After the belated triumph in Russia of his Romeo and Juliet with the Kirov Ballet in 1940, the ballet company commissioned him to write another ballet, and suggested the topic of Cinderella which he eagerly agreed to. He was fascinated by fairy-tales and supernatural stories as a child, and returned to them throughout his career for inspiration.
In his own words: “The main thing I wanted to convey in the music of Cinderella was the poetic love of Cinderella and the Prince — the inception and flowering of the emotion, the obstacles in its way, the realisation of a dream. A major role in my work on Cinderella was played by the fairy-tale nature of the subject, which faced me as the composer with a number of interesting problems — the mysteriousness of the good grandmother fairy, the fantasy of the twelve dwarfs leaping at midnight from the clock and beating out a tap-dance reminding Cinderella to return home……… The authors of the ballet wanted the onlooker to see living, feeling, experiencing people in this fairy-tale setting.”
Since he began the score immediately after leaving his wife of many years for another woman, Prokofiev’s understanding of obstacles and dreams was probably rather personal.
Perhaps because his his earlier ballet, Romeo and Juliet had at first been criticises as being “undanceable,” he aimed to avoid the same response and set out to write numbers “that would emerge naturally from the story line, that would be varied, that would allow the dancers to do enough dancing and to exhibit their technique.”
Prokofiev had largely finished the first two acts by early summer of 1941 when the Nazis invaded Soviet Russia, and he and other artists were evacuated for their safety. Cinderella seemed inappropriately frivolous for the times and he worked instead on his epic opera War and Peace and returned to Cinderella only when War and Peace was finished in the summer of 1943.
Cinderella was premiered with great success in November, 1945, and has remained one of the most widely performed and important contemporary ballets in the repertoire ever since.