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Peter and the Wolf

Peter and the Wolf is a composition by Sergei Prokofiev written in 1936 after his return to the Soviet Union. It is a children's story (with both music and text by Prokofiev), spoken by a narrator accompanied by the orchestra.


Peter and the Wolf was written by Sergei Prokofiev for his son who wanted to learn the story of the wolf without having to read it or listen to it again. Peter and the Wolf is scored for flute, oboe, clarinet in A, bassoon, 3 horns, trumpet, trombone, timpani, triangle, tambourine, cymbals, castanets, snare drum, bass drum and strings.

Each character in the story has a particular instrument and a musical theme, or leitmotif :

The story

Peter, a Soviet "pioneer" scout, is 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 into 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 "Pioneers are not afraid of wolves," 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.

Pioneer 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 (The piece was first performed for an audience of pioneers during May Day celebrations) 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."

Notable recordings

The first English version was recorded in 1939 by RCA Victor, was issued in an album of three 78-RPM discs. It was narrated by Richard Hale, a film actor best known for villainous roles, with music performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Serge Koussevitzky.

Many English-language recordings of this famous piece have followed, including these noteworthy examples:

Adaptations of the work

Walt Disney produced an animated version of the work in 1946, with Sterling Holloway providing the voice of the narrator. It was released theatrically as a segment in Make Mine Music, then re-issued the following year accompanying a re-issue of Fantasia (as a short subject before the film), then separately on home video in the 1990s. This version makes several changes to the original story, for example:

  • During the character introduction, the pets are given names: "Sasha" the bird, "Sonia" the duck, and "Ivan" the cat.
  • As the cartoon begins, Peter and his friends already know there is a wolf nearby, and are preparing to catch him.
  • The hunters get names at a later point in the story: "Misha", "Yasha" and "Vladimir".
  • Peter day-dreams of hunting and catching the wolf and exits the garden carrying a wooden "pop-gun" rifle with the purpose of hunting the wolf down.
  • At the end, in a complete reversal of the original (and to make the story more child-friendly), it turns out that the duck has not been eaten by the wolf. (The wolf is shown chasing the duck, who hides in a tree's trunk. The wolf attacks out of view, and returns in view with some of the duck's feathers in his mouth and licking his jaws. Peter, the cat, and the bird assume the duck has been eaten. After the wolf has been caught, the bird is shown mourning the duck. The duck comes out of the tree trunk at that point and they are happily reunited).

This version of Peter and the Wolf was featured in House of Mouse and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and an audio recording of this version with expanded narration by Sterling Holloway was released on Disneyland Records (DQ-1242).

