Thursday, May 20, 2010

Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf

In 1936, Russian composer, Sergei Prokofiev was commissioned by the Central Children's Theatre in Moscow to write a musical symphony for children.  The intent was to cultivate "musical tastes in children from the first years of school."  Intrigued by the invitation, Prokofiev completed Peter and the Wolf in just four days.  Although the debut failed to attract much attention, this playful classic would delight and inspire both children and adults for years to come.

Peter and the Wolf is scored for several instruments and each character in the story has a particular instrument or musical theme:
  • Bird: Flute
  • Duck:  Oboe
  • Cat:  Clarinet
  • Grandfather:  Bassoon
  • Wolf:  French Horns
  • Hunters:  Woodwind theme, with gunshots on timpani and bass drum
  • Peter:  String instruments
This piece was fun to listen to with the kids and engaged them during our driving time.  After a week of listening, even the five-year old could identify the animals and the instruments.

The Story Goes Like This:

Peter, a young boy, lives at his grandfather's home in a forest clearing.  One day, Peter goes out into the clearing, leaving the garden gate open, and the duck that lives in the yard takes the opportunity to go swimming on the nearby pond.  She starts arguing with a little bird ("What kind of bird are you if you can't fly?" - "What kind of bird are you if you can't swim?").  Peter's pet cat sneaks up on them, and the bird--warned by Peter--flies to safety in a tall tree while the duck swims to safety in the middle of the pond.

Peter's grandfather scolds Peter for being outside in the meadow ("Suppose a wolf came out of the forest?"), and, when Peter defies him, saying that "Boys like me are not afraid of wolves", his grandfather takes him back into the house and locks the gate.  Shortly afterwards, "a big, grey wolf" does indeed come out of the woods.  The cat quickly climbs into the tree, but the duck, who has excitedly jumped out of the pond, is chased, overtaken and gulped down by the wolf.

Peter fetches a rope and climbs over the garden wall into the tree.  He asks the bird to fly around the wolf's head to distract him, while he lowers a noose and catches the wolf by his tail.  The wolf struggles to get free, but Peter ties the rope to the tree and the noose only gets tighter.

Some hunters, who have been tracking the wolf, come out of the forest ready to shoot, but Peter gets them to help him take the wolf to the zoo in a victory parade that includes himself, the bird, the hunters leading the wolf, the cat and grumpy grumbling Grandfather ("What if Peter hadn't caught the wolf?  What then?")  In the story's ending, the listener is told that "if you listen very carefully, you'd hear the duck quacking inside the wolf's belly, because the wolf, in his hurry, had swallowed her alive."

I kept waiting for the wolf to cough up the duck, but it never happens!

Kid Critique:

SAMUEL:  I like Peter because he is mischievious.
ANNA:  I like the bird because it sounds graceful and I like Peter because he's the strings and I want to learn to play the violin.
ARIELLE:  I liked the bird because it sounded peaceful, joyful and happy.  I liked Peter because it sounded happy and I liked the sound of that, too.
ELLA:  The Peter music sounds good and joyful and happy and the bird makes it sound like everyone in the world can whistle and ducks in real life look pretty.  That's why I like the duck.

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