Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev was a Russian composer, pianist and conductor regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century.
Prokofiev initially made his name as a composer-pianist with a series of ferociously dissonant and virtuosic works, including his first two piano concertos.
In 1915 he wrote the orchestral Scythian Suite, compiled from music originally composed for the impresario Sergei Diaghilev at the Ballets Russes. Diaghilev commissioned three other ballets: Chout, Le pas d’acier and The Prodigal Son. At the time they all caused a sensation among critics and colleagues.
After the revolution Prokoviev left Russia and made his living as a composer pianist and conductor in the United States, Germany and Paris. He married the Spanish singer Carolina Codina and they had two sons. In the early 1930’s the Great Depression meant there were few opportunities to stage his work and he returned to Russia with his family.
Prokofiev created acknowledged masterpieces across numerous musical genres including the suite Lieutenant Kijé, the ballet Romeo and Juliet (from which “Dance of the Knights”, better known as the theme tune to The Apprentice, is taken) and Peter and the Wolf.
Prokofiev’s greatest interest was opera, and he composed several 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.
The Nazi invasion of the USSR spurred him to compose his most ambitious work, an operatic version of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Today Prokofiev may be the most popular composer of 20th-century music. His orchestral music alone is played more frequently in the United States than that of any other composer of the last hundred years save Richard Strauss.
Prokofiev was a passionate chess player who became friends with world chess champions José Raúl Capablanca, whom he beat in 1914.
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