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Sergei Prokofiev: 50th Anniversary of His Death on 5 March 2003

Already at the outset of his studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, Sergei Prokofiev was less interested in tradition than in the avant-garde of his time. Not only musicians inspired him, but also artists and poets such as Vladimir Mayakovsky. Prokofiev's independent musical language was marked by dissonances and angular rhythms, which often lent a certain grotesque element to his musical language. He completed his studies in composition in 1909 with Rimsky-Korsakov amongst others, but only with "moderate" success. Through works like "Sarcasmes" (1912-14), and "Visions Fugitives" (1915-17), he was branded a futurist by the press and rejected by the public. But the "Classical Symphony" of 1916-17, neo-classical before Stravinsky, was of a completely different nature, as was the opera "The Gamblers." In 1918 Prokofiev left the country for America, with the government's approval. He returned to Europe six years later, settling in Paris. There he wrote ballet music, including works for the Ballet Russe. His great success has not yet arrived, however, so Prokofiev returned to his homeland in 1927.

A stylistic change was already noticeable during the Paris years: Prokofiev's new musical language was marked by simpler harmony, with a new diatonicism replacing chromatic layering. Prokofiev believed that he could reconcile this search for a "new simplicity" with the official aesthetic of the Soviet Union. However, he too did not escape sharp attacks of alleged "formalism" in 1948 and had to make musical concessions in a number of works dealing with Soviet subjects.

Prokofiev's most successful works are undoubtedly the musical fairy tale "Peter and the Wolf" (1936) and above all the ballets "Cinderella" and "Romeo and Juliet." Prokofiev was always an experimenter in the area of opera, never ceasing to try out new things. The musical language of the opera "Semyon Kotko" (1940) can be considered an instance of new traditionalism in which Prokofiev works with leitmotifs and quotes folk songs. The "Engagement in the Convent" (1946) is stylistically linked with "The Love of Three Oranges" and is a play of intrigue and a comedy of errors in 18th-century style. The musical epic "War and Peace," on the other hand, is noted for its simple, almost timeless musical language.