Born in 1891, at Sontsovka in the Ukraine, Sergei Prokofiev was the son of a prosperous estate manager father and a cultured, amateur pianist mother. As a child, he was encouraged by his mother to develop his musical abilities, and by the age of five he had already tried his hand at composition. In 1904 he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he studied piano, composition, and organ until 1914, showing great influence of peers (such as Asafyev and Myaskovksy) and less influence by teachers (such as Lyadov and Rimsky-Korsakov).
Enthusiasm and hostility quickly marked his career in equal proportions. For example, at a performance of The Scythian Suite, Glaznuov (director of the Conservatory at the time) walked out for fear of losing his hearing.
After the revolution of 1917, he was given official permission by the new authorities to leave the country to travel abroad (much to the chagrin of those who had to escape without such permission, such as Stravinsky and Rachmoninov), first to America. At first, he traveled as a solo pianist, as he had done in Russia, and wrote the opera The Love for Three Oranges for the Chicago Opera. By 1920, however, he became disillusioned by American society, and moved to Paris, where he revised the Dyafilev opera, The Tale of the Buffoon, a ballet successfully staged in 1921, and wrote Le pas d’acier. For the next sixteen years, he rarely left France, and only did so to visit Russian areas where his music was still considered acceptable.
In 1936, Prokofiev finally decided to return to Russia. He took up residence in Moscow, just in time for the official onslaught on music that displeased the Soviet authorities. They were very focused, at first, on the up-to-now successful opera by Shostakovich, A Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Within twelve years, Prokofiev’s name was listed with Shostakovich’s on the Soviet’s list of bad music people, particularly with the release of his newest opera, War and Peace.
Prokofiev died in 1953 on the same day as Stalin. He was never able to enjoy the relaxation on official policy regarding the arts that occurred shortly afterwards.