Peter and the Wolf (Russian: Петя и волк, Petya i volk), Op. 67, is a composition written by Sergei Prokofiev in 1936 in the USSR. It is a children's story (with both music and text by Prokofiev), spoken by a narrator accompanied by the orchestra.
In 1936 Sergei Prokofiev was commissioned by Natalya Sats and the Central Children's Theatre in Moscow to write a new musical symphony for children. The intent was to cultivate "musical tastes in children from the first years of school". Intrigued by the invitation, Prokofiev completed Peter and the Wolf in just four days. The debut on 2 May 1936 was, in the composer's words, inauspicious at best: "...[attendance] was poor and failed to attract much attention".
Peter and the Wolf is scored for the following orchestra:
The duration of the work is approximately 25 minutes.
Peter, a Young Pioneer, lives at his grandfather's home in a forest clearing. One day, Peter goes out into the clearing, leaving the garden gate open, and the duck that lives in the yard takes the opportunity to go swimming in a pond nearby. The duck starts arguing with a little bird ("What kind of bird are you if you can't fly?" – "What kind of bird are you if you can't swim?"). Peter's pet cat stalks them quietly, and the bird—warned by Peter—flies to safety in a tall tree while the duck swims to safety in the middle of the pond.
Peter's grandfather scolds Peter for being outside in the meadow alone ("Suppose a wolf came out of the forest?"), and, when Peter defies him, saying that "Boys like me are not afraid of wolves", his grandfather takes him back into the house and locks the gate. Soon afterwards "a big, grey wolf" does indeed come out of the forest. The cat quickly climbs into a tree, but the duck, who has excitedly jumped out of the pond, is chased, overtaken and swallowed by the wolf.
Peter fetches a rope and climbs over the garden wall into the tree. He asks the bird to fly around the wolf's head to distract it, while he lowers a noose and catches the wolf by its tail. The wolf struggles to get free, but Peter ties the rope to the tree and the noose only gets tighter.
Some hunters, who have been tracking the wolf, come out of the forest ready to shoot, but Peter gets them to help him take the wolf to a zoo in a victory parade (the piece was first performed for an audience of Young Pioneers during May Day celebrations) that includes himself, the bird, the hunters leading the wolf, the cat and grumpy grumbling Grandfather ("What if Peter hadn't caught the wolf? What then?")
In the story's ending, the listener is told that "if you listen very carefully, you'd hear the duck quacking inside the wolf's belly, because the wolf in his hurry had swallowed her alive."
It retained the traditional plot but transferred the locale to the Australian Outback. This recording was withdrawn soon after its release because of unflattering portrayals of Australia's aboriginal people and is now considered "out of print".
Walt Disney produced an animated version of the work in 1946, with Sterling Holloway providing the voice of the narrator. It was released theatrically as a segment of Make Mine Music, then re-issued the next year, accompanying a re-issue of Fantasia (as a short subject before the film), then separately on home video in the 1990s. This version makes several changes to the original story, for example:
During the character introduction, the pets are given names: "Sasha" the bird, "Sonia" the duck, and "Ivan" the cat.
As the cartoon begins, Peter and his friends already know there is a wolf nearby, and are preparing to catch him.
The hunters get names in a later part of the story: "Misha", "Yasha" and "Vladimir".
Peter day-dreams of hunting and catching the wolf and exits the garden carrying a wooden "pop gun" rifle with the purpose of hunting the wolf.
At the end, in a reversal of the original (and to make the story more child-friendly), the narrator reveals that the duck Sonia has not been eaten by the wolf. Earlier in the film, the wolf is shown chasing the duck, who hides in an old tree's hollow trunk. The wolf attacks out of view, and returns in view with some of the duck's feathers in his mouth and licking his jaws. Peter, the cat, and the bird assume the duck has been eaten. After the wolf has been caught, the bird Sasha is shown mourning the duck. The duck comes out of the tree trunk at that point and they are happily reunited.
