Nijinsky as Petrushka
|Based on||Russian folk material|
|Premiere||13 June 1911 – Théâtre du Chatelet
|Original ballet company||Ballets Russes|
Petrushka (French: Pétrouchka; Russian: Петрушка) is a ballet burlesque in four scenes. It was composed in 1910–11 and revised in 1947. Igor Stravinsky composed the music, and, with Alexandre Benois, fashioned the libretto. Michel Fokine choreographed the ballet; Benois designed the sets and costumes. Petrushka was first performed by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris on 13 June 1911. Nijinsky portrayed Petrushka with Tamara Karsavina as The Ballerina. Alexandre Orlov portrayed The Moor, and Enrico Cecchetti The Charlatan.
Petrushka tells the story of the loves and jealousies of three puppets. The three are brought to life by The Charlatan during 1830 Shrovetide Fair in St. Petersburg, Russia. Petrushka loves The Ballerina, but she rejects him. She prefers The Moor. Petrushka is angry and hurt, and challenges The Moor. The Moor kills him with his scimitar. Petrushka's ghost rises above the puppet theatre as night falls. He shakes his fist at The Charlatan, then collapses in a second death.
Petrushka brings music, dance, and design together in a unified whole. It is one of the most popular of the Ballets Russes productions. It is usually performed today using the original designs and choreography. Grace Robert wrote in 1949, "Although more than thirty years have elapsed since Petrushka was first performed, its position as one of the greatest ballets remains unassailed. Its perfect fusion of music, choreography, and décor and its theme—the timeless tragedy of the human spirit—unite to make its appeal universal."
Petrushka is a puppet. He is a character known across Europe under different names: Punch in England, Polichinelle in France, Pulcinella in Italy, Kasperle in Germany, and Petrushka in Russia. Whatever his name, he is a trickster, a rebel, and a wife beater. He enforces moral justice with a slap stick, speaks in a high-pitched, squeaky voice, and argues with the devil. His plays were formulaic and subversive. They repeated key scenes from one play to another. The plays usually ended with a dog, a policeman, or the devil dragging him away.
Empress Anna Ivanovna brought marionettes to Russia in the 18th century. These puppets were an amusement for the aristocracy. Rod puppets were an Asian import. They performed religious plays, mostly at Christmas. Petrushka however was a hand puppet. He was loved by the common people. He performed in street theatres and other open air venues in small portable booths or behind screens that could be easily assembled and just as easily disassembled. After the Russian Revolution, Soviet authorities forced Petrushka indoors. They wanted to be better able to monitor his subversiveness.
The gestation of Petrushka is somewhat complicated. While completing The Firebird during the spring of 1910, Stravinsky had a "vision" of a solemn pagan rite: sage elders, seated in a circle, watching a young girl dance herself to death. They were sacrificing her to propitiate the god of Spring. Such was the theme of the The Rite of Spring. Immediately following the stunning success of The Firebird in June 1910, Diaghilev approached Stravinsky about a new ballet; the composer proposed the Rite theme. Diaghilev accepted in principle, and suggested that the premiere might take place during the Paris season of the Ballets Russes during the spring of 1912.
At the end of September 1910, Diaghilev went to visit Stravinsky in Clarens, Switzerland, where he was living at the time. Expecting to discuss the new ballet, Diaghilev was astonished to find Stravinsky hard at work on a totally different project.Stravinsky, it seems, had had another vision: "I saw a man in evening dress, with long hair, the musician or poet of the romantic tradition. He placed several heteroclite objects on the keyboard and rolled them up and down. At this the orchestra exploded with the most vehement protestations – hammer blows, in fact …"
Later, he said: "In composing the music, I had in my mind a distinct picture of a puppet, suddenly endowed with life, exasperating the patience of the orchestra with diabolical cascades of arpeggios. The orchestra in turn retaliates with menacing trumpet blasts." Although Stravinsky had conceived the music as a pure concert work — a Konzertstück — Diaghilev immediately realized its theatrical potential. The notion of a puppet put Diaghilev in mind of Petrushka, the Russian version of Punch and Judy that had formed a traditional part of the pre-Lenten Carnival festivities in the St. Petersburg of the 1830s.
