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“A classical composer is a mad person composing music, which is not clear to his own generation”, the brilliant Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, whose 120th birth anniversary will be marked on April 23rd, used to say. However, the date itself is Prokofiev’s imagination, as the author of his biography that was published in 2009 in the Life of Remarkable People series, Igor Vishnevetsky, who is a poet, a prose-writer and a culturologist, says.

"Officially, we celebrate Prokofiev’s birthday, which is the product of his imagination, on April 23rd, while according to the official documents, it should be celebrated on April 27th. Igor Vishnevetsky said in an interview with the Voice of Russia."

One of the old myths was that Sergei Prokofiev was a person, who was seriously interested in nothing at all in his life, except music and his literary work. Let’s add chess to that list too. Meanwhile, Prokofiev kept well abreast of politics. And, which you might find surprising enough, though he was a representative of the avant-garde trend in music and a composer who was committed  to radical left views regarding the art, as a politician, he was not  a left-winger. Shortly after the 1917 revolution in Russia, Prokofiev left it and settled at first in the USA and then in France. Altogether, he spent 18 years abroad. True, parallel with his performances in America, Japan and Europe, he visited Russia with concerts 3 times.  Saying that avangardism implies left-wing politics, Igor Vishnevetsky presents the following proofs.

"Prokofiev’s position on the 1917 to 18 events in Russia was clear-cut. He strongly disapproved of what occurred in Russia and regarded the revolutionary events in the country as a catastrophe of cosmic proportions. In an interview with an American newspaper he said that he was strongly positive about the intervention in the Russian Civil War. The knowledge of the above-mentioned destroys the customary image of Prokofiev and at the same time throws light on the circumstances he was guided by when he returned to Russia. Besides, what he said in the interview provides us food to understand why he wrote such music - that very music he wrote after his return to Russia."

The terms for the return of Sergei Prokofiev to Russia were, firstly, his expressing  official regret for the interview to the foreign press during the Civil War  and of course , his promise not to do anything of the kind in the future. Prokofiev was sure that he would be more in place and more popular at home. And he proved to be right. The great pianist and the brilliant performer of Prokofiev’s works, Svyatoslav Richter, describing Sergei Prokofiev who returned to Russia in 1936 to begin a new life there, says: “Once I saw him walking on the Arbat Street, and there was a challenging force in him.”

The “new life” of Sergei Prokofiev, the laureate of several Stalin prizes, was not cloudless in Russia. There’re still some blank spots in his biography. Of course, his 8 operas, including “War and Peace”, based on Leo Tolstoy’s novel, are well known. His 8 ballets, including “Romeo and Juliet” that was staged many times are well known as well. All his 7 symphonies and all his 9 instrumental concerts, and also his cantatas and numerous chamber pieces are often performed today. “And still, there’s something in Prokofiev’s biography we know nothing about”, Igor Vishnevetsky says.

(с) text: VOR

Table of contents

Part I. FACING THE EAST. 1891-1927
1. Childhood in Ukraine: the Scythian Wakes Up (1891-1905)
2. The 'enfant terrible' in St.Petersburg Conservatory of Music and After It (1905-1917)
3. Beginning of Odissey, or Road Towards the Sun (1918-1921)
4. Years of Wanderings. Art as Magic (1922-1927)

Part II. BETWEEN TWO WORLDS. 1927-1945
1. Between the Land of Bolsheviks and Eurasia (1927-1930)
2. Russian Parisian at Home and Abroad (1931-1935)
3. Experimenting within Limits: Prokofiev and Soviet Music (1936-1940)
4. The War (1941-1945)

Part III. IN CAPTIVITY. (1946-1953)
1. After-War Euphoria (1946-1947)
2. Catastrophe: 1948
3. Years of Isolation (1949-1953)
4. Epilogue: After Prokofiev

Appendix I. Chronological table of Sergei Prokofiev's life and art.
Appendix II. Bibliography.

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