This version of Peter and the Wolf was featured in Disney's House of Mouse, and characters from it appeared in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and an audio recording of this version with expanded narration by Sterling Holloway was released on Disneyland Records (DQ-1242). In 1957, for one of his television programs, Disney recalled how Prokofiev himself visited the Disney studio, eventually inspiring the making of this animated version. Disney used pianist Ingolf Dahl, who resembled Prokofiev, to re-create how the composer sat at a piano and played the themes from the score.
The Russian animation studio Soyuzmultfilm produced a version of the work in 1958. It is puppet stop motion animation, directed by Anatoly Karanovich and narrated by I. Medvedyeva. This version makes the following changes to the story:
In the beginning the bird sees the wolf in the forest and warns Peter's grandfather, who goes to get the hunters and tells Peter not to leave the fenced-in yard.
The cat, after failing to catch the bird and duck, goes to the forest to solicit the help of the wolf.
Peter picks up the duck and runs to safety, leaving the cat outside with the wolf.
The wolf, not being very particular, eats the cat.
This version has not been published much outside of the ex-USSR.
Peter bumps into one of the "hunters" (teenage bullies in this telling) who throws him in a rubbish bin and aims at him with his rifle to scare him; the second hunter watches without interfering (thus, a dislike towards the hunter/bullies is immediately created).
Because of a broken wing, the bird has trouble flying and takes Peter's balloon to help it get aloft.
After Peter has captured the wolf in a net, the hunter gets him in his rifle's telescopic sight coincidentally, but just before shooting, the second hunter stumbles, falls on him and makes him miss the shot.
The caged wolf is brought into the village on a cart where Peter's grandfather tries to sell it. The hunter comes to the container and sticks his rifle in to intimidate the animal (as he did with Peter earlier on). At that time Peter throws the net on the hunter, who becomes tangled in it.
Before the grandfather has made a deal, Peter unlocks the cart after looking into the eyes of the wolf. They walk side by side through the awestruck crowd and then the freed wolf runs off in the direction of the silver moon shining over the forest.
The Russian pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva transcribed seven excerpts as a virtuoso concert suite, and made a well-known recording of it.
In 1958, a videotaped television special entitled Art Carney Meets Peter and the Wolf, with Art Carney as main entertainer, along with the Bil Baird Marionettes, was presented by the American Broadcasting Company, and was successful enough to have been repeated twice. The show had an original storyline in which Carney interacted with some talking marionette animals, notably the wolf, who was the troublemaker of the group. This first half was presented as a musical, with adapted music from Lieutenant Kijé and other Prokofiev works which had special English lyrics fitted into them. The program then segued into a complete performance of Peter and the Wolf, played exactly as written by the composer, and "mimed" by both "human" and "animal" marionettes. The conclusion of the program again featured Carney interacting with the animal marionettes. The show was nominated for three Emmy Awards.
Hans Conried recorded the narration with a Dixieland musical band in or around 1960. Since there is no oboe in a Dixieland band, the part of the duck was played by a saxophone.
The Clyde Valley Stompers recorded a jazz version on Parlophone Records (45-R 4928) in 1962, which registered on the popular music charts of the time.
The 1983 film A Christmas Story features music from Peter and the Wolf prominently during scenes of the character Scut Farkus as bully to the main characters in the film. The surname Farkus is a variation of farkas, which is Hungarian for "wolf".
A sequel to the story was written by Justin Locke during 1985 using the original score. "Peter VS. the Wolf" is the Wolf's trial, where he defends himself against the charge of "Duckicide in the first degree, with one gulp." The original music is presented as evidence, but then the Wolf calls individual musicians to the stand and cross-examines them. It requires five actors for a stage presentation.
In 1985, Arnie Zane choreographed a punk music ballet version of Peter and the Wolf.
"Weird Al" Yankovic and Wendy Carlos produced a comedic version in 1988, using a synthesized orchestra and many additions to the story and music (Peter captures the wolf using his grandfather's dental floss, leading to the moral of the story, "Oral hygiene is very important.").
In 1989, An episode of the Muppet Babies entitled, "Skeeter and the Wolf", where Skeeter filling in for Peter, Gonzo as the bird, Scooter as the cat, Fozzie as the duck, Nanny as the grandparent, then Kermit and Piggy as the hunters.
