Sergei Prokofiev: A Biography Paperback – Jan 24 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
More detailed and comprehensive, and less politically partisan, than previous biographies, this readable account by a professor of Slavic studies at the State Univ. of New York deals objectively but compassionately with the life and work of a major Russian composer whose career began like a skyrocket but ended sadly. He died in 1953, only hours before the death of his principal persecutor Joseph Stalin. An opinionated, difficult man of genius, the nonpolitical Prokofiev was inevitably caught up in the revolutionary changes that took place in his native land. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1918, to Germany in 1922, married an elegant Spanish soprano, moved on to France and became a sophisticated Parisian. When he returned with his wife and sons to the Soviet Union in 1936, he was almost immediately trapped in a situation from which he could not extricate himself. And although he wrote many works glorifying the regime, he was resented for his international past and connections, his foreign manner and arrogance. As soon as he separated from his wife, she was imprisoned "on suspicion of spying." In 1948 he married a Russian woman with whom he had been living for seven years. Almost until the day he died Prokofiev continued to be productive but was frustrated because his operas failed to win critical and popular acceptance. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
This is the best biography in English to date on Prokofiev. Robinson, a professor of Slavic studies with a particular interest in Prokofiev's operas, draws upon previously untranslated Russian documents and letters to provide an unusually rich and detailed view of this enigmatic composer. His is a "warts and all" treatment: though obviously sympathetic to his subject, Robinson candidly exposes Prokofiev's flaws, from his musical capriciousness and opportunism to his unpardonable social tactlessness. Prokofiev traveled widely during much of his career, and his observations on the contemporary music scene make entertaining reading. Throughout, the writing is intended for the lay readercrisp, fast-paced, and unencumbered by technical jargon. Highly recommended. Larry Lipkis, Music Dept., Moravian Coll., Bethlehem, Pa.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
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Readers looking for a fawning hagiography are advised to look elsewhere. While Robinson focuses on the composer's work (with a special emphasis on the operas), there is no effort to whitewash his self-centeredness and very difficult personality. Stories of Prokofiev's coldness and cruelty are legion. One wonders how he would have fared in today's world with the same talents, but having to continually toe the line of political correctness and "market" himself. Prokofiev, while he mellowed in his later years, simply did not care what other people thought, and was not shy about saying what was on his mind. Paradoxically, he worked all his life to appease those who commissioned works from him, to say nothing of the powers that be in Soviet Russia. Robinson devotes much discussion to the ideological attacks of Stalin and Zhdanov in early 1948, after the composer's health was already in decline. Prokofiev's response, he writes, was "neither a complete apology, nor a statement of indignant rebellion." Obsessed with his music, Prokofiev was apolitical and mostly indifferent to what was going on around him during those historically significant times. Robinson quotes the composer Alfred Schnittke on Prokofiev: "He attempted to overcome the apocalyptic break in 20th century history with the cold composure of an athlete; it was as if he did not hear and did not see the approach of a destructive slaughter unprecendented in history."
This biography is quite a page-turner and moves very quickly without bogging down in technical jargon or historical minutiae. Robinson does an outstanding job in presenting the facts, telling the story, and keeping personal conjecture out. He expects his readers to have a working understanding of the times, eras, and personages involved, and in analyzing Prokofiev's works, he makes fair and accurate observations without descending into self-impressed pedagogy. Originally issued in 1987 and now reissued in 2002, this updated version can truly be described as definitive, an agenda-free treasure among composer biographies. Highly recommended.
Robinson offers many insightful views of Prokofiev: "His music might be filled with 'wrong notes,' but it was resolutely tonal all the same; he might fill sonatas with dissonances and shocking rhythms, but he still called them sonatas and wanted them to be considered as such. He stretched the limits of traditional musical forms with a mischievous glee, much as he tested the patience of his teachers." "This frenetic level of activity seems to have been an attempt to avoid a confrontation with silence or his subconscious; he was never a particularly reflective individual." He also notes that "Unlike so many Russian composers before him, Prokofiev never wrote a single explicitly religious setting---no requiems, vespers, choruses or pieces of the Russian Orthodox liturgy." Considering his works for children, Robinson comments, that "he never forgot what it meant to be a child, and how children think, is evident in the playful but never condescending music he wrote for them."
"Beginning in the fall of 1909, Prokofiev was on his own as a composer: ... this was probably to Prokofiev's advantage, for his professors objected to that which was most original about his music." However, he avoided "movements" or "styles" in music: "he avoided joining any circles or identifying himself with any movements." In 1914, "He was still a bad boy, but a brilliant and assured one."
His relationship with Stravinsky is chronicled in several parts of the book: "Prokofiev's lack of social diplomacy was only one of the factors that complicated the difficult and mercurial relationship between the two composers." "As for Stravinsky, Prokofiev could not--or did not want to---appreciate fully his talent and significance." "Prokofiev and Stravinsky continued to encounter each other socially and professionally, but their fates were diverging. Incomprehensible to Stravinsky was Prokofiev's intense desire to maintain contact with the Soviet musical world; he considered Prokofiev's grasp of politics underdeveloped and sadly naive." Furthermore, "Prokofiev did not regard Shostakovich's music with particular enthusiasm." By way of contrast, "Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev would develop a relationship of mutual respect, if not friendship."
In his autobiography, Prokofiev observed, "Moving to Paris does not mean becoming a Parisian." No matter how long he remained abroad, he always considered himself a Russian. And ultimately in 1935, he moved back to the Soviet Union for good (against his wife's wishes), and Robinson says that "Prokofiev's 'Russian-mindedness'--not money---was the most important motivating force behind his momentous move." He also ultimately left his wife for another woman (without trying to get his first wife out of the USSR first), although they never married.
This is a wonderful biography of Prokofiev, and is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for fans of Prokofiev.
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