  • In 1958, a television special entitled Art Carney Meets Peter and the Wolf, starring, naturally, Art Carney, along with the Bil Baird Marionettes, was presented by the American Broadcasting Company, and was successful enough to have been repeated twice. The show boasted an original storyline in which Carney interacted with some talking marionette animals, notably the wolf, who was the troublemaker of the group. This first half was presented as a musical, with adapted music from Lieutenant Kije and other Prokofiev works which had special English lyrics fitted into them. The program then segued into a complete performance of Peter and the Wolf, played exactly as written by the composer, and "mimed" by both "human" and "animal" marionettes. The conclusion of the program again featured Carney interacting with the animal marionettes.
  • Hans Conried recorded the narration with a Dixieland Band in or around 1960. Since there is no oboe in a Dixieland Band, the part of the duck was played by a saxophone.
  • The Clyde Valley Stompers recorded a jazz version on Parlophone Records (45-R 4928) in 1962, which registered on the pop charts of the time.
  • Allan Sherman parodied the work in a 1964 album called Peter and the Commissar, made with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra.
  • A 1966 version by Hammond Organ player 'The Incredible Jimmy Smith', arranged by Oliver Nelson featured no narration, and was an improvisation around the original themes.
  • In 1975, Robin Lumley and Jack Lancaster produced a rock version with their fusion group Brand X as the soundtrack for an animated film. Their music makes use of some of Prokofiev's original themes. Along with Vivian Stanshall as the narrator, the staff is illustrious (among others Gary Moore, Manfred Mann, Phil Collins, Bill Bruford, Stephane Grappelli, Alvin Lee, Cozy Powell, Brian Eno, Jon Hiseman), the music very heterogeneous — from psychedelic rock to jazz (Grappelli's violin solo on the motif of the cat).
  • A sequel to the story was written by Justin Locke in 1985 using the original score. "Peter VS. the Wolf" also requires four actors for a stage presentation.
  • In 1985, Arnie Zane choreographed a punk ballet version of Peter and the Wolf..
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic and Wendy Carlos produced a comedic version in 1988, using a synthesized orchestra and many additions to the story and music (Peter captures the wolf using his grandfather's dental floss, leading to the moral of the story, "Oral hygiene is very important.").
  • A 1990 episode of Tiny Toon Adventures titled "Buster and the Wolverine" featured Elmyra Duff providing narration for a story where Buster Bunny and his friends, represented with musical instruments, combat an evil "wolverine". In this episode, the characters' instruments are: Buster Bunny, a trumpet; Babs Bunny, a harp; Furrball, a violin; Sweetie Pie, a flute; Hamton J. Pig, a tuba; Plucky Duck, a bike horn (later, bagpipes, then an organ, and finally a synthesizer); and the wolverine, drums.
  • Peter Schickele (aka P.D.Q. Bach), wrote an alternate, comedic text for the score entitled Sneaky Pete and the Wolf, turning the story into a Western, including a showdown between Sneaky Pete and the gunslinger El Lobo (which never takes place due to some local boys giving El Lobo a hotfoot and sticking a paper airplane in his eye and Sneaky Pete's girl Laura knocking El Lobo out with a vacuum cleaner). It was recorded with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conducted by Yoel Levi in 1993.
  • In March 1996, a 30-minute television film was made with a mix of live action and animation and the characters from the story were designed by Chuck Jones. The film featured Kirstie Alley, Lloyd Bridges and Ross Malinger in a live-action "wraparound" segment and as voices in the story (Ms. Alley as the Narrator, Mr. Bridges as "The Grandfather" and Ross as "Peter"). This version also keeps the child-friendly ending by having the swallowed duck pop out of the wolf's mouth alive and well as the wolf is being captured and dancing a ditzy dance. As the story ends, Peter finds the duck crouching at the pond's edge shivering and frightened because of his terrible experience, and Peter reassures him that he (Peter) would always be there to protect him. The music for this version was performed by the RCA Symphony Orchestra conducted by George Daugherty.
  • In September 1996, Coldcut (a duo of scratch/mix djs from south London) released a scratch version of the main theme — included on the track "More Beats and Pieces", from their album "Let Us Play" (released by Ninja Tune).
  • In 2001, National Public Radio produced Peter and the Wolf: A Special Report, which treats the familiar plot as if it were a developing news story. Robert Siegel, Linda Wertheimer, Ann Taylor, Steve Inskeep of NPR's All Things Considered report on the event against a performance of the score by the Virginia Symphony conducted by JoAnn Falletta.
  • Sesame Workshop produced a version with Sesame Street characters in 2001 as told by way of a trip to a Boston Pops concert. Dubbed as "muppet:Peter and the Wolf," the story unfolds inside Baby Bear's imagination as he attends a performance with Papa Bear, conducted by Keith Lockhart. In the story, Peter is played by Elmo, the cat by Oscar the Grouch, the duck by Telly Monster, the bird by Zoe, the grandfather by Big Bird, and the hunters by the muppet:Two-Headed Monster. Each character is followed around by a soloist playing that character's instrument, but Telly Monster's "Duck" quits the story after finding out that the wolf eats the duck (he returns as one of the hunters later).
  • In February 2004, Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Sophia Loren won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children for narrating the album Peter and the Wolf/Wolf Tracks. This recording was performed by the Russian National Orchestra conducted by Kent Nagano and included Ms. Loren narrating Peter and the Wolf and Clinton narrating The Wolf and Peter by Jean-Pascal Beintus, which is also a narrated orchestral piece, but the story is told from the perspective of the wolf and has the theme of leaving animals to live in peace.
  • In 2006, Neil Tobin produced a Halloween-themed narrative called Peter and the Werewolf with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, John Lanchbery conducting.
  • Also in 2006, Suzie Templeton directed a modernised, stop-motion animated adaptation, Peter and the Wolf. It is unusual in its lack of any dialogue or narration, the story being told purely in images and sound and interrupted by sustained periods of silence. The soundtrack is performed by The Philharmonia Orchestra, and the film received its premiere with a live accompaniment in the Royal Albert Hall. The film won the Annecy Cristal and the Audience Award at the 2007 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, and won the 2008 Academy Award for Animated Short Film. This version also makes some changes to the original Prokofiev story; for example:
    • Peter bumps into one of the hunters who throws him in a garbage bin and aims at him with his rifle to scare him; the second hunter watches on not interfering (thus, a dislike towards the hunters is immediately created).
    • The bird seems to have trouble flying and takes Peter's balloon to help it get aloft.
    • After Peter has captured the wolf in a net, the hunter gets him in his rifle's telescopic sight coincidentally, but just before shooting, his fellow hunter stumbles, falls on him and makes him miss the shot.
    • The wolf is brought into the village where Peter's grandfather tries to sell him. The hunter comes to the container and sticks his rifle in as to intimidate the animal (like he did with Peter earlier on). At that point Peter throws the net on the hunter who gets all tangled up.
    • Before the grandfather has made a deal, Peter opens the container after exchanging glances with the wolf. They walk side-to-side through the crowd and then the wolf runs off in the direction of the silver moon.


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