Stravinsky composed the music during the winter of 1910–11 for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. It was premièred in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet on 13 June 1911 under conductor Pierre Monteux, with choreography by Michel Fokine and sets by Alexandre Benois. The title role was danced by Vaslav Nijinsky. The work is characterized by the so-called Petrushka chord (consisting of C major and F♯ major triads played together), a bitonality device heralding the appearance of the main character.
1911 original version
The original 1911 version of Petrushka is scored for four flutes (3rd and 4th doubling piccolo), four oboes (4th doubling cor anglais), four clarinets in B flat, (4th doubling bass clarinet in B flat), four bassoons (4th doubling contrabassoon), four horns in F, two trumpets in B flat (often doubling piccolo trumpet), two cornets in B flat and A, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, two snare drums (one offstage), tambourine (tambour de Basque), tenor drum (tambourin) (offstage), triangle, tamtam, glockenspiel, xylophone, piano, celesta (2- and 4-hand), two harps, and strings.
1947 revised version
Stravinsky's 1947 revised version is scored for the following smaller orchestra: three flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), two oboes, cor anglais, three clarinets in B flat (3rd doubling bass clarinet in B flat), two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns in F, three trumpets in B flat and C, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, tambourine, triangle, tamtam, xylophone, piano, celesta, harp, and strings.
Compared to the 1911 version, the 1947 version requires one fewer flute; two fewer oboes, but a dedicated cor anglais player instead of one doubled by the fourth oboe; one fewer bassoon, but a dedicated contrabassoon; neither of the two cornets, but an additional trumpet; one fewer snare drum and no tenor drum, thus removing the offstage instruments; no glockenspiel; and one fewer harp.
Libretto and story
While the original idea was Stravinsky's, Alexandre Benois provided the ethnographic details of the Shrovetide Fair and the traditions of the Russian puppet theater. And although Petrushka is frequently cited as an example of the complete integration of libretto, music, choreography, and scenic design, Stravinsky had composed significant portions of the music (chiefly the Second Tableau) before Benois became involved with the project.
- First Tableau - The Shrovetide Fair
Petrushka begins with a festive orchestral introduction based, in part, on historical Russian street-hawkers' cries. The curtain rises to reveal St. Petersburg's Admiralty Square during the 1830s. The stage set (also by Benois) depicts several hucksters' booths, a ferris-wheel, a carousel, and (upstage center) a puppet theater. A crowd has gathered for the Shrovetide Fair (known as Maslenitsa), the carnival (analogous to Mardi Gras) preceding Lent.
In Fokine's original choreography, a group of Drunken Revelers emerges from the crowd, dancing to Stravinsky's adaptation of the folk-tune "Song of the Volochobniki".
Suddenly, the festive music is interrupted by strident brass announcing the appearance of the Master of Ceremonies on the balcony of his booth. The equivalent of a carnival "barker", he boasts of the attractions to be seen within.
The squeaks of a street-organ are heard (clarinets and flutes) as an Organ-Grinder and Dancing Girl emerge from the crowd, which at first pays little attention as the barker continues to shout. The Dancer moves downstage and begins to dance to another Russian folk-song, "Toward Evening, in Rainy Autumn", while playing the triangle.
At the other end of the stage, a second Dancing Girl appears, accompanied by a music box (suggested in the orchestra by the celesta). The two Dancing Girls compete for the crowd's attention to the strains of a ribald French music-hall song about a woman with a wooden leg: "Une Jambe de bois". Both tunes are repeated.
The Drunken Revelers return (again to the "Song of the Volochobniki") interrupted several times by the Barker's boasts. The street-hawkers' cries of the very opening are heard once more.
