This is another solid entry in Phaidon's 20th Century Composers series -- heavy-stock paper and great photos (including one of his first performance of "Peter and the Wolf" for a group of children) add to Jaffe's text.
Jaffe offers the best answer I've found (searching through several books) to the question of why Prokofiev returned to Russia at the height of Stalin's terror. Apparently it was a combination of homesickness, vanity, political naivete, and aesthetic theory. The Soviet regime promised Prokofiev an exceptional privileged status, which appealed to his vanity -- he was overshadowed by Stravinsky in the West, where he never felt he was properly appreciated.
And the turn to "social realism," forced on Soviet artists by Stalin, coincided with Prokofiev's voluntary turn away from modernism toward simplicity, melody, and populist narratives. I enjoy both the early and late Prokofiev, but I can see the point of those who claim that his later works are more accomplished. While his music is not on the cutting edge, and thus he was never a critics' darling, Prokofiev's music is marvelous.
This is the best single book available at the moment for anyone who wants to know more about one of the greatest early 20th century composers!
I must admit that this is the first biography of Prokofiev that I have ever read. Jaffe must have been mindful of the book's length. I would guess that the good folks at Phaidon told him to 'keep it short.' As such, he moves rather quickly through the events of Prokofiev's life, with occassional commentary on important works and insight into Prokofievs' character and personality.
With that in mind I would say that it is a great first Prokofiev bio to read. Having read it I would now like to read more of the details and the personal accounts of what happened.
Jaffe writes with authority, I can tell he has really done his research!
Along with Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky and Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev is one of the 20th century's greatest Russian composers. His seven symphonies, works for piano and his ballets (most notably "Romeo and Juliet") are widely well known alongside his immortal children's classic "Peter and The Wolf".
In this biography, part of Phaidon Press's 20th Century Composers series, author Daniel Jaffe not only digs deep into Prokofiev's creative genius but also gives detailed annotations on the composer's personal life and his surroundings in communist Russia. It is written in such as way that it's like getting to meet Prokofiev in a very personal manner.
This book is definitely a must-read on one of Russia's greatest masterminds. It is very well-written and packed with detail as well as some great photos (one of which depicts Prokofiev at the piano surrounded by children as he was giving a first-reading of "Peter and The Wolf" in 1936).
A Must for any Prokofiev fan!!
Fabio Degli Esposti
This is an accurate,clear and very well documented Biography
that is worth for everyone who is interested in the composer and accessible to the uninitiated.
The requirement for brevity compelled the author to
fly rather fast over Prokofiev childood. The best and most amazing source for this period is the composer own autobiography
Prokofiev by Prokofiev now unavailable. I suggest to read both if you can find Prokofiev own autobiography used or in a public library.
The early years are very essential and enlightening even if not from a strict musicologist point of view.
The photos in this book are very beautiful and well coupled with the text. In some cases they speak alone.For example the very expressing '46 photo with other soviet composers included Shostakovich is worth the price of the book for an almost fanatic Prokofiev(&Shostakovich) lover.
Personally I would have prefered a less fastened and concise
overlook. Such a life deserves a narration that leaves you breathless. This is not achieved by Jaffé biography.
He gives well structured information but he doesn't pretend to offer good literature . I would have both, but maybe I ask too
much and the alternatives aren't better written,for what I know(they 're only less concise and more aproximative). Probably only the massive Dorigné Biography (available only in french) can stand up.
So I strongly suggest this book.
Frederick R. Andresen
Prokofiev is, in my book, the very top of 20th century composers. That is why I jumped to read this book. Daniel Jaffe did a superb job. I also love Russian music and Prokofiev was a wild stem out of that tree of such great composers, from pre-revolution to the depths of that disastrous turn of history. His relationships with those others, his competition with Stravinsky and others in Paris, his explorations and discoveries in America were exciting and well told. His return to the Soviet Union underlines his deep love for Russia and attempt to express himself from that country's enigmatic soul. Jaffe reveals some things in the composer's life which have been expanded upon from later discoveries. One of these is Prokofiev's interest in Christian Science which was a great help in overcoming his discouragement in America and later in Paris and Russia. He wrote such great music. I lived in Russia for six years and never missed a concert, opera, or ballet. All my children and now their children have grown up with "Peter and the Wolf," and some critics say that his Fifth Symphony is the greatest of the 20th century. I would agree with that. His "Romeo and Juliet" ballet is my favorite. Jaffe's book is clearly one of the best at helping us explain this complicated and genius of a man for our times. The book itself, with its many great photos in the original 1998 Phaidon publication, is a quality keeper.
Frederick R. Andresen, Author of "Walking on Ice, An American Businessman in Russia."