Petrushka (ballet)

Petrushka (ballet)

Infobox Ballet
name = Petrushka

image_size =
caption =
choreographer = Michel Fokine
composer = Igor Stravinsky
based_on =
premiere = 13 June 1911
place = Théâtre du Chatelet, Paris
ballet_company = Ballets Russes
characters =
set designer = Alexandre Benois
setting = Russia
created for = Vaslav Nijinsky
genre = Neoclassical ballet
type = classical ballet

"Petrouchka" or "Petrushka" ( _fr. Pétrouchka; _ru. Петрушка) is a ballet with music by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

"Petrushka" is a story of a Russian traditional puppet, Petrushka, who is made of straw and with a bag of sawdust as his body, but who comes to life and has the capacity to love, a story superficially resembling that of Pinocchio.

According to Andrew Wachtel, "Petrushka" is a work that fuses music, ballet, choreography and history in perfect balance. It resembles Richard Wagner's "Gesamtkunstwerk" (total artwork), but with a Russian approach.Wachtel 1998,Fact|date=November 2007. ]


Stravinsky composed the music during the winter of 1910–11 for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. It was premièred in Paris at the Théâtre du Chatelet on June 13 1911 under conductor Pierre Monteux, with choreography by Mikhail Fokine and sets by Alexandre Benois. The title role was danced by Vaslav Nijinsky. [Walsh 2001.] . While the production was generally a success, more than a few observersweasel-inline|date=May 2008 were taken aback by music that was brittle, caustic, and at times even grotesque. One critic approached Diaghilev after a dress rehearsal and said, "And it was to hear "this" that you invited us?" Diaghilev succinctly replied, "Exactly".citequote|date=May 2008 When Diaghilev and his company traveled to Vienna in 1913, the Vienna Philharmonic initially refused to play the score, deriding "Petrushka" as "schmutzige Musik" ("dirty music").Fact|date=May 2008

The work is characterized by the so-called Petrushka chord (consisting of C major and Fmusic|sharp major triads played together), a polytonic device heralding the appearance of the main character.


1911 original version

The original 1911 version of "Petrushka" is scored for 4 flutes (3rd and 4th doubling piccolo), 4 oboes (4th doubling English horn), 3 clarinets in B flat, bass clarinet in B flat (doubling clarinet 4), 3 bassoons, contrabassoon (doubling bassoon 4), 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in B flat (often doubling piccolo trumpet), 2 cornets in B flat and A, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, 2 snare drums (one offstage), 2 tambourines (one offstage), triangle, tamtam, glockenspiel, xylophone, piano, celesta, 2 harps and strings.

1947 revised version

Stravinsky's 1947 revised version is scored for the following smaller orchestra: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets in B flat (3rd doubling bass clarinet in B flat), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in B flat and C, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, tambourine, triangle, tamtam, xylophone, piano, celesta, harp and strings.


The libretto was written by Alexandre Benois and Igor Stravinsky.

The play opens at a Shrovetide fair in Saint Petersburg": Maslenitsa", a Russian carnival before Lent that is analogous to Mardi Gras. The people rejoice before the privations of the long fast.

Stravinsky's orchestration and rapidly changing rhythms depict the hustle and bustle of the fair. An organ grinder and dancing girl entertain the crowd. Drummers announce the appearance of the Old Wizard, who charms the captivated audience. Suddenly, the curtain rises on a tiny theater, as the Wizard introduces the inert, lifeless puppet figures of Petrushka, the Ballerina and the Moor (the brute).

The Old Wizard casts a magic spell with his flute. The puppets come to life, leap from their little stage, and perform a vigorous Russian dance among the astounded carnival-goers.

The second scene, after the performance, is set in the Petrushka's room. The walls are painted in dark colors and decorated with black stars and a half-moon. With a resounding crash, the Wizard kicks Petrushka into his barren cell. We see that Petrushka leads a dismal "life" behind the show curtains. Although Petrushka is a puppet, he feels human emotions, including bitterness toward the Old Wizard for his imprisonment, as well as love for the beautiful Ballerina. A frowning portrait of the Wizard hangs above, as if to remind Petrushka that he is a mere puppet. This infuriates Petrushka, and he shakes his fists at the Wizard's glare. Petrushka tries to escape from his cell, but fails.

The Ballerina enters the room. Petrushka tries to profess his love, but the Ballerina rejects his pathetic advances. As the Wizard treats Petrushka cruelly, the Ballerina engages in wanton affairs with the Moor. This snaps poor Petrushka's sensibilities.

In the third scene, the audience learns that the Moor leads a much more comfortable "life" than Petrushka. The Moor’s room is much more spacious and lavishly decorated, painted in bright reds, greens and blues. Rabbits, palm trees and exotic flowers decorate the walls and floor. The Moor reclines on a lounging couch and plays with a coconut, attempting to cut it with his scimitar. When he fails, he believes that the coconut must be a God.

The Wizard places the Ballerina in the Moor’s room. The Ballerina is attracted to the Moor’s handsome appearance. She plays a saucy tune on a toy trumpet (represented by a cornet in the original 1911 orchestration) and begins to dance with the Moor.

