Peter & the Wolf: Composer, Story & Music

Instructor: Robert Huntington

Bob has taught music at all levels and holds a Master's degree in Choral Conducting.

'Peter and the Wolf' is a musical tale written by Sergei Prokofiev. Review the story and learn about the music and the composer. At the end, take a quiz to test your knowledge.

The Story

Do you know the story of Peter and the Wolf? Perhaps you've heard a recording or seen a video? Let's begin with a quick review to help remember what takes place.

Peter lives with his grandfather. One day, Peter goes out into the nearby meadow, leaving open the garden gate. A little bird greets him, chirping from a tree branch. A duck follows Peter into the meadow and starts swimming in the pond. The bird and the duck argue with each other. A cat comes along and begins stalking the bird and the duck. Just as the cat is about to attack, Peter warns them. The bird flies to the tree and the duck swims to safety in the middle of the pond.

The grandfather comes out and reproaches Peter for being too near the forest and warns him about the danger of the wolf. They return to the house with the gate safely locked behind them. A wolf comes out of the forest and the cat goes up the tree. The bird, still in the tree, carefully keeps a safe distance from the cat. The duck, now back on shore, is attacked and eaten by the wolf in one gulp. The wolf circles the tree trying to figure out how to get to the cat and the bird.

Peter, watching from behind the gate, grabs a rope. He climbs the wall and quietly goes onto a tree branch; Peter tells the bird to distract the wolf. He forms a noose with the rope and lowers it, catching the wolf by the tail. Peter ties his end of the rope to the tree branch. Hunters emerge from the forest and shoot at the wolf, but Peter convinces them to help take the wolf to the zoo, instead. Peter triumphantly leads the way; the hunters follow with the wolf; the grandfather joins them, grumbling; the cat tags along; and the bird flies overhead. At the very end, you can hear the duck inside the wolf, because the wolf swallowed the duck alive.

The Music

The composer, Sergei Prokofiev, wrote the story and the music of Peter and the Wolf to help teach about the orchestra. The story consists of seven 'characters;' each is represented by a theme played on a specific instrument or group of instruments. Peter is represented by a violin theme accompanied by the string section of the orchestra and the bird is portrayed by a solo flute. An oboe depicts the duck and a clarinet is the sound of the cat. The grandfather is represented by a bassoon and the menacing wolf is portrayed by three French horns. The hunters have a brief march. A narrator and the orchestra combine to tell the story of Peter and his encounter with the wolf. The composer also uses the orchestra to help with sound effects, such as the cat running up the tree to escape from the wolf, portrayed by the clarinet playing an ascending passage; when Peter quietly lowers the rope to capture the wolf, imitated by a violin playing a descending passage; and the gunshots by the hunters, depicted on the timpani and bass drum.

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