Hyperion Records

Prokofiev, Serge (1891-1953)  
Portrait (1926) by Zinaida Serebriakova (1884–1967)

Serge Prokofiev

born: 23 April 1891
died: 5 March 1953
country: Russia

EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
‘You never knew what to expect of Prokofiev. He was friendly, but not an easy guy to talk to. I don’t remember ever talking with him about anything serious. He tended to play a light, bouncy game; he was boyish, easily bored, and even impolite at times. He enjoyed teasing people and loved to make witty remarks and tell stories. He was very bright and outspoken, and I can’t imagine that he would ever hide how he felt about anything.’ That’s how, in 1982, the American composer Aaron Copland recalled his meetings with Prokofiev half a century earlier. Although Prokofiev was well aware of the various artistic movements of the day, they rarely had more than a superficial effect on his music. Never seriously associated with any group or ‘-ism’, his self-assurance insulated him from much that might have been distracting. It also gave him a self-centred view of life and art that was both a strength and – in later years – the source of enormous personal problems. He never taught, and never theorised about what he was doing: but he reacted quickly and with imagination to the world around him – and what a world it was, beginning with the cloudy and exciting experiments of pre-revolutionary Russia, followed by the years of exile in Europe and America in the 1920s and 30s, and finally the grim years of Stalin’s Russia and the Nazi invasion.

Free of political ideology or any philosophical, religious or cultural preconceptions, he was generally prepared to adapt to the circumstances in which he found himself. He was, after all, capable of writing wonderful music to order, whether for the capricious Diaghilev, for chic Parisians in search of novelty, for children, for the Soviet masses or even to glorify Josef Stalin. He was the very opposite of the confessional artist who needs to bare his soul. If he had an artistic credo, it was simply to work hard and make it new. ‘I loath imitation. I hate ordinary methods. Originality is my goal and I want to be myself always.’

Some reminiscences of people who worked with him give a picture of an intimidating, rather cold figure. At rehearsals he was severe, brisk, unsparing of personal feelings. This was the outward persona of the hardworking professional who always had to be occupied, who could never bear to waste valuable time, who insisted on strict organisation and relentless punctuality.

But we also know how funny and kind he could be with his friends and family. Prokofiev remembered his childhood in the Ukrainian countryside as idyllically happy, and never lost a fresh, uncomplicated vision of the world. When fairy tales, animals and children are featured in his music they are never sentimentalised, but treated with irony, enjoyment and a delightful sense of the ridiculous. He liked to wear bright clothes (particularly ties and socks). Rather endearingly, his acute rhythmic sense did not extend to his own body when he was away from a keyboard: he was a clumsy dancer and an enthusiastic but erratic driver. A passionate chess player, he was delighted when in 1914 he managed to beat (just once) the reigning world champion Raul Capablanca. He loved word games and was at home in several languages. An accomplished traveller, he enjoyed good food, but was not interested in historical monuments and soon got bored with sightseeing. His friend the émigré composer Nicolas Nabokov recalled that all he could find to say when visiting Chartres Cathedral was, ‘I wonder how they got those statues up so high without dropping them’. He found it hard to take anything too seriously, often to his own disadvantage.

As a boy he was simply bursting with energy and talent, very sure of himself, and something of a spoiled brat. His student career followed the usual stages: precocious talent – golden boy – impatient radical – confounded nuisance. He came to wide public attention with two piano concertos, the first of which appeared in 1912, the same year as Vladimir Mayakovsky’s Futurist manifesto ‘A Slap in the Face of Public Taste’. Hostile critics, offended by Prokofiev’s high level of dissonance and his percussive treatment of the piano, thought that he, too, was slapping the public’s face. True, his music was often brash and provocative, and he certainly enjoyed being naughty, but there was much more to it than that: a tremendous vitality, a strong lyrical impulse and a rare prodigality of ideas.