Suddenly, two drummers summon the crowd to the puppet theater with deafening drumrolls. The Magician (sometimes called the "Charlatan") appears to mystical groans from the bassoon and contrabassoon. When he has everyone's attention, he produces a flute and begins to play a long, improvisatory melody. The curtain of the puppet theater rises to reveal three puppets hanging on the wall: the Moor, the Ballerina, and Petrushka. When the Magician touches them with his flute (to chirps in the orchestra), they seem to awaken.
The astonished crowd watches as, with a wave of the Magician's hand, the three puppets begin a vigorous Russian Dance (based on two more Russian folk-tunes: "A Linden Tree is in the Field" and "Song for St. John's Eve".) In Fokine's masterly choreography, they first begin to move their feet (while still hanging on the wall), then burst forth from the puppet theater into the midst of the crowd. The Moor (resplendent in turban and exaggerated pantaloons) is swashbuckling. The Ballerina dances perpetually en pointe. Petrushka, on the other hand, is wooden and awkward. It becomes apparent Petrushka loves the Ballerina; but she has eyes only for the Moor. The Magician calls the dance to a halt; the curtain falls rapidly.
- Second Tableau - Petrushka's Room
Although Petrushka's room is inside the puppet theater, the Benois design is fantastical, portraying the night sky with stars and a half-moon; abstract icebergs (or snow-capped mountains), and a prominent portrait of the Magician.
Drumrolls announce the beginning of the Second Tableau. Without an Introduction, the music begins menacingly. "A foot kicks him onstage; Petrushka falls ..."
As Petrushka gradually pulls himself together, we hear a strange arpeggio in the clarinets: this is the famous "Petrushka chord" (consisting of juxtaposed triads of C major and F♯ major). Petrushka gets to his feet (although shakily) to the accompaniment of waves of arpeggios from the Piano (revealing the music's origins in Stravinsky's Konzertstück). The "Petrushka Chord" returns, now violently scored for trumpets, marked in the score "Petrushka's Curses", directed at the portrait of the Magician.
The music turns lyrical as Petrushka falls to his knees and mimes (in turn) his self-pity, love for the Ballerina, and hatred of the Magician.
The Ballerina (still en pointe) sneaks into Petrushka's room, at first unnoticed. As soon as Petrushka sees her, he begins a manic, athletic display of leaps and frantic gestures (although he was barely able to stand before she arrived). Frightened by his exuberance, the Ballerina flees. Petrushka falls to the floor to the mocking of the clarinets.
Another passage of arpeggios for Piano grows into a second round of curses directed at the Magician, again represented musically by the "Petrushka Chord", this time scored for full orchestra.
For just a moment, Petrushka peers out of his room at the crowd assembled in Admiralty Square (Stravinsky provides a brief reference to the "crowd music" of the First Tableau). Then, Petrushka collapses as we hear a taunting reprise of the clarinets playing the "Petrushka Chord", followed by an odd trumpet call signalling "blackout, curtain."
- Third Tableau - The Moor's Room
As before, drumrolls link the Third Tableau to its predecessor. In sharp contrast to the darkness of Petrushka's Room, the brilliant colors of the Benois design for The Moor's Room evoke a romanticized desert: palm trees, exotic flowers, sand.
In Fokine's choreography, the Moor reclines on a divan playing with a coconut. He then jumps to his feet and attempts to cut it with his scimitar. When he fails he believes that the coconut must be a god and proceeds to pray to it.
The Charlatan 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 dances with the Moor.
Petrushka finally breaks free from his cell, and he interrupts the seduction of the Ballerina. Petrushka attacks the Moor but soon realizes he is too small and weak. The Moor beats Petrushka. The clown-puppet flees for his life, with the Moor chasing him, and escapes from the room.
- Fourth Tableau - The Shrovetide Fair (Toward Evening)
The fourth and final scene returns to the carnival. Some time has passed; it is now early evening. The orchestra introduces a chain of colourful dances as a series of apparently unrelated characters come and go about the stage as snow begins to fall. The first and most prominent is the Wet-Nurses' Dance, performed 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 brandishing his sword, and the terrified Ballerina chasing after the Moor, fearful of what he might do. The crowd is horrified when the Moor catches up with Petrushka and slays him with a single stroke of his blade.
