Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov

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Pyotr Yershov

Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov (Russian: Пётр Павлович Ершов; March 6, 1815 – August 30, 1869) was a Russian poet and author of the famous fairy-tale poem The Little Humpbacked Horse (Konyok-Gorbunok).

Biography[edit]

Pyotr Yershov was born in the village of Bezrukovo, Tobolsk Governorate (currently Ishimsky District, Tyumen Oblast). During his childhood he lived in the town of Beryozov. From 1827 to 1831, he studied in Tobolsk gymnasium, where he reportedly created a society for the Ethnographic study of Siberia and even planned to publish their own scientific journal. From 1831 to 1836, he studied philosophy at Saint Petersburg University, which was where he wrote his masterpiece, the fairy tale The Humpbacked Horse. A large extract from it was published in 1834 and brought Yershov instant fame. Alexander Pushkin wrote that Yershov was as fully in command of his verses as a landowner is in command of his serfs. Pushkin also announced that he would stop writing fairy tales as Yershov did it much better. Nonetheless, Pushkin did write The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish one year after this announcement.

In 1836, Yershov returned to Tobolsk, where he worked as a teacher at the Tobolsk gymnasium. He became the principal of the school is 1858. He died in 1869 in Tobolsk. Biographers of Yershov note that disasters frequented his life. In 1834, just after the triumph of The Humpbacked Horse, both Pyotr's father and brother died within a few days. In 1838 his mother died; in 1845 his wife died; in 1847 he married again, but his second wife died in 1852. Of his 15 children only six survived.

Yershov published many lyrical verses, a drama called Suvorov and a Station Master, and several short stories, but none of these had the same success as The Humpbacked Horse. He also reportedly wrote a large fairy tale poem called Ilya Muromets, and a huge poem called Ivan Tsarevitch in ten volumes and one hundred songs, but subsequently destroyed them. Only a short extract from Ivan Tsarevitch survived.

The Humpbacked Horse[edit]

The Humpbacked Horse (Konyok-Gorbunok), sometimes known in English as The Magic Horse or The Little Magic Horse, is a version of the Golden-Maned Steed fairy-tale character type, although a large part of the plot of this story is based on Tsarevitch Ivan, the Fire Bird and the Gray Wolf. The titular little horse helps Ivan, a peasant’s son, carry out the many unreasonable demands of the tsar. During his adventures, Ivan captures the beautiful magic firebird for the tsar, keeps his magic horse, and finds his love, Tsar-Maid (Princess). At the end, the princess and the peasant’s son live happily for many years after.

Censors banned the complete story for over 20 years in the mid-19th century because it made the Tsar appear foolish. Until 1856, the tale was published with dots representing omitted verses and songs in many sections. The tale is meant to be a satire on the absurdities of Russian feudal and bureaucratic life at the time. Today it is considered a classic children's fairy tale.

Ballet adaptation[edit]

Arthur Saint-Léon created a ballet from the book to the music of Cesare Pugni for the Imperial Ballet (today the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet). The work premiered on December 13, 1864 at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. The resoundingly successful premiere was attended by Emperor Alexander II.

The ballet lived on for many years in the repertory of the Imperial Ballet, the Kirov Ballet, and the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in a version by Alexander Gorsky (1901). Marius Petipa revived the ballet in 1895 as The Tsar Maiden for the Ballerina Pierina Legnani.

Alexander Radunsky choreographed his own version to a score by Rodion Shchedrin for the Bolshoi Ballet in 1960, a version which was filmed in 1961 with Maya Plisetskaya as the Tsar Maiden and Vladimir Vasiliev as Ivanushka. In 2009, Alexei Ratmansky choreographed a new version for the Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet, also using Shschedrin's score.

A version of Saint-Léon's original was filmed in 1989 for Russian television with graduates from the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet in the lead roles. The film included narrated sections and illustration from a popular 1964 Russian version of Yershov's book.

Trivia[edit]

  • After The Humpbacked Horse was published, many people did not believe that Pyotr Yershov was a real person; they were sure it was a Pushkin poem. Indeed Pushkin wrote the first four lines of the final version of the poem and helped with its editing.

External links[edit]