IT IS EXACTLY fifty years since the death of Sergei Prokofiev. Even to many who have an interest in music, he remains an enigmatic figure. Seldom does so big a proportion of the oeuvre of so gifted a composer remain so largely unperformed, and indeed unknown. Although Jarvi's impressive cycle of his symphonies over a decade ago restored some of the composer's prominence and standing, we still know him best for the tip of his iceberg. The Classical symphony, Romeo andJuliet, Lieutenant Kijk, Peter and the Wolf and The Love for Three Oranges are staples of the modern repertoire; most of the rest, not least Prokofiev's prodigious work for the stage, languishes. In death as in life he is in the shade of his near-contemporary Stravinsky, and now also Shostakovich.
David Nice's book does not consciously set out to put the record straight, for it is one of the admirable qualities of the author that he seems to feel no need to defend his subject's position. This is the first of two volumes, and takes the story from Prokofiev's birth