Whatever compromises he had to make through the changing circumstances of his life, Prokofiev remained true to a musical character which was essentially formed by the time he was 20, a character that has proved both unique and widely appealing. In all his music we find striking images of contrast and confrontation, strange juxtapositions of mood, and powerful rhetoric followed by sudden moments of shy or tender reflection. Despite his generally cheerful nature there is plenty of darkness, even sometimes tragedy, but it is expressed with clear objectivity and never confused with self-indulgence or sentimentality.

from notes by Andrew Huth © 2009

Albums
'Prokofiev: Cello Concerto & Symphony-Concerto' (CDA67705)
Prokofiev: Cello Concerto & Symphony-Concerto
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67705 
'Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf & other music for children' (CDH55177)
Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf & other music for children
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55177  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos 1, 4 & 5' (CDA67029)
Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos 1, 4 & 5
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67029 
'Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3' (CDA66858)
Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3
Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA66858  Archive Service  
'Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet; Musorgsky: Pictures from an Exhibition' (CDH55306)
Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet; Musorgsky: Pictures from an Exhibition
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55306  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'Prokofiev: Sonata for two violins; Milhaud: Sonata & Duo; Martinů: Sonatina' (CDA66473)
Prokofiev: Sonata for two violins; Milhaud: Sonata & Duo; Martinů: Sonatina
CDA66473  Deleted  
'Prokofiev: String Quartets' (CDH55032)
Prokofiev: String Quartets
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55032  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'Prokofiev: Violin Sonatas' (CDA67514)
Prokofiev: Violin Sonatas
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67514  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Prokofiev: Visions fugitives & Sarcasms; Musorgsky: Pictures from an Exhibition' (CDA67896)
Prokofiev: Visions fugitives & Sarcasms; Musorgsky: Pictures from an Exhibition
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67896  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'For Children' (CDH55194)
For Children
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55194  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'Musorgsky: Pictures from an Exhibition; Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet' (CDH55306)
Musorgsky: Pictures from an Exhibition; Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55306  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'Musorgsky: Pictures from an Exhibition; Prokofiev: Visions fugitives & Sarcasms' (CDA67896)
Musorgsky: Pictures from an Exhibition; Prokofiev: Visions fugitives & Sarcasms
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67896  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Nikolai Demidenko live at Wigmore Hall' (CDD22024)
Nikolai Demidenko live at Wigmore Hall
Buy by post £10.50 CDD22024  2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)  
'Russian Songs' (CDA67355)
Russian Songs
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67355 
'The Grand Organ of Birmingham Town Hall' (CDA66216)
The Grand Organ of Birmingham Town Hall
Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA66216  Archive Service  
'Martinů: Sonatina; Milhaud: Sonata & Duo; Prokofiev: Sonata for two violins' (CDA66473)
Martinů: Sonatina; Milhaud: Sonata & Duo; Prokofiev: Sonata for two violins
CDA66473  Deleted  
'Hyperion monthly sampler – July 2014' (HYP201407)
Hyperion monthly sampler – July 2014
HYP201407  Download-only monthly sampler  
On other labels
'Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet' (LSO0682)
Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet
LSO0682  Download only   Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 & Violin Concerto No. 2' (CKD219)
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 & Violin Concerto No. 2
CKD219  Download only  
'Arthur de Greef – Solo and concerto recordings' (APR7401)
Arthur de Greef – Solo and concerto recordings
APR7401  Download only  
'Emil Gilels – Schumann, Beethoven, Liszt & Prokofiev' (APR5663)
Emil Gilels – Schumann, Beethoven, Liszt & Prokofiev
APR5663  Download only  
'Jorge Bolet – His earliest recordings' (APR6009)
Jorge Bolet – His earliest recordings
APR6009  for the price of 1 — Download only  
'Michael Zadora – The complete recordings' (APR6008)
Michael Zadora – The complete recordings
APR6008  for the price of 1 — Download only  
'Moura Lympany – The HMV Recordings, 1947-1952' (APR6011)
Moura Lympany – The HMV Recordings, 1947-1952
APR6011  for the price of 1 — Download only  
'Vladimir Horowitz – The complete solo European recordings' (APR6004)
Vladimir Horowitz – The complete solo European recordings
APR6004  for the price of 1 — Download only  
Alphabetical listing of all musical works
Arrival of the guests  Act 1 No 11 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
At Friar Laurence's cell  Act 3 No 8 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
At Juliet's bedside  Act 3 No 14 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Aubade  Act 3 No 12 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Balcony scene  Act 1 No 19 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op 58 (Prokofiev)
