Peter and the Wolf airs Wednesday December 8th at 8pm (check local listings).
Sergei Prokofiev’s fanciful musical tale “Peter and the Wolf” is given new life in this innovative new animated interpretation, which won the 2008 Oscar® for Best Animated Short Film. “Oldies will remember the work from school music lessons,” wrote London’s OBSERVER, “while those coming to the story for the first time will be delighted with this darkly comic modernization.” Originally composed in 1936, the piece famously uses personified instruments in the orchestra to tell the story — also penned by the composer — of young Peter and his animal friends the Duck, the Bird, and even a mischievous Cat (represented by an oboe, flute, and clarinet respectively). Peter, himself represented by the string section, becomes an unsuspecting hero and outwits the Wolf (French horns), who’s intent on menacing his small Russian village — not to mention Peter’s beloved animal friends. Conceived and directed by award-winning animator Suzie Templeton, this modern-day “Peter & the Wolf” uses stop-frame model animation, puppets, and digital photography to retell the enduring classic story, and features the Philharmonia Orchestra under the direction of Mark Stephenson performing Prokofiev’s beloved score.
Mark Stephenson also helmed the Philharmonia Orchestra for the film’s live world premiere at London’s Royal Albert Hall in September 2006. The Philharmonia was founded in 1945, primarily as a recording orchestra. It is the world’s most recorded orchestra with more than 1,000 releases and is comprised of more than 80 musicians giving concerts in London and at its residencies and other venues around the U.K., in addition to touring all over the world.
Sergei Prokofiev completed “Peter and the Wolf” after resettling in Moscow from Paris in 1936. By the autumn of the previous year, he had composed a dozen pieces for children, which according to his diary, were “published in a volume entitled ‘Music for Children,’ Op. 65.” Although the official debut of “Peter and the Wolf” on May 2 at Moscow Children’s Musical Theater was not a resounding success, the piece has subsequently delighted audiences of all ages and become his best-known work, performed by almost every ensemble, and used as an instructional tool to help children learn about the different instruments of the orchestra. Discover more about how Prokofiev’s composition was created and its story in the essay by contributor Tim Smith. The winner of numerous international awards, including a Best Animation BAFTA Award for her 2001 short film DOG, director Suzie Templeton reveals more about adapting Prokofiev’s story and creating this animated version in Dialogue. Watch an excerpt from the film, which was made at Poland’s award-winning Se-ma-for animation studio and took five years to complete.
Special funding for “PETER & THE WOLF” is provided by the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust.
Some of the 20th century’s greatest actors have narrated Sergei Prokofiev’s symphonic story Peter and the Wolf, including Peter Ustinov, Alec Guinness, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Basil Rathbone, Edna Everage, and one of my favorites, Boris Karloff. In 1978, David Bowie joined this illustrious company with his recording of the classic for RCA Victor with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Find part one above. Click links for part two, three, and four. Or purchase a pristine copy online here. Or here it all free on Spotify here:
Bowie begins, as do all of the narrators, with a brief summary of how this symphony works, with different instrumentation representing the various characters (see here for full text of the story and description of themes):
Each character in the tale is going to be represented by a different instrument of the orchestra. For instance, the bird will be played by the flute. (Like this.) Here's the duck, played by the oboe. The cat by the clarinet. The bassoon will represent grandfather. The wolf by the French horns. And Peter by the strings. The blast of the hunters' shotguns played by the kettle drums.
Bowie has said he that he made the recording as a present for his son, Duncan, then 7. Prokofiev, commissioned by the Central Children’s Theatre in Moscow in 1936 to help cultivate the musical tastes of young children, wrote the symphony in four days. As Tim Smith points out in an essay for PBS, Peter and the Wolf has “helped introduce generations of children to the instruments of the orchestra and the concept of telling a story through music.” I know it will be a part of my daughter’s musical education. I'm pretty sure we'll start with Bowie’s version.
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness