Sergei Prokofiev was a Russian 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 most well-known works include The Love for Three Oranges, the suite Lieutenant Kijé, the ballet Romeo and Juliet and Peter and the Wolf. He created 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 a composer-pianist. In 1915, Prokofiev broke from the standard composer-pianist category with his orchestral Scythian Suite, compiled from music originally composed for a ballet commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev who commissioned three further ballets from Prokofiev — Chout, Le pas d’acier and The Prodigal Son — which, at the time of their original production, caused a sensation among both critics and colleagues. Prokofiev’s greatest interest, however, was opera, being The Love for Three Oranges, composed for the Chicago Opera and subsequently performed over the following decade in Europe and Russia, his one operatic success during his lifetime.
After the Revolution of 1917, Prokofiev left Russia and resided in the United States, then Germany, then France, making his living as a composer, pianist and conductor. 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.
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.