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Sergei Prokofiev: The Genius In Stalin's Shadow

Sergei Prokofiev died 60 years ago -- on March 5, 1953 -- but the famous Russian composer’s passing received little attention in the Soviet Union. It was overshadowed by the death of dictator Josef Stalin, announced on the same day. Prokofiev’s funeral was attended by only a handful of friends and relatives who carried no flowers, as they had all been bought by Stalin’s mourners. But if his death went unacknowledged, Prokofiev's legacy did not. He continues to be regarded as one of the great composers of the 20th century, whose modernist works continue to provoke and surprise. (13 PHOTOS)

Sergei Prokofiev, pictured here at age 2 with his parents, was born on April 23, 1891, in the Donetsk Oblast of eastern Ukraine.
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Sergei Prokofiev, pictured here at age 2 with his parents, was born on April 23, 1891, in the Donetsk Oblast of eastern Ukraine.

The 11-year-old Prokofiev, already an accomplished composer, plays forte piano in 1902. He had written his first piano work at age 5 and his first opera at age 9.
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The 11-year-old Prokofiev, already an accomplished composer, plays forte piano in 1902. He had written his first piano work at age 5 and his first opera at age 9.

Prokofiev in 1910. Even in his early work, while attending the music conservatory in St. Petersburg, he experimented with dissonant, modernist compositions.
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Prokofiev in 1910. Even in his early work, while attending the music conservatory in St. Petersburg, he experimented with dissonant, modernist compositions.

After the Russian Revolution, Prokofiev saw little opportunity for his experimental music in Russia and resettled first in San Francisco, then a few years later in Paris. In the United States he wrote the opera "The Love for Three Oranges," which premiered in 1921.
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After the Russian Revolution, Prokofiev saw little opportunity for his experimental music in Russia and resettled first in San Francisco, then a few years later in Paris. In the United States he wrote the opera "The Love for Three Oranges," which premiered in 1921.

A performance of one of Prokofiev's best-known works, the ballet "Romeo and Juliet," in Moscow in 1963. Prokofiev wrote the ballet in Paris in the early 1930s.
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A performance of one of Prokofiev's best-known works, the ballet "Romeo and Juliet," in Moscow in 1963. Prokofiev wrote the ballet in Paris in the early 1930s.

The composer with his wife, Lina, and their two sons in 1936, the year they returned to the Soviet Union. Prokofiev's reasons for returning to his increasingly repressive country at the height of Josef Stalin's rule are the subject of some speculation, although he said that he felt more inspired there.
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The composer with his wife, Lina, and their two sons in 1936, the year they returned to the Soviet Union. Prokofiev's reasons for returning to his increasingly repressive country at the height of Josef Stalin's rule are the subject of some speculation, although he said that he felt more inspired there.

The cover of a 1959 score of "Peter and the Wolf," composed in 1936 as a musical story for children. The piece became one of Prokofiev's most famous works.
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The cover of a 1959 score of "Peter and the Wolf," composed in 1936 as a musical story for children. The piece became one of Prokofiev's most famous works.

A 1970 performance of the opera "Semyon Kotko." Written in 1938-39, the opera was the first by Prokofiev to have a Soviet subject, set in 1918 with a Red Army soldier as the hero.
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A 1970 performance of the opera "Semyon Kotko." Written in 1938-39, the opera was the first by Prokofiev to have a Soviet subject, set in 1918 with a Red Army soldier as the hero.

Prokofiev (left) with film director Sergei Eisenstein in 1943. Prokofiev wrote the scores for Eisenstein's historical epics "Aleksandr Nevsky" and "Ivan the Terrible."
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Prokofiev (left) with film director Sergei Eisenstein in 1943. Prokofiev wrote the scores for Eisenstein's historical epics "Aleksandr Nevsky" and "Ivan the Terrible."

Prokofiev was evacuated from Moscow in 1941, leaving his wife and children behind, and spent the war in the Caucasus, where he began a relationship with the writer Mira Mendelson. She would collaborate with him on the libretto to his opera "War and Peace," based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy.
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Prokofiev was evacuated from Moscow in 1941, leaving his wife and children behind, and spent the war in the Caucasus, where he began a relationship with the writer Mira Mendelson. She would collaborate with him on the libretto to his opera "War and Peace," based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy.

A 1974 performance of "War and Peace" at Moscow's Bolshoi Theater.
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A 1974 performance of "War and Peace" at Moscow's Bolshoi Theater.

In 1948, Prokofiev's modernist work fell afoul of Stalin's regime. The head of the Union of Composers denounced him as "formalist" and "bourgeois" and public performances of his compositions were banned for two years. His wife, Lina, from whom he was separated, was arrested and sent to a labor camp.
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In 1948, Prokofiev's modernist work fell afoul of Stalin's regime. The head of the Union of Composers denounced him as "formalist" and "bourgeois" and public performances of his compositions were banned for two years. His wife, Lina, from whom he was separated, was arrested and sent to a labor camp.

Prokofiev died at age 61 on March 5, 1953, in Moscow. Although he had been condemned by the Soviet regime, his reputation was rehabilitated within the Soviet era. He received the posthumous Lenin Prize, pictured here, in 1957.
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Prokofiev died at age 61 on March 5, 1953, in Moscow. Although he had been condemned by the Soviet regime, his reputation was rehabilitated within the Soviet era. He received the posthumous Lenin Prize, pictured here, in 1957.

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