Dance of the five couples  Act 2 No 3 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Dance of the Knights  Act 1 No 13 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Dance of the young girls with lilies  Act 3 No 13 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Dance with mandolins  Act 2 No 4 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Death of Juliet  Act 4 No 2 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Death of Mercutio  Act 2 No 13 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Finale  Act 2 No 15 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Five Melodies, Op 35bis (Prokofiev)
Five Poems of Anna Akhmatova, Op 27 (Prokofiev)
Folk dance  Act 2 No 1 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Further public festivities  Act 2 No 10 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Gavotta: Non troppo allegro  Movement 3 of Symphony No 1 in D major 'Classical', Op 25 (Prokofiev)
Gavotte  Act 1 No 18 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Interlude  Act 1 No 8 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Juliet alone  Act 3 No 11 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Juliet at Friar Laurence's  Act 2 No 8 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Juliet refuses to marry Paris  Act 3 No 5 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Juliet the young girl  Act 1 No 10 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Juliet's bedroom  Act 3 No 10 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Juliet's funeral  Act 4 No 1 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Juliet's variation  Act 1 No 14 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Lento  No 20 of Visions fugitives, Op 22 (Prokofiev)
Madrigal  Act 1 No 16 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Masks  Act 1 No 12 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Meeting of Tybalt and Mercutio  Act 2 No 11 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Melodies, Op 35bis (Prokofiev)
Mercutio  Act 1 No 15 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Morning dance  Act 1 No 4 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Music for Children, Op 65 (Prokofiev)
nastoyashchuyu nezhnost' 'About real tenderness'  No 2 of Five Poems of Anna Akhmatova, Op 27 (Prokofiev)
Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op 34 (Prokofiev)
Pamyat' o solntse 'Thoughts of the sunlight'  No 3 of Five Poems of Anna Akhmatova, Op 27 (Prokofiev)
Peter and the Wolf, Op 67 (Prokofiev)
Piano Concerto for the left hand No 4 in B flat major, Op 53 (Prokofiev)
Piano Concerto No 1 in D flat major, Op 10 (Prokofiev)
Piano Concerto No 2 in G minor, Op 16 (Prokofiev)
Piano Concerto No 3 in C major, Op 26 (Prokofiev)
Piano Concerto No 5 in G major, Op 55 (Prokofiev)
Piano Sonata No 2 in D minor, Op 14 (Prokofiev)
Praeludium in D minor, BuxWV140 (Buxtehude/Prokofiev)
Prelude  No 7 in C major of Ten Pieces, Op 12 (Prokofiev)
Preparations for the ball  Act 1 No 9 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Romeo  Act 1 No 2 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Romeo and Juliet  Act 3 No 2 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Romeo and Juliet's love dance  Act 1 No 21 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Romeo and Mercutio  Act 2 No 2 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Romeo at Friar Laurence's  Act 2 No 7 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Romeo decides to avenge Mercutio's death  Act 2 No 14 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Romeo's variation  Act 1 No 20 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Sarcasms, Op 17 (Prokofiev)
Seroglazïy korol' 'The grey-eyed king'  No 5 of Five Poems of Anna Akhmatova, Op 27 (Prokofiev)
Solntse komnatu napolnilo 'Sunlight filled the room'  No 1 of Five Poems of Anna Akhmatova, Op 27 (Prokofiev)
Sonata for two violins, Op 56 (Prokofiev)
String Quartet No 1 in B minor, Op 50 (Prokofiev)
String Quartet No 2 in F major, Op 92 (Prokofiev)
Summer Day, Op 65b (Prokofiev)
Symphony No 1 in D major 'Classical', Op 25 (Prokofiev)
Symphony-Concerto in E minor, Op 125 (Prokofiev)
Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op 75 (Prokofiev)
Ten Pieces, Op 12 (Prokofiev)
The Duke's command  Act 1 No 7 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
The fight  Act 1 No 6 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
The last farewell  Act 3 No 3 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
The nurse  Act 2 No 5 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
The nurse delivers Juliet's letter to Romeo  Act 2 No 6 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
The people continue to make merry  Act 2 No 9 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
The quarrel  Act 1 No 5 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
The street awakens  Act 1 No 3 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
The Ugly Duckling, Op 18 (Prokofiev)
Toccata in D minor, Op 11 (Prokofiev)
Toccata in D minor, Op 11 (Prokofiev/Guillou)
Tybalt and Mercutio fight  Act 2 No 12 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Tybalt recognises Romeo  Act 1 No 17 of Romeo and Juliet, Op 64 (Prokofiev)
Violin Concerto No 2 in G minor, Op 63 (Prokofiev)
Violin Sonata No 1 in F minor, Op 80 (Prokofiev)
Violin Sonata No 2 in D major, Op 94bis (Prokofiev)
Visions fugitives, Op 22 (Prokofiev)
Waltz  No 6 of Music for Children, Op 65 (Prokofiev)
Winter Bonfire, Op 122 (Prokofiev)
Zdravstvuy! 'Greetings!'  No 4 of Five Poems of Anna Akhmatova, Op 27 (Prokofiev)
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