The police question the Charlatan. The Charlatan seeks to restore calm by holding the "corpse" above his head and shaking it to remind everyone that Petrushka is but a puppet.
As night falls and the crowd disperses, the Charlatan leaves, carrying Petrushka's limp body. All of a sudden, Petrushka's ghost appears on the roof of the little theatre, his cry now in the form of angry defiance. Petrushka's spirit thumbs its nose at his tormentor from beyond the wood and straw of his carcass.
Now completely alone, the Charlatan is terrified to see the leering ghost of Petrushka. He runs away whilst allowing himself a single frightened glance over his shoulder. The scene is hushed, leaving the audience to wonder who is "real" and who is not.
The work is divided into four tableaux (scenes). The score further indicates the following episodes:
Tableau I: The Shrovetide Fair
- A group of Drunken Revelers passes, dancing
- The Master of Ceremonies entertains the Crowd from his booth above
- An Organ-Grinder appears in the Crowd with a [woman] Dancer
- The Organ-Grinder begins to play
- The Dancer dances, beating time on the triangle
- At the other end of the stage a Music Box plays, another [woman] Dancer dancing around it.
- The first Dancer plays the triangle again
- The Organ and Music Box stop playing; the Master of Ceremonies resumes his pitch
- The Merry Group returns
- Two Drummers, stepping up in front of the Little Theater, attract the attention of the Crowd by their drumrolls
- At the front of [i.e. from inside] the Little Theater appears the Old Magician.
- The Magic Trick
- The Magician plays the flute
- The curtain of the Little Theater opens and the Crowd sees three puppets: Petrushka (Guignol), a Moor, and a Ballerina
- The Magician brings them to life by touching them lightly with his flute.
- Russian Dance
- Petrushka, the Moor, and the Ballerina suddenly begin to dance, to the great astonishment of the Crowd
- Darkness, the Curtain falls
Tableau II: Petrushka's Room
- As the Curtain rises, the door to Petrushka's room opens suddenly; a foot kicks him onstage; Petrushka falls and the door closes again behind him
- Petrushka's curses
- The Ballerina enters
- The Ballerina leaves
- Petrushka's despair
- Darkness. Curtain.
Tableau III: The Moor's Room
- The Moor dances
- Appearance of the Ballerina
- Dance of the Ballerina (cornet in hand)
- Waltz (The Ballerina and the Moor)
- The Moor and the Ballerina prick up their ears
- Appearance of Petrushka
- The Fight between the Moor and Petrushka. The Ballerina faints.
- The Moor throws Petrushka Out. Darkness. Curtain.
Tableau IV: The Shrovetide Fair (Toward Evening)
- The Wet-Nurses' Dance
- A Peasant enters with a Bear. Everyone scatters.
- The Peasant plays the pipe. The Bear walks on his hind feet.
- The Peasant and the Bear leave.
- A Reveling Merchant and two Gypsy Women Enter. He irresponsibly amuses himself by throwing bank notes to the Crowd.
- The Gypsy Women dance. The Merchant plays the accordion.
- The Merchant and the Gypsies leave
- Dance of the Coachmen and the Grooms
- The Wet-Nurses dance with the Coachmen and the Grooms
- The Mummers
- The Devil (Mummer) induces the Crowd to frolic with him
- Buffoonery of the Mummers (Goat and Pig)
- The Mummers and the Maskers dance
- The rest of the Crowd joins in the Mummers' Dance
- The Crowd continues to dance without taking notice of the cries coming from the Little Theater.
- The dances break off. Petrushka dashes from the Little Theater, pursued by the Moor, whom the Ballerina tries to restrain.
- The furious Moor seizes him and strikes him with his saber.
