Full Name: Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev
Years active: 1891-1953
Number of compositions: 131
Number of symphonies: 7
Number of concertos: 9
Number of string quartets: 2
Style: Dissonant, schizophrenic and unstable, but playful. Prokofiev’s music perpetually balances between tonality and atonality. He uses dissonance, rapid tempo changes, and sharp contrasts in melody. He’ll switch from soviet factory music, to swooping romantic melodies in just a few bars.
His music sounds hard. Don’t be put off by all the “dissonant” and “atonal” remarks, he is actually one of the most accessible modern composers. He did play around with things not quite sounding right, verging on the edge of being out of tune, but he always stayed pretty firmly in the Romantic style. That means his music is much more listenable than the more aggressively experimental modern composers.
Did he get in trouble with Stalin? Yes, just like all of the other Soviet composers of his time he was frequently forced to compose shallow, Nationalistic pieces for the glory of the homeland. However, like many other composers in that position he also managed to slip in some music expressing his frustration and anger with the regime. Unlike some of the others he didn’t get to experience life after Stalin, since tragically he died on exactly the same day. All the real flowers were used up for Stalin’s funeral, and so his just had paper ones. Poor old Sergei.
The Montagues and the Capulets, from Romeo and Juliet
This is one of the most famous Prokofiev pieces, specifically the bit right right after the introduction, with the pounding bassline. Prokofiev’s version of Romeo and Juliet is a Ballet, which means that each of the movements is only a few minutes long.
Piano Sonata No. 7, 3rd Movement
The rhythm in this feels incredibly modern. It’s a good example of Prokofiev’s driving, frenetic style.
Piano Concerto No. 1, 1st movement
Prokofiev’s style is well suited to the piano, and he wrote five concertos for it (one of which, the 4th, was written for a pianist with no right hand). This is the exuberant, overflowing first.
Symphony No. 5, 2nd movement
The fifth is Prokofiev’s best-known symphony.