in his work and his educators were continually impressed.
While learning at the Conservatory Prokofiev created symphonies and piano concertos along with four operas. One of his educators was Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, a prominent Russian composer who was a member of The Five, a group of notable composers that worked together. Yet, his time with Rimsky-Korsakov, was limited and Prokofiev was disappointed in that.
4. His work spanned over many genres.
Prokofiev had more work than we could possibly cover in this post. They range over many genres including operas, ballets, concerts, and music form film. Some of his most notable works include…
The Gambler, a story about the tutor Alexei who is in debt to the Marquis. This work was a commission from The Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, where Prokofiev was promised a premiere. The composer worked on this piece for a few years but due to the Revolution of 1917 it was cancelled. The uproar also prompted Prokofiev’s long hiatus from his homeland and this piece would not be premiered until 1929.
The Giant was composed in 1899 and is the composer’s first operatic work by Prokofiev. This was after his child prodigy days and a few piano pieces under his belt. It was after a visit to the opera in Moscow that Prokofiev felt the burning desire to create his own, which he did and The Giant was the result.
Romeo and Juliet is a ballet Prokofiev composed based on the legendary Bard tale. He completed it in 1935 and his ending proved to be controversial because despite the tragedy of the original version, Prokofiev changed it to a more positive one. This caused a ruckus with the political officials at the time and his version would not be staged in the Soviet Union until 1940.
5. He was prolific while chaos surrounded him.
Once again we mention that staggering amount of work produced by this Russian composer and the most amazing thing about it is that he did all this while the world around him was in chaos. It was after his father’s death that he had to deal with the onset of World War II. Then his first tour out of Russia is right is sparked by the Revolution of 1917 and he wasn’t allowed to return due to the Soviet Union regime.
6. He is a leading figure in Russian history and culture.
This is because Prokofiev is considered to be the most prolific composer of the 20th century, which is still a surprising feat considering how young he was when he started. He is also revered because of his constant dedication to Russian and his heritage. While his time abroad found him great success, Prokofiev wanted to return to his home, which was now a new place, the Soviet Union.
Prokofiev made frequent visits until he finally returned for good in the 1930s. The work he produced from 1933 until 1953 is considered his Soviet period and he became a prominent symbol of the new and old culture of the Soviet Union. It was during this time he created Romeo and Juliet and his well-known Peter the Wolf.
He has been awarded a Lenin Prize, six Stalin Prizes, and was made a member of the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, all prominent Soviet awards.
7. He died the same day as Joseph Stalin.
Who would think a man of great Russian historical significance like Prokofiev could get outshined but he did, dying on the same day as the infamous Soviet leader and communist. Reportedly Prokofiev’s home was near Red Square, a major location where mourners gathered to remember Stalin. Due to the crowd Prokofiev’s body was not able to leave his home for three days.