Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953)

How to say the name:

‘Prokofiev’ is said like Pro-cough-ee-eff. ‘Sergei’ is said like ‘Sir-gay’.

Born:

23rd April 1891 in Sontsovka, Russia (now Krasne in Donetsk oblast, Ukraine).

Prokofiev’s grave in Moscow

Died:

5th March 1953 in Moscow, Russia.

Buried:

Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

Type of Music:

Modern classical music.

A famous piece:
  • Peter and the Wolf. (See below for two videos.)
Some great pieces:
  • Symphonies Nos. 1, 5, 6 and 7.
  • Piano Concertos Nos. 1–5). (See below for a video of No. 1.)
  • Romeo and Juliet (a ballet). (See the ballet page for a video.)
  • Cinderella (a ballet).
  • The Love for Three Oranges (an opera).
  • The Fiery Angel (an opera).
  • War and Peace (an opera).
  • ‘Alexander Nevsky’ and ‘Ivan the Terrible’ (cantatas—groups of pieces for singers and orchestra).
  • Some piano music, such as his piano sonatas.
Some interesting facts:
  • His ballets ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Cinderella’ are very popular now.
  • ‘Alexander Nevsky’ and ‘Ivan the Terrible’ were first written as music for films by the famous director, Sergei Eisenstein.
  • He began to compose before he could even write properly! And he composed his first opera when he was only 9 years old!
  • He went to the famous St Petersburg Conservatory to learn music, but found the lessons boring. He also shocked the people there with his own music.
  • He left Russia soon after the Russian Revolution (1917) and didn’t return until 1934.
  • He got into trouble with the Russian government in 1948 (as did Shostakovich) for writing music that was “too complicated for the masses”. He was made an “Enemy of the People” and his music was banned for a while (it was scary time in Russia—the Russian government at the time were the real ‘enemies of the people’, not Prokofiev and Shostakovich!).
  • He died on the same day as Joseph Stalin (the Russian leader who made Russia so scary).

Here is a video of part of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. This piece of music was written for children and tells a story. Each character in the story is described in the music by a different instrument. See if you can spot this as you watch the video.

Part of Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’

By the way, here is a trailer to a film set to Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’ (the music begins at about 34 seconds into the video). This film won the Academy Award for the best animated short film in 2008!

Part of the short film ‘Peter and the Wolf’ set to Prokofiev’s music

And finally, here is a video of the beginning of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

The first movement of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1

There is another video of music by Prokofiev on the following page:

Picture credits:
  1. Sergei Prokofiev. This photograph is in the public domain. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
  2. Prokofiev’s grave in Moscow. The copyright to this photograph probably belongs to the (unknown) person who took it. If anyone knows anything about the person who took it, then please do let me know so I can seek their approval for its use here. Click here for the source of this image.
Video credits:
  1. Prokofiev: Peter & The Wolf- E. Colón & J.B. VanDemark Pt.2. Emilio Colon, conductor James VanDemark, narrator Texas Festival Orchestra Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf Part 2 International Festival Institute at Round Top – Festival Concert Hall.
  2. Prokofiev’s Peter & the Wolf. Prokofiev’s Peter & the Wolf on DVD through Magnolia Pictures.
  3. Prokofiev, Piano Concerto No. 1 – Mov I (Martha Argerich). Martha Argerich plays Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky and Orchestre Symphonique de Flandres (La Roque d’Anthéron – July 29, 2005).

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 christel fagundes 11th January 2012

It is educational and it helped me alot with my music assignment.

2 Elen McEwan 17th March 2013

Very good page but he was born on the 23 of April not the 27 🙂

3 Malcolm Pullan 17th March 2013

Thanks for pointing that out. I must have made a mistake copying the date. I have corrected it now!

4 Hannah F. 14th December 2016

Wonderful post, and I know that you wrote it awhile ago, but I wanted to quickly correct your pronunciation, if you don’t mind. 🙂 Prokofiev is actually pronounced “Pro-ko-fee-eff”. Not much different from the way you wrote it, except the stressing is a bit different. It’s a common mistake Americans make, and I would know considering I’m an American and have been living in Russia ever since I was three months old.

5 Malcolm Pullan 14th December 2016

Thank you for you comment Hannah. I agree with you about the pronunciation and I like your suggested way of saying it. The only problem with writing “Pro-ko-fee-eff”, though, is that some people might think the “ko” is pronounced with a long “o” like “kowe”, instead of the short “o” sound like in “cough”. I have used your suggested end bit of “eff” in the pronunciation though. Thank you very much!

6 Maya 17th May 2017

This is an amazing source, but I can not figure out when he started composing. You said before he could write properly, but when is it specifically?

7 Malcolm Pullan 17th May 2017

Thank you for your question Maya. Prokofiev composed his first piano piece when he was only five. His mother wrote it down for him. Perhaps he even made up pieces before he was five by playing around on the piano but nobody wrote them down.

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