The Love for Three Oranges (1919)


In 1918, Sergei Prokofiev, age 27, lit out from his native Russia to set the world on fire.  He convinced the officials of the newly proclaimed Soviet government that he could win friends abroad for the fledgling nation, and he was soon headed east on a train across his vast homeland.  He made his way through Vladivostok and Yokohama to America, giving his official debut in November in New York, where he had arrived two months earlier.  Though there were critical misgivings about his Bolshevistic political ties, there were no quibbles about the extraordinary quality of his musical talent, and he made a great success with his first recital.

Sergei Prokofiev

(1891 - 1953)

Audio Selections

Important Works by Prokofiev


The Gambler (1917)

The Love for Three Oranges (1919)

The Fiery Angel (1923)

War and Peace (1943)   considered to be his greatest work


The Buffoon (1915)

Le Pas d’acier  (The Steel Step)  (1926)

The Prodigal Son  (1929)

Romeo and Juliet (1936)

Cinderella   (1944)

The Stone Flower (1953)   one of his very last works

ORCHESTRAL (including incidental music for film & theatre)

Lieutenant Kije    (1933)

Alexander Nevsky (1938)

Ivan the Terrible (1946)

7 Symphonies  (1917, 1925, 1928, 1930, 1944, 1947, 1952)

2 Violin Concertos (1917, 1935)

5 Piano Concertos  (1912, 1913, 1921, 1931, 1932)

Scythian Suite  (1915)

Peter and the Wolf  (1936)

Sinfonia Concertante for Cello and Orchestra  (1952)

Prokofiev also composed an immense amount of piano music, as well as much chamber music, choral music, and incidental music. He was one of the most prolific composers of the 20th-century.

Sinfonia Concertante (1952)


Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante is a true musical hybrid. In addition to its bipartite name, it represents not only the melding of two periods of its composer’s creative life, but also the alliance of two of Russia’s greatest musical minds.  For the fifteen years after 1918, Prokofiev lived in the West, mostly in France, gaining a reputation as one of music’s most brilliant avante-garde composers.  For reasons never fully explained-the unquenchable lure of Mother Russia, perhaps, or the hope of even greater success at home-he returned to his native land in 1933 and took up his duties in helping build the Great Soviet Society. 


We tend to play a lot of Prokofiev — WHY? A couple of important reasons come to mind:

  1. 1)He generally calls for large orchestras with comprehensive percussion sections, which keeps our percussionists busy back there.

  2. 2)His music is both accessible to the general public and rewarding and demanding for players, making for a win-win combination.

I think it quite important for all musicians to be aware of Prokofiev’s own analysis of his style characteristics. Here was a composer who was not afraid to analyze his own music and his attitudes towards his art. According to the composer, there were five major characteristics of his works that were either completely overlooked or misunderstood by his critics:

“The first”, he said, “was the classical, born in my childhood when I heard my mother play Beethoven sonatas.  It took a neoclassical turn in my gavottes and sonatas.

The second — innovation, which started after Taneyev’s (his teacher) mocking remark about my ‘much too simple’ harmony.  At first it led to a search for harmonies to suit my own language, and later to a search for a language to express strong emotions.

The third — toccata-like character, or if you prefer to call it so, machine, or motorlike.  This had its roots in Schumann’s Toccata, which made a great impression on me at the time and is expressed in my Etudes, Toccata, Scherzo, and in the Scherzo in the Second Piano Concerto.  This characteristic is of less importance.

The fourth — a lyrical principal.  This characteristic was never noticed, or not until much later.  For a long time, my critics denied me any lyricism, and without any encouragement it developed very slowly.  But later I paid more attention to it.

The fifth — the so-called grotesque, is a sideline of the four.  In fact, I am very much against this term ‘grotesque’, which in Russian is a mistranslation of the original French word.  In referring to my work I would prefer to use ‘scherzando’, meaning simply an effort to express a joke, laughter, or mockery.”

Thus Prokofiev on his own style characteristics.  Can you find examples of these characteristics in the Prokofiev works we are playing this year?  Easy!  You can find them ALL in the Three Oranges Suite!

Cinderella (1944)


Contes de ma Mère l’Oye —“Tales of Mother Goose” — Charles Perrault’s 1697 collection that gave classic form to Cinderella, Puss-in Boots, Bluebeard, Little Red Riding Hood and many other popular narratives, is one of the most enduring and influential of all literary classics.  Perrault’s “fairy tales” are, of course, the essential stuff of children’s literature, but their spell has also held powerful sway over many who have left childhood behind in years but not in spirit. These stories have probably inspired more musical settings than any secular texts except those of Shakespeare. 

Prokofiev Video Links

Death of Tybalt

Here is a visually stunning and impeccably performed Death of Tybalt from Romeo and Juliet, with Rostropovich conducting. Rostropovich was a close friend and colleague of both Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and was the dedicatee of cello concertos by both composers.

March from The Love for Three Oranges

Here is one of my favorites! Jascha Heifetz playing the March from The Love for Three Oranges. Classic!  Did you all know that I was accepted as a youngster into Jascha Heifetz’s violin studio in Los Angeles? Since it meant taking me out of school, my parents were opposed to the idea, so I never had the opportunity of working with the greatest violinist in the history of Western music (after Paganini). Many years later, I used to bump into him at USC (literally, once—and he gave me that icy stare that completely destroyed me….)

Peter and the Wolf

Peter and the Wolf is universally recognized as one of Prokofiev’s masterpieces. Composed upon his return to the Soviet Union after many years abroad, the work is a fine example of his “Socialist Realism” music—that is to say, music composed for the masses: easy to listen to, accessible, using folk-like tunes and not employing harsh dissonance.

Scythian Suite

One of my ALL-TIME favorite Prokofiev pieces: the Scythian Suite. Can a work be more different than Peter and the Wolf?  This is on my wish list for a CYS performance—but it requires a massive, gargantuan orchestra. Hey, wait: we HAVE a massive, gargantuan orchestra! How do you like the conductor? He certainly has some interesting moves!

March from The Love for Three Oranges

Here is a rare piano-roll of Prokofiev himself playing his March from The Love for Three Oranges.

Toccata in D, Op. 11

A good example of what Prokofiev called his “motoric” or “machinelike” music, or the “toccata-like” element in his musical style….

The Love for Three Oranges

Prokofiev composed his opera The Love For Three Oranges in 1919, and the work has been a staple of major opera companies throughout the world since that time. Influenced by Dada art and Surrealism, the opera has fantastical scenes and highly improbable plot scenarios, and is one of his more important opuses.

Prokofiev playing the piano

Offered here is rare footage of Prokofiev playing the piano, as well as discussing music. Unfortunately, you will have to be fluent in Russian to understand what he is saying!


A wonderful short excerpt from the staged ballet production of Cinderella. Prokofiev composed music for one more ballet after Cinderella: do you remember what its name is?