Klavier Festival Ruhr
zur deutschen Version English language selected Petruschka
How Strawinsky does it

In this section you will find descriptions of what Stravinsky did when he composed his music using similar starting points as the children used in their classroom projects. The titles are ours, not Stravinsky's.

Fairground scene – “Come and buy!”
Ding dong ding
Cockeyed dance
Sad and jealous
Sad tune
Moor’s tune
Oh I have a little table in the middle of my room
Petrushka you’ve got a jinx on you

These will help you to guide the children when they listen to Petrushka, and will help them to make connections with their own music. The numbers in the text are the rehearsal figures in the score of the 1947 version, published by Boosey and Hawkes. When you click the red loudspeaker symbol beside a rehearsal number it will take you directly to the right place in the music and you will hear a brief, relevant excerpt. Should you wish to listen to a longer extract of the music, this will help you to find your place on the complete cd of Petrushka.

Fairground scene – “Come and buy!”

This is Stravinsky’s musical description of the Maslenitsa Fair, which took place every year in old St Petersburg.

From the very start, Stravinsky cuts back and forth between different musical elements, like a film editor cutting a film. His aim is to create a musical picture of many different aspects of the fair going on at once, without confusing the listener by superimposing them all at once.

The first thing we hear is a high, arresting call by the flutes, like the call of a stall-holder at a fair. They are immediately answered by celli playing a different call. 1 

These musical calls are accompanied by clarinets and horns playing 2-note, oscillating ostinati in the background.

The first few notes of the Russian song Ding dong ding are played by the bass instruments, perhaps representing another stall and accompanied by their own ostinati. 2   Then the flute and celli calls are repeated.

A few moments later a longer version of Ding dong ding is heard, again played by the bass instruments and imitated by the flutes, oboes and piano in a disjointed parody 3   before Ding dong ding emerges triumphantly in its entirety, played by the whole orchestra. 7 

After the full version of Ding dong ding, Stravinsky uses the same complicated series of asymetric measures as were used in the Cockeyed dance project to create an impression of the crowd pushing and shoving and the ever-changing atmosphere of a fair. 13  

Then suddenly all is briefly peaceful as the first strains of a carousel are heard. 18   But only for a second or two. The bustle of the fair returns, soon interrupted once again by the caroussel.

Now the French song Elle avait une jambe en bois is heard. Is this perhaps a caroussel for small children? 23 

This kaleidoscopic way of composing is one of the innovations that make Stravinsky such a startlingly original composer; one of the key figures of 20th century music.

Ding dong ding

Stravinsky achieves an extraordinary exuberance 7   by accompanying the song with two sets of major and minor chords, the higher ones (in root position) parallel to the tune and the lower ones (in second inversion) in contrary motion.

Don’t miss Ding dong ding’s sudden, quiet reappearance 246   immediately before Petrushka’s final, fatal struggle with the Moor. This time it is played by a solo horn, accompanied by flutes, bassoons and pizzicato (plucked) strings.

Cockeyed dance

Stravinsky, of course, writes a lot of music in regular measures; for example 23 

One of Stravinsky’s great musical innovations is, however, to write music in which measures change constantly; for example, try reading this through:

123  (1)23456  12345  123(4)5  12345  123 (1)234

I have added the gaps simply to make it easier to read. Count it continuously with no gaps and an accent on each 1. Numbers in brackets are silent. Try sniffing on each of these.This is the rhythm of the Cockeyed dance as Stravinsky actually wrote it. 13   No wonder the dancers protested at the first rehearsal!

Stravinsky’s use of asymetric measures amazed and, in some cases, enraged the musical world of the early 1900s. The effect is extraordinarily exhilarating.

Sad and jealous

A bit of music theory.

Major and minor chords are an important part of Stravinsky’s musical language in Petrushka. We hear them first in his joyful accompaniment to Ding dong ding . 7 

Stravinsky’s decided to use a major chord as Petrushka’s “signature tune”. The problem is that he had to find a way of making it sound depressed and aggressive. Major chords sound comfortable, even if you play them loudly and quickly. They have none of the clashing sounds that we associate with anger.

Stravinsky solved the problem by playing two different major chords simultaneously. And furthermore, he chose two particular chords.

If you play F and B simultaneously on a piano or a xylophone, the sound is grating and uncomfortable. In earlier centuries this pair of notes was called “the devil’s interval”. We call it the augmented 4th or tritone. It can be found by playing any note, then, counting black and white notes, missing 5 notes, and playing the next one.

Stravinsky decided that the two chords that make “Petrushka’s chord” should be a tritone apart. Then he rearranged the notes of one of the chords so that they were as close as possible to the notes of the other chord. This gave him exactly the grating, melancholy sound he wanted.

Stravinsky first writes it slowly and sadly for the two clarinets 95  , then almost immediately quickly and aggressively.

You can hear Petrushka’s chord in its various different moods at (114), 116  , (118), 151   and 153  .

Sad tune

A brief moment of wistfulness, this fragment of melody is never heard again in Petrushka 104  . Stravinsky accompanies the cor anglais melody with a repeated drone note (E played by bass clarinet, piano left hand and double basses), an ostinato (also in the left hand of the piano), and a bassoon that sounds like an ostinato but does, in fact, vary a little. Bass drum and cymbal and the many added grace notes add an exotic oriental flavour.

Moor's tune

The Moor’s tune frames a whole section of music that describes the Moor’s character. It is first heard at 125  , played by clarinet and bass clarinet an octave apart, accompanied by repeated B drone (celli and basses), ostinati (violins and violas), and rhythmic ostinato on bass drum and cymbal.

Then come a series of musical changes of mood, including a furious outburst. 130 

When the Moor’s tune returns 132   it is reorchestrated. This time the tune is played by 2 oboes and cor anglais (the introduction), then by 2 bassoons and horn (the main tune).

Oh I have a little table in the middle of my room

This short tune is played in 4 different consecutive versions:

1. by oboes and cor anglais, the second oboe moving in parallel tritones with the other instruments, something most definitely forbidden by the rules of traditional music theory; 180 

2. by clarinets;

3. by solo trumpet 183  ;

4. by flutes, oboes, violins and violas 184  .

All are accompanied by drones and ostinati.

Then it is combined with another tune until the appearance of the bear.

Its original words are: add

Petrushka you’ve got a jinx on you

This tune is called the Dance of the Coachmen in the score. It is introduced in separated fragments 213  , played successively by trumpets, trombones, horns and strings, then again on brass. After an interlude (different music), the fragments are joined together to make the complete tune, played in canon between trumpets and trombones, and violins and celli, accompanied by a full orchestral blaze of drones and ostinati 229  .