Classical Music

How Josef Stalin Stole Sergei Prokofiev's Flowers

In can be easily argued that Russian born composer Sergei Prokofiev, who would have been 120 this week, was the most popular 20th century composer. As a sheet-music salesman, we can tell you that only Scott Joplin and Ennio Morricone come close to the number of requests for Prokofiev.

Yet the composer himself is often maligned as a sympathizer to the oppressive rule of Josef Stalin. In and of itself, that is the final irony, as the composer was denied the sendoff he was deserved by despot Josef Stalin.

Like a lot of people, artists especially, Prokofiev left Russia after the 1917 revolution that brought the Communists to power. As Prokofiev's music was highly experimental, and unlikely to thrive under the new totalitarian regime, he decided to move to America to continue his career.

Stalin's regime was actually pretty cool about the whole thing. No less a figure than People's Commisar of Education Anatoly Lunacharsky told Prokofiev, "You are a revolutionary in music, we are revolutionaries in life. We ought to work together. But if you want to go to America I shall not stand in your way."