Petrushka finally breaks free from his cell. The Wizard brings him into the Moor's room to interrupt the Ballerina’s seduction. Petrushka attacks the Moor, but soon realizes he is too small and weak. The Moor beats Petrushka. Petrushka runs for his life, with the Moor chasing him, and escapes from the room.

The fourth and final scene, that evening, returns to the carnival. The orchestra introduces a chain of colorful dances as a series of unrelated characters come and go about the stage. The first and most prominent is the Wet-Nurses’ Dance, to the tune of the folk song "Down the Petersky Road". Then comes a peasant with his dancing bear, followed in turn by a group of a gypsies, coachmen and grooms and masqueraders.

As the merrymaking reaches its peak, a cry is heard from the puppet-theater. Petrushka suddenly runs across the scene, followed by the Moor in hot pursuit with an axe. The crowd is horrified when the Moor catches up with Petrushka and hacks him to death.

The police question the Old Wizard. The Wizard seeks to restore calm by shaking sawdust from the "corpse," to remind everyone that Petrushka is but a puppet.

As night falls and the crowd disperses, the Wizard leaves, carrying Petrushka’s limp body. Petrushka’s ghost appears on the roof of the little theater, his cry now in the form of an angry protest. Petrushka’s death only enlivens his spirit, which thumbs its nose at his tormentor from beyond the wood and straw of his carcass.

Now completely alone, the Old Wizard is terrified to see the leering ghost of Petrushka. The wizard scampers off, with a single frightened glance over his shoulder, and the scene is hushed, leaving the audience to wonder who is "real" and who is not.


The work is divided into four parts "(tableaux)" with the following scenes:

Part I: The Shrovetide Fair

*Introduction (at the Shrovetide Fair)
*The Charlatan's Booth
*Russian Dance

Part II: Petrushka's Cell

*Petrushka's Cell

Part III: The Moor's Room

*The Moor's Room
*Dance of the Ballerina
*Waltz - The Ballerina & the Moor

Part IV: The Shrovetide Fair (Evening)

*Dance of the Wet Nurses
*Peasant With Bear
*The Jovial Merchant with Two Gypsy Girls
*Dance of the Coachmen and Grooms
*The Masqueraders
*The Fight - The Moor and Petrushka
*Death of Petrushka
*Apparition of Petrushka's Double.

Other versions

In 1921, Stravinsky created a piano arrangement for Arthur Rubinstein entitled "Trois mouvements de Petrouchka", which the composer admittedly could not play himself for lack of adequate left hand technique.

In 1947, Stravinsky penned a revised version of "Petrushka" for a smaller orchestra, in part because the original version was not covered by copyright and Stravinsky wanted to profit from the work's popularity. The drumrolls linking each scene, optional in the 1911 original, are compulsory in the 1947 edition. The ballerina's tune is assigned to a trumpet in the 1947 version instead of a cornet as in the original. The 1947 version also provides an optional "fff" (fortissimo) near the piano conclusion of the original.

He also created a suite for concert performance that cut the last three sections: The Fight - The Moor and Petrushka, Death of Petrushka and Apparition of Petrushka.

In 1956, an animated version of the ballet appeared as part of NBC's Sol Hurok Music Hour. It was personally conducted by Stravinsky himself and was the first such collaboration. Directed by animator John David Wilson with Fine Arts Films, it has been noted as the first animated special ever to air on television.

Notable recordings

* Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra, live performance from 1940, RCA "(1911 concert suite)" (mono)
* Ferenc Fricsay conducting the RIAS Symphony Orchestra, live performance from 1953, Deutsche Grammophon, "(1947 concert suite)" (mono)
* Ernest Ansermet conducting the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, studio recording from 1957, Decca
* Pierre Monteux conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra, studio recording from 1959, RCA "(1911 version)"
* Igor Stravinsky conducting the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, studio recording from 1961, Sony "(1947 version)"
* Karel Ančerl conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, studio recording from 1962, Supraphon "(1947 version)"
* Antal Doráti conducting the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, studio recording from 1962, Mercury "(1947 version)"
* Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic, studio recording from 1969, Sony Classical "(1911 version)"
* Pierre Boulez conducting the New York Philharmonic, studio recording from 1971, Sony "(1911 version)"
* Kiril Kondrashin conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra, live performance from 1973, Philips "(1947 version)"
* Bernard Haitink conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra, studio recording from 1973, Philips "(1911 version)"
* Sir Colin Davis conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra, studio recording from 1977, Philips "(1947 version)"
* Claudio Abbado conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, studio recording from 1980, Deutsche Grammophon


Ricardo Chailly conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (1995)

External links

* [ Book review ] on Wachtel's book
* [ Book review] on Wachtel's book (subscription required)
* [ Book review] on Wachtel's book (subscription required)
*Public Domain Scores of Petrushka were available at the International Music Score Library Project
* [ Recordings of Stravinsky's Three Movements of Petrushka -piano version- by Alberto Cobo]


*Wachtel, Andrew (ed.). 1998. "Petrushka: Sources and Contexts". Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press. ISBN 978-0810115668
*Walsh, Stephen. 2001. "Stravinsky, Igor". "The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians", ed. S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.

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