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Peter with his friend, the Duck (credit: Breakthru Films)''Peter & the Wolf''

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"PETER & THE WOLF"
Premieres on March 26, 2008 on PBS
(check local listings)

ESSAY

PROKOFIEV'S "PETER AND THE WOLF"
(continued)

As Harlow Robinson writes in his 1987 biography of Prokofiev, "If the story has a moral, it seems to be this: don't be afraid to challenge established beliefs (Grandfather's caution) or to take risks. It is Peter's independence, shrewdness and courage that save the day; if he hadn't disobeyed his grandfather by climbing over the wall, the wolf would never have been caught. Seen in this light, 'Peter and the Wolf' is a subtly subversive tract, encouraging children to rely on their wits and not on the greater experience (and inertia) of their elders."

It's entirely possible, of course, to view the piece as pure entertainment and music appreciation, devoid of any hidden message.

The first performance featured Prokofiev at the keyboard and was a hit with the young audience at the Children's Theater. A formal, public performance a few days later "was rather poor and did not attract much attention," the composer entered into his diary. But the fate of "Peter and the Wolf" quickly improved. Within a few weeks, yet another performance was given in Moscow, and this time, there was no mistaking the triumph. In short order, the work was charming audiences far beyond Soviet Russia. It clearly knew no geographic or demographic boundaries. And the educational element was grasped from the start; concerts for young people were not complete without it.

That Prokofiev should have created such a masterpiece isn't at all surprising. Robinson explains it neatly: "Long after his own idyllic childhood, he continued to love children for their unfettered imagination, sense of play and inability to dissimulate. That he never forgot what it meant to be a child, and how children think, is evident in the playful but never condescending music he wrote for them, most of all the phenomenally successful 'Peter and the Wolf,' written when Prokofiev was a boy of forty-five."

Over the decades, the work has been performed by virtually every orchestra and conductor and has also attracted an endless list of narrators, including an impressive number of A-listers from virtually every field, among them Sting, David Bowie, Patrick Stewart, John Gielgud, Sophia Loren, Sean Connery, Boris Karloff, Jack Lemmon, William F. Buckley, Captain Kangaroo, and the inimitable Dame Edna Everage (a.k.a. Barry Humphries). And, of course, there have been many comic takeoffs on the story as well, including those by the likes of Weird Al Yankovic, P.D.Q. Bach (a.k.a. Peter Schickele), and Allan Sherman.

Now comes Suzie Templeton's provocative animated, wordless version, set in our own time and in a Russia that, on the surface, does not seem to have improved much from the bleakest Soviet days. But in that ominous world, the spirit of an inquisitive, sensitive, brave boy glows and grows as brightly as ever.


Referenced Source:
Robinson, Harlow. SERGEI PROKOFIEV: A BIOGRAPHY. New York: Viking Penguin, 1987.






Top banner photo: Peter with his friend, the Duck (credit: Breakthru Films).


The Bird
photo: The Bird

Credits
Watch the Video
Dialogue
Related Web Sites
BreakThru Films: Peter & the Wolf
Suzie Templeton
The Philharmonia Orchestra
Mark Stephenson
SE-MA-FOR Film Production
The Prokofiev Page
The Serge Prokofiev Foundation



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