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PROKOFIEV, Serge (1891-1953)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 2217 SP
Held at: Serge Prokofiev Archive
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Full title: PROKOFIEV, Serge (1891-1953)
Date(s): [1915]-1936
Level of description: Subfonds of The Serge Prokofiev Archive
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Extent: 40 box files and 6 boxes
Name of creator(s): Prokofiev | Serge | 1891-1953 | Russian composer and pianist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Serge Prokofiev was born in Sontsovka, in the Ukraine, in 1891. He played the piano and composed from an early age, and studied with Reinhold Gliere in the summers of 1902 and 1903. He attended the St Petersburg Conservatory from 1904 to 1914, and studied composition, conducting and piano, though his overwhelming desire to develop his own style often brought him into conflict with his teachers. He played his first public performance on 18 December 1908 in St Petersburg at one of the 'Evenings of Contemporary Music', premiered his first full compositions, and graduated in 1914, having won the coveted Anton Rubinstein Prize for the best student pianist. Following his graduation, Prokofiev travelled widely, performing his compositions in Paris, London and the USA. He composed in a wide range of musical genres, including symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets and film music, though the modern nature of his music often led to censure on the part of the music press of the time. He moved to Paris permanently in 1923, after his marriage to Lina Codina. Tours of Soviet Russia in 1927, 1929 and 1932 contributed towards Prokofiev's decision to return to his homeland permanently in 1936, joined by his wife and two children. He developed an intense interest in writing scores for film, beginning with Lieutenant Kizhe in 1933, and for the theatrical stage - Peter and the Wolf was written in 1936 and performed by the State Children's Theatre. He also composed ballets such as Romeo and Juliet, premiered in 1938. Though Prokofiev initially conformed to Soviet ideology, the limitations imposed upon his artistic freedom proved stifling, and he was soon forbidden permission to tour outside the Soviet Union. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, all senior cultural figures were evacuated from Moscow, including Prokofiev, whose wife and children were left behind for the duration of the war. Lina Prokofiev, being Spanish by birth, was later arrested (1948) and sent to a labour camp for 8 years. In the same year her marriage to Prokofiev was annulled by the state, after which Prokofiev married Mira Mendelson. His composition remained prolific, and the works created during the War proved to be some of his most successful, notably War and Peace, Cinderella, and his Fifth Symphony. Suffering from increasing ill-health, Prokofiev died on 5 March 1953 and was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Serge Prokofiev, [1915]-1936, mainly comprising private and business correspondence relating to the performance and publication of Prokofiev's compositions. Much of the collection consists of personal correspondence concerning his working relationship with other artists including conductors Albert Coates, Sir Henry Wood, Sergei Koussevitsky, Hermann Scherchen, and Ernest Ansermet; soloists Joseph Szigeti, Pablo Casals, Robert Soëtans and Fyodor Shalyapin; composers Igor Stravinsky, Nikolai Miaskovsky, Maurice Ravel and practically all French composers of the 1920s and 30s; theatre directors Vsevolod Meyerhold and Alexander Tairov; the Director of the Ballets Russes, Serge Diaghilev; poets and writers such as Konstantin Balmont and Vladimir Maiakovsky; and chess grandmaster José Capablanca. The papers also include financial material such as bills and accounts, legal papers and correspondence concerning concerts in the USA, France, Italy, Spain, England, the Soviet Union and Germany; and the publication and copyright of Prokofiev's work. Individuals and companies with which Prokofiev dealt in these matters included musical societies such as the Aeolian Company in the USA, Concerts Populaires de Bruxelles, and Concerts Pasdeloup in Paris; music publishers such as Breitkopf and Härtel in Leipzig, Russicher Musikverlag in Berlin and Edition Russe de Musique in Paris; and Soviet music publishing and arts authorities including the State Publishing House, the Moscow and Leningrad conservatories, and the Direction of State Theatres. There is also correspondence regarding the composition of ballets and operas, notably The Love for Three Oranges, Chout, the Fiery Angel and Le Pas d'Acier. The remainder of the collection consists of diaries, personal notes and press cuttings relating to Prokofiev's work.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
Russian, French, English, German

System of arrangement:

The papers were arranged chronologically by Lina Prokofiev.

Conditions governing access:

By appointment only. Some private correspondence is closed to the public. Please contact the Curator for details.

Conditions governing reproduction:

At the discretion of the Curator.

Finding aids:


Archival Information

Archival history:

The Serge Prokofiev Archive was set up by the Serge Prokofiev Foundation in 1994, and into it were deposited copies of all Prokofiev's correspondence from his 'Western period'. This material had been left by Prokofiev with friends and at his publisher's in Paris before he and his family returned to the Soviet Union in 1936. Some years after Prokofiev's death in 1953, his friends deposited the papers in the Bibliothèque Nationale in the hope that they would be reclaimed by his family at a later date; Lina Prokofiev regained them when she left the Soviet Union in 1974.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

The Serge Prokofiev Archive also holds the papers of Lina and Oleg Prokofiev and Christopher Palmer.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Compiled by Sarah Aitchison as part of the RSLP AIM25 Project.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Feb 2002

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