Peter Schickele (aka P. D. Q. Bach), wrote an alternate, comedic text for the score entitled Sneaky Pete and the Wolf, converting the story into a Western, including a showdown between Sneaky Pete and the gunslinger El Lobo (which never happens due to some local boys giving El Lobo a hotfoot and sticking a paper airplane in his eye and Sneaky Pete's girlfriend Laura rendering El Lobo unconscious with a vacuum cleaner). It was recorded with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conducted by Yoel Levi in 1993.
In 1995, a 60-minute television film was made with a mix of live action and animation and the characters from the story were designed by Chuck Jones. The film featured Kirstie Alley, Lloyd Bridges and Ross Malinger in a live-action "wraparound" segment and as voices in the story (Ms. Alley as the Narrator, Mr. Bridges as "The Grandfather" and Ross as "Peter"). The version debuted on the American Broadcasting Company ABC Network on 8 December 1995. This version keeps the duck-friendly ending by having the swallowed duck pop out of the wolf's mouth alive, well, and dancing as the wolf is being captured. The wolf, described as "not a ballet fan", grabs the duck again before being forced to drop him by the hunters. As the story ends, Peter finds the duck crouching at the pond's edge shivering and frightened because of his terrible experience, and Peter reassures him that he (Peter) would always be there to protect him. This version even places the bird as a mother, with six eggs that hatch near the ending. The music for this version was performed by the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra conducted by George Daugherty. The version received a 1996 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children's Program, and received a second Emmy nomination for Daugherty, for Outstanding Music Direction. Daugherty (also one of the writers) and Janis Diamond received a Writers Guild of America nomination for the script. The production received the Grand Award for Best Television Production at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival and a Gold Hugo and Silver Hugo at Chicago International Film Festival, and numerous other awards and nominations.
During September 1996, Coldcut (a duo of scratch/mix djs from south London) released a scratch version of the main theme, included on the track "More Beats + Pieces", from their album Let Us Play!.
In 1997, George MacKay (actor) produced and directed his own version of Peter and the Wolf, casting himself as the Wolf.
In 2001, National Public Radio produced Peter and the Wolf: A Special Report, which treats the familiar plot as if it were a developing news story. Robert Siegel, Linda Wertheimer, Ann Taylor, Steve Inskeep of NPR's All Things Considered report on the event against a performance of the score by the Virginia Symphony conducted by JoAnn Falletta.
In 2004 the Shirim Kezmer Orchestra recorded a klezmer version of Peter and the Wolf called "Pincus and the Pig: A Klezmer Tale". The recording was narrated by Maurice Sendak and also featured his illustrations.
Psy-trance artist Eliad Grundland released a musical interpretation of the work, as Space Buddha, titled "Land of The Wolves" on his 2006 album Full Circle.
In 2005, theatre organist Jelani Eddington performed and recorded with narrator George Woods the only existing theatre organ adaptation of Peter and the Wolf.
In 2009, musical group Project Trio released their second studio album "Brooklyn," on which a modernized version of the story was recorded. All three members narrate.
2010 Denver musicians Munly and the Lupercalians released Petr and the Wulf, an alternative take on the original story. Told from the different perspectives of all the characters: Grandfater, Petr, Scarewulf, Cat, Bird, The Three Hunters, Duk, and Wulf. Released on the Alternative Tentacles label.
In 2012, ITV used a version of the main theme as the title music for their coverage of the European Football Championships, because Prokofiev was born in present-day Ukraine, one of the host countries.
In 2013, filmmaker Wes Hurley premiered his short film Peter and the Wolf – a graphic adult version of the story featuring Peter as a gay werewolf-hunter and imagery inspired by Tom of Finland.
In copyright law
In 2012, the US Supreme Court's decision in Golan v. Holder restored copyright protection in the United States to numerous foreign works that had entered the public domain. Peter and the Wolf was frequently cited by the parties and amici, as well as by the Court's opinion and by the press, as an example of a well-known work that would be removed from the public domain by the decision.