Is Prokofiev ‘the composer with the mask’, as one of his biographers described him? It seems likely, if you read many people’s descriptions of his character. Those who knew him tell of his unfathomableness, his imperturbability and his sometimes detached analysis. Shostakovich castigated him in his biography: Prokofiev is close-lipped, haughty, a spoilt child prodigy always on the lookout for a quarrel.
His music, however, speaks a different language. It possesses an often fairytale-like beauty in which deep emotions surge. If we look at his life history, and especially his wanderings through a wide range of cultures, much becomes clear.
Prokofiev came from a well-to-do family in which his mother immersed him in music. She took him to faraway Saint Petersburg, where they often attended concerts. In 1904, at the age of thirteen, he began to study piano at the local conservatory. Music occupied him greatly, political events less. Thus the 1905 revolution escaped his attention, even though his teachers Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov became entangled in political intrigues. He wrote to his father about how he saw all sorts of youths going around in groups ‘without a clear purpose’.
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