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Sergei Prokofiev: A Biography (英語) ペーパーバック – 2002/1/24
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The prolific creator of such classic popular works as "Romeo and Juliet", "Cinderella" and "Peter and the Wolf", Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) was one of the most important composers of the 20th century. This biography offers a detailed portrait of a complex man whose character, and music, combined the traditional and contemporary. Drawing on access to previously unknown or unavailable Russian-language sources, including extensive archival material, Harlow Robinson traces Prokofiev's extraordinary life from the fairy-tale world of Tsarist Russia, through his many years abroad in America and Europe, to his perplexing permanent return to Moscow in 1936 under the Soviet regime. He died on the same day as Josef Stalin, his principal persecutor, in the final irony of an intense and enigmatic career.
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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.