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zur deutschen Version English language selected Petruschka
Listening to Petrushka

This section of the website guides you through Stravinsky’s actual music, played by the Bochumer Symphoniker conducted by Steven Sloane. It will help you to explain to the children what is happening in the music. Petrushka exists in two versions: the original version for large orchestra (1911), and a version for smaller orchestra that Stravinsky produced in 1947 with a particular eye to concert performance. The music itself is the same in both versions; only the orchestration differs.

The numbers in the text are the rehearsal figures in the score of the 1947 version, published by Boosey and Hawkes. When you click a number it will take you directly to the right place in the music. A black number in brackets eg (56) means that the sound file for this section is not available on this website, but can, of course, be located on a cd of Petrushka by using a score.

The musical examples are short. You can use them either to give the children a taste of the music or to locate your place on the cd so that you can play the whole section of music.

Petrushka is a ballet in the setting of a Russian folk festival. It is full of folk melodies, some traditional, others invented by Stravinsky in a folk idiom. Many are accompanied by drones, recalling the single, constant drones of bagpipes.

Petrushka: Burlesque in 4 scenes

Part 1: The Shrove-tide Fair
Part 2: Petrushka’s room
Part 3: The Moor’s room
Part 4: The Shrove-tide Fair and the death of Petrushka

Part 1: The Shrove-tide Fair

Opening   : the Maslinitsa fair in old St Petersburg. Flutes and celli compete for customers accompanied by ostinati played by clarinets and horns.

3   The Shrovetide song is played by the bass instruments and imitated in a strange way by the treble instruments.

18   A barrel organ is heard; its melody is interrupted by the bustle of the crowd, as if you were at the fair, being jostled, and looking round at different things. The tune returns at (22).

From here on Stravinsky treats the music as if it were a film, cutting from one scene at the fair to another - music that seems to describe people shouting and arguing; the banal sound of a merry-go-round tune; a little march perhaps describing an imaginary parade 23  .

This was the first time that anyone had written music like this. It was utterly revolutionary and helped to change other composers’ attitudes to what can be done in music.

25   The flute’s stall-holder call from the opening overlaps the carousel tune.

26   The tunes from two different barrel organs are heard at the same time.

(56) The drums tell us that we have come to the end of a scene (and remind us that we are in a fair ground).

57   A grunt from the contrabassoon marks the first appearance of the Charlatan (the magician who is the puppeteer).

60   The Charlatan plays a magic spell on his flute to bring the puppets to life.

61   Debussy wrote a letter in praise of the young Stravinsky’s imaginative layered orchestration in the music that describes the magic of the Charlatan.

64   Danse russe. The puppets dance.

(91) Drums indicate that we have come to the end of the scene.

Part 2: Petrushka’s room

95   Petrushka’s chord. We meet Petrushka alone in his room. He is furious at the way the Charlatan treats him. We hear his distinctive musical signature for the first time, played by two clarinets. We later hear this in several different forms, depending on Petrushka’s state of mind – 97  , 98  , (116), (118), 151  , 153  , 253  , 265  .

98   Petrushka becomes frantic; the piano part goes berserk. This is part of Stravinsky’s original concept of this music – not as a ballet at all, but as a piano concerto.

102   Petrushka fantasizes about the Ballerina, with little shivers of ecstacy from the piano.

104   Bass drum and cymbal are added to the accompaniment of this little tune as a preview of the exotic flavour to the Moor’s music. The melody is played by the cor anglais.

112   Petrushka at the height of his anguish, played by a high clarinet.

(119) Drums indicate that we have come to the end of the scene.

Part 3: The Moor’s room

125   The arrogant Moor in his room, exotically dressed. His tune is accompanied by bass drum and cymbal, since the 17th century considered to be traditional “oriental” instruments by western composers (eg Mozart in his opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail). The melody is first played by clarinet and bass clarinet two octaves apart then, later, at 132   , by bassoons and horn.

130   The Moor shows how aggressive he can be.

134   The Ballerina enters, playing a toy trumpet accompanied by a snare drum.

(140) The waltz tune is shared between flute and trumpet, as the Moor and the Ballerina dance together.

149   The ominous addition of cor anglais and horn to the seemingly innocent waltz as Petrushka spies on the two dancers.

151   String instruments playing tremolando (shivering with the bow) create sudden tension, then Petrushka’s chord on muted horns and muted trumpet as the furiously jealous Petrushka enters to confront the dancing Ballerina and Moor.

153   Petrushka’s chord signals the beginning of the fight between Petrushka and the Moor.

(160) The drums indicate that we have come to the end of the scene.

Part 4: The Shrove-tide Fair and the death of Petrushka

161   Back to the bustle of the fair. The first section of Part 4 is a series of dances (Petrushka is, after all, a ballet) interrupted by the appearance of a bear.

166   Strange-sounding groups of 5 notes (oboes and horns) that will come back again towards the end of Petrushka as the climax approaches (240).

174   A reminder of the stall-holder’s call (flute) from the opening.

180   The song "Oh I’ve got a little table in the middle of my room".

185   The tune from (171) and the tune from 180 combined.

187   Suddenly panic breaks out (led by the violas who suddenly play faster and out-of-time and are quickly joined by the whole orchestra) as the bear appears. The bear-trainer’s call, played on two very high clarinets and written so as to sound raucous and out-of-tune, like a peasant instrument.

189   The bear, played by the tuba.

(223) The tune, first heard at (171) comes back in a different form, punctuated by short trombone outbursts.

229   A Russian song to which we added the new words "Petrushka you’ve got a jinx on you" played as a powerful round between trumpets and trombones, and violins and cellos, whilst the rest of the orchestra bustles around it playing ostinati.

(234) A sudden sinister change of mood; piano and harp alone. Darkly dressed, masked dancers appear and the tension builds up.

240   The return of the groups of 5 notes, first heard at 166  , now played by trombones, tuba, timpani, celli and basses.

246   After all the excitement and chaos, the final, unexpected return of the song "Ding dong ding" played quietly by the horn.

251   Another sudden, unexpected change of mood; 3 trumpets joining in one after the other on a single note as we return to the puppet theatre and the continuing fight between Petrushka and the Moor.

257   The Moor strikes the fatal blow, and Stravinsky instructs that a tambourine should be dropped on the floor to represent Petrushka’s collapse.

258   Petrushka twitches (flute and piccolo, then clarinets), thinks his last lovelorn thoughts (clarinet, then solo violin with bassoon), and expires.

260   A policeman appears, with stereotypical music played by bassoons.

261   The music from 57   reappears as the Charlatan pleads his innocence of any crime with three single notes played again by the contrabassoon. “He’s only a puppet made of wood and sawdust.”

262   The crowd sighs and disperses and the horns seem to bring the music to a close, with pizzicato celli and basses.

(263) But the music starts up again (horns) and suddenly...

265   The ghost of Petrushka, played as loudly as possible by two muted trumpets, appears above the theatre and shakes its fist at the terrified Charlatan.

267   After the shock of his reappearance, the music finishes almost immediately, with pizzicato strings and a disturbingly strange last note (the interval of a tritone between the penultimate and the last notes) on the celli and basses.