- Petrushka falls, his head broken
- A crowd forms around Petrushka
- He dies, still moaning.
- A Policeman is sent to look for the Magician
- The Magician arrives
- He picks up Petrushka's corpse, shaking it.
- The Crowd disperses.
- The Magician remains alone on stage. He drags Petrushka's corpse toward the Little Theater.
- Above the Little Theater appears the Ghost of Petrushka, menacing, thumbing his nose at the Magician.
- The terrified Magician lets the Puppet-Petrushka drop from his hands, and exits quickly, casting frightened glances over his shoulder.
Prior to the premiere of the ballet, Stravinsky and several other pianists like Russian composer Nikolai Tcherepnin used a piano four-hands version for the rehearsals. This version has never been published, even though several other pianists like Paul Jacobs and Ursula Oppens have played it in concerts.
In 1921, Stravinsky created a piano arrangement for Arthur Rubinstein entitled Trois mouvements de Petrouchka, which the composer admitted he 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 rapid continuous timpani and snare drum notes which link 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 provides an optional fff (fortississimo) near the piano conclusion of the original. Stravinsky also removed some of the difficult metric modulations in the original version of the first tableau from the 1947 revision.
He also created a suite for concert performance, an almost complete version of the ballet but cutting the last three sections.
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.
In 1988, Maddalena Fagandini directed a version of Petrushka along with The Sleeping Beauty (Tchaikovsky), The Nutcracker (and the Mouse King) (Tchaikovsky) and Coppélia (Delibes) in the BBC puppet film Musical Tales which was released in VHS.
Expressions Dance Company performed a contemporary adaptation of Petrushka at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in 2009. The performance was entitled Score! and drew heavily on the concept of reality television.
The Spirit of Atlanta Drum and Bugle Corps used the work as its 1988 competitive program, a marked change from its previous Southern music theme.
A full transcription of the 1911 version for symphonic wind ensemble in the original key was made by Don Patterson.
- 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, (1911 version)
- 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 (1947 version)
- Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra, studio recording from 1970, RCA (1947 version)
- Pierre Boulez conducting the New York Philharmonic, studio recording from 1971, Sony (1911 version)
- Kirill 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 (1911 version)
- Charles Dutoit conducting the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, studio recording from 1987, Decca (1911 version)
- Riccardo Chailly conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, studio recording from 1995, London (1947 version)
- Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra, studio recording from 1999, RCA (1947 version)
- Paavo Järvi conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, recording in Cincinnati Music Hall from 2002, Telarc (1947 version)
- Balachine 1975, p. 305.
- Robert 1949, p. 231.
- Beumers 2005, pp. 160-161.
- Stravinsky 1936, p. 47.
- Quoted in V. Stravinsky and Craft 1978, p. 66.
- Stravinsky 1936, p. 48.
- Walsh 2001.
- Taruskin (1998), p. 696.
- Stravinsky, Igor. Petrushka. Orchestral score. Editions russes de musique, n.d. , Plate R.M.V. 348, reprinted by Dover Publications (Mineola, NY: 1988). Retrieved 06-20-2013 from: 
- Beaumont 1937.
- Jacobs 2008, p. 5.
- Beaumont, Cyril W. 1937. "Petrushka". In his Complete Book of Ballets: A Guide to the Principal Ballets of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. London: Putnam.
- Jacobs, Paul (2008). Stravinsky: Music for Four Hands. Jacobs & Oppens. New York: Nonesuch Records & Arbiter of Cultural Traditions. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
- Stravinsky, Igor. 1936. Autobiography. New York: Simon and Schuster.
- Stravinsky, Vera, and Robert Craft. 1978. Stravinsky in Pictures and Documents. New York: Simon and Schuster.
- Wachtel, Andrew (ed.). 1998. Petrushka: Sources and Contexts. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press. ISBN 978-0-8101-1566-8
- Walsh, Stephen. 2001. "Stravinsky, Igor". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- 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
- Petrushka education website from the Klavier-Festival Ruhr