From Justin Locke Productions:
Program notes for "Peter VS. the Wolf"
From Justin Locke Productions
About the composer:
Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev was born on April 23, 1891, in a small farming village in Russia. He was an only child. His musical gifts soon became apparent, and at age 13 he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory. There he studied with such notable composers as Rimsky Korsakov and Glazunov.
In 1918 Prokofiev left his native Russia and embarked on extensive travels to America and Europe, where he worked both as composer and concert pianist.
After living mostly in Paris, Prokofiev returned to Russia in 1935, where he stayed for the rest of his life. He died in 1953.
It is not so surprising that Prokofiev would have written a symphonic fairy tale. He never lost his childlike fascination with such stories, and wrote several pieces on similar subjects, including The Ugly Duckling and Cinderella. His skill in using music to tell a story was developed while writing operas, ballets, and music for what was, in the 1930's, a wholly new idiom: music for motion pictures.
The life of Sergei Prokofiev must be told in an historical context to be understood. He was 26 years old in 1917 when the Bolshevik revolution took place. It was because of the ensuing social upheaval that he left Russia, living first in America and then in Paris. He was, in a sense, forever orphaned. He was too involved with his music to be concerned with politics, but American critics of the time associated his fiery personality and performing style with the Bolsheviks. Europeans thought he was "too Russian", and Russians found him "too European".
After his return to Russia in 1936, and until his death, Prokofiev was plagued with being an artist in a repressed society. His worked was judged and rewarded, not on artistic merit, but on its conduciveness to current communist policy.
About "Peter AND the Wolf":
In 1935 Prokofiev and his family returned to Russia after many years of living in America and in Paris. Prokofiev brought his children to see a performance at the Moscow Children's Theater. The director, Natalia Satz, noticed that Prokofiev seemed to enjoy the performances as much or more than his children. Some months after this first meeting with Prokofiev, Satz suggested that Prokofiev write a musical piece for children.
The original concept, as worked out between Satz and Prokofiev, was to be a story involving one human character, represented by the strings, and various animal characters, each having its own musical theme played by a particular instrument. The story was to be read by a narrator.
Satz hired a poet, Nina Saksonskaya, to write the narration, but when the young lady presented the story she had written (told in verse) Prokofiev was very displeased, and nearly threw her out of his apartment. He instead wrote the story himself, and had the entire piece completed, for piano, within a week. The orchestration was completed just 9 days later, on April 24, 1936.
It is ironic that this little piece, which Prokofiev wrote rather quickly for children's amusement, has attained such universal popularity and success, while so many of his other major dramatic works would have to wait so long to be performed, only to (at first) be given lukewarm receptions.
In the story, Peter is a Pioneer, which is the Soviet version of the Boy Scouts, although the Pioneers were more of a political organization run by the government. This association, which is not stated in the story itself, was no doubt made simply to please the communist government authorities who regulated all artistic events. The character of Peter is a good metaphor for Prokofiev himself; He was, in spirit anyway, a confident child, underestimated by his elders, unwilling to accept confinement, adept at doing daring things, and, just as Peter caught the Wolf before the Hunters ever arrived, a little ahead of his time.
PROGRAMS NOTES: THE WRITING OF PETER VS. THE WOLF
In the summer of 1985 I set myself to the task of creating a children's orchestra concert. I wanted to do more than the usual narrated lecture "listen to this example" format, but I did not want to create a show that maintained interest merely by offering visual distractions. My intent was to write a piece that truly integrated the orchestra into the telling of a story.
One night, I was playing with ideas of having the characters of a known fairy tale in an orchestral setting. I had in mind some sort of courtroom situation with a wolf denying that he ever blew down the pig's houses, and so on. I was experimenting with various plays on the words of story titles when I just blurted out the phrase "Peter vs. the wolf;" and at that moment I knew I had found the idea.
I met with a lawyer and discussed the various legal ramifications of the original story. The first thing he said was, "It's obvious the wolf was denied due process," and we were off and running. I spent the next six months pondering how to make the testimony of each instrument inadmissable.
Courtroom drama "form" usually incriminates an innocent party, but before all seems hopelessly lost, some new piece of surprise evidence or testimony appears, exonerating the innocent party and incriminating the guilty one. After writing most of the story, I realized that the show needed such an ending; but where to find this evidence or witness? I stared at the score, trying to find an answer, and there... well, I can't tell you what I found without giving away the ending.
After the first performances, the script went through several revisions, and was first performed in its current form by the Phoenix Symphony in the fall of 1986. It has been done somewhere in the United States every season since it was written. It was recently presented in Brazil in a Portuguese translation, and a German version it is now published in Europe by the Hans Sikorski Music Library.
I hope you enjoy the show.
Boston, Massachusetts 2001
Author Bio for "PVTW" 2001
Justin Locke, the author of "Peter