Igor Stravinsky

Petrushka

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: About 40 Minutes
Genre: Ballet
Time of Creation: 1911
World Premiere: June 13, 1911 (Paris)

Table of Contents

Stravinsky's Petrushka in 5 Sentences

Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka was composed in 1911 and thus stands between the two other great ballets of the Russian composer: Stravinsky had become famous almost “overnight” with The Firebird in 1910, and the premiere of Le sacre du printemps was to lead to a scandal in 1913. Petrushka is about three marionettes that come to life – but the plot is not “easy to digest”; after all, it ends with Petrushka’s death. The ballet’s premiere was a great success, but Stravinsky himself was dissatisfied with the choreography and staging. In 1947, Stravinsky undertook an extensive adaptation of the work.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Stravinsky's Petrushka

Highlight 1: A Fair (first picture)

The first image of the ballet imitates the typical soundscape of a fairground. Many people chatter in confusion, folk melodies can be heard:

Highlight 2: The protagonists 1/2 (second picture)

Then the protagonists are introduced. There is a juggler (with a dramatic drum roll), a ballerina (she too gets a drum roll followed by a trumpet solo), a Moor (with bass drum and cymbals), and of course the main character Petrushka (with lyrical dance music). The introductions of these main characters run through the second picture….

Highlight 3: The protagonists 2/2 (third picture)

…and through the third picture:

Highlight 4: The fair (fourth image)

In the last image, the fairground atmosphere is emphasized again. So the fair “frames” the plot:

3 Questions and Answers about Stravinsky's Petrushka

Question 1: What does Petrushka mean in English?

Parsley 😊 Yes, really. The character “Petrushka” comes from the popular Russian puppet theater.

Question 2: By whom was Petrushka first performed?

Stravinsky’s Petrushka was premiered by the Ballets Russes, one of the most important ballet companies of the 20th century. The conductor of the premiere was Pierre Monteux.

Question 3: What versions of Petrushka are there?

Stravinsky presented his ballet in several versions. In addition to the original orchestral version of 1911, there is, for example, a piano reduction for piano four hands as well as a version for piano solo (this was a commissioned work by the famous pianist Arthur Rubinstein).

2 Recommended Recordings of Stravinsky's Petrushka

Recording 1: hr-Sinfonieorchester, Andrés Orozco-Estrada (live, 2017)

In Stravinsky’s Petrushka, every single orchestral musician matters, because Stravinsky actually treats every instrument soloistically. The piano and trumpet parts in particular are truly challenging. These difficulties are superbly handled in this performance by the hr-Sinfonieorchester under the baton of Andrés Orozco-Estrada….

Recording 2: Concertgebouworkest, Andris Nelsons

…just like in this performance of the Concergebouworkest with conductor Andris Nelsons:

1 Quote about Stravinsky's Petrushka

In this work I had the persistent idea of a manikin that suddenly gains life and, through the diabolical arpeggio of its leaps, so exhausts the patience of the orchestra that it threatens it with fanfares. From this develops a terrible turmoil that ends at its climax with the poor puppet's painful, plaintive collapse.

Igor Stravinsky on Petrushka (1936 in his "Memoirs")

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