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Stravinsky with Nijinsky as Petrushka.
|Based on||Russian folk materials|
|Premiere||13 June 1911 – Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris|
|Original ballet company||Ballets Russes|
|Characters||Petrushka, The Ballerina, The Moor, The Charlatan|
|Setting||St. Petersburg, Russia, the 1830s|
|Created for||Vaslav Nijinsky|
According to Andrew Wachtel, Petrushka is a work that fuses music, ballet, choreography and history in perfect balance. It evokes Richard Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk (total artwork), but with a Russian approach.
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 Sacre du Printemps."  As early as May 1910, he had discussed the idea with Nicholas Roerich, the leading Russian expert on folk art and ancient rituals. Stravinsky and Roerich sketched a scenario and gave the project the working title The Great Sacrifice.
Immediately following the stunning success of The Firebird in June 1910, Diaghilev approached Stravinsky about a new ballet; the composer proposed the Great Sacrifice idea. Diaghilev accepted in principle, and suggested that the premiere might take place during the Ballets Russes Paris season 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 Great Sacrifice, 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 of 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 Sergei 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 Mikhail Fokine and sets by Alexandre Benois. The title role was danced by Vaslav Nijinsky.
1911 original version
The original 1911 version of Petrushka is scored for four flutes (3rd and 4th doubling piccolo), four oboes (4th doubling English horn), three clarinets in B flat, bass clarinet in B flat (doubling clarinet 4), three bassoons, contrabassoon (doubling bassoon 4), 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, 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, English horn, 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 less flute; two fewer oboes, but a dedicated English horn player instead of one doubled by the fourth oboe; one fewer bassoon, but a dedicated contrabassoon; neither of 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.
The libretto was written by Alexandre Benois and Igor Stravinsky. According to Leonard Bernstein on his Young People's Concerts, one of the hallmarks of this ballet and Stravinsky's The Firebird is that there are no divertissements in them; every single dance is firmly integrated into the plotline.
The ballet opens on Saint Petersburg's Admiralty Square. In progress is the Shrovetide fair known as Maslenitsa, a Russian carnival before Lent, 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 two dancing girls entertain the crowd to the popular French song "Une jambe de bois". Drummers announce the appearance of the Charlatan, who charms the captivated audience. Suddenly, the curtain rises on a tiny theater, as the Charlatan introduces the inert, lifeless puppet figures of Petrushka, a Ballerina and a Moor.
The Charlatan 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 Petrushka's Cell 'inside' the little theatre. The walls are painted in dark colors and decorated with stars, a half-moon and jagged icebergs or snow-capped mountains. With a resounding crash, the Charlatan kicks Petrushka into this barren cell. We see that Petrushka leads a dismal "life" behind the show curtains. Although Petrushka is a puppet he feels human emotions which include bitterness toward the Charlatan for his imprisonment as well as love for the beautiful Ballerina. All of this is sensitively described by Stravinsky's fantasia-like piano breaks. A frowning portrait of his jailer hangs above him as if to remind Petrushka that he is a mere puppet. The infuriated clown-puppet shakes his fists at the Charlatan's stern glare and tries to escape from his cell but fails.
The Ballerina then enters the room. Petrushka ineptly attempts to express his love for her but she rejects his pathetic, self-conscious advances and hastily departs. Petrushka collapses in a melancholic reverie.
In the third scene the audience learns that the Moor leads a much more comfortable "life" than Petrushka. The Moor's room is spacious and lavishly decorated and is painted in bright reds, greens and blues. Rabbits, palm trees and exotic flowers decorate the walls and floor. The Moor reclines on a divan and plays with a coconut, attempting 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.
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 parts (tableaux) with the following scenes:
Part I: The Shrovetide Fair
- I. Introduction (at the Shrovetide Fair)
- II. The Crowds
- III. The Charlatan's Booth
- IV. Russian Dance
Part II: Petrushka's Cell
- I. Petrushka's Cell
Part III: The Moor's Room
- I. The Moor's Room
- II. Dance of the Ballerina
- III. Waltz - The Ballerina & the Moor
Part IV: The Shrovetide Fair (Evening)
- I. The Shrove-Tide Fair (Near evening)
- II. Dance of the Wet Nurses
- III. Dance of the Peasant and the Bear
- IV. Dance of the Gypsy Girls
- V. Dance of the Coachmen and Grooms
- VI. The Masqueraders
- VII. The Scuffle: The Moor and Petrushka
- VIII. Death of Petrushka
- IX. The Police and the Juggler
- X. Vociferation of Petrushka's Ghost
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 (Stravinsky), 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.
- 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)
- 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 (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)
- Wachtel 1998,[page needed].
- Stravinsky 1936, p. 47.
- Quoted in V. Stravinsky and Craft 1978, p. 66.
- Stravinsky 1936, p. 48.
- Walsh 2001.
- 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