Prokofiev was born in Sontsovka, Russian Empire (now the village of Krasne
in Donets'ka oblast', Ukraine) as an only child. His mother was a pianist
and his father a relatively wealthy agricultural engineer.
Prokofiev displayed unusual musical abilities at an early age and in
1902, when he started taking private lessons in composition, he had already
produced a number of pieces. As soon as he had the necessary theoretical
tools he quickly started experimenting, laying the base for his own musical
After a while, Prokofiev felt that the isolation in Sontsovka was
restricting his further musical development. Although his parents were not
too keen on forcing their son into a musical career at such an early age, in
1904 he moved to St Petersburg and applied to the Academy of Music. He
passed the introductory tests and started his composition studies the same
year, being several years younger than most of his classmates. He was viewed
as eccentric and arrogant, and he often expressed dissatisfaction with much
of the education, which he found boring. During this period he studied
under, among others, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. He also became friends with
Boris Asafiev and Nikolai Myaskovsky.
In the St Petersburg music scene, Sergei would gradually get a reputation
as an enfant terrible, while also getting praise for his original
compositions which he would perform himself on the piano. In 1909 he
graduated from his class in composition, getting less than impressive marks.
He continued at the academy, but now concentrated on playing the piano and
conducting. His piano lessons went far from smoothly, but the composition
classes made an impression on him. His teacher encouraged his musical
experimentation, and his works from this period display more intensity than
In 1910 Prokofiev's father died and Sergei's economic support ceased.
Luckily, at that time he had started making a name for himself as a
composer, although he frequently caused scandals with his forward-looking
works. His first two piano concertos were composed around this time.
In 1914 Prokofiev left the Conservatory, with the highest marks, which
won him a grand piano. Soon afterwards he made a trip to London where he
made contact with Sergei Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky.
During World War I, Prokofiev returned again to the academy, now studying
organ. He composed an opera based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel The
Gambler, but the rehearsals were plagued by problems and the premiere
scheduled for 1917 had to be cancelled because of the February Revolution.
In summer the same year, Prokofiev composed his first symphony, the
Classical. This was his own name for the symphony, which was composed in
a style inspired by, for example, Joseph Haydn (see Neoclassicism (music)).
After a brief stay with his mother in Kislovodsk, in the Caucasus, because
of worries of the enemy capturing Petrograd (the new name for St
Petersburg), he returned in 1918, but he was now determined to leave Russia,
at least temporarily. In the current Russian state of unrest he saw no room
for his experimental music and in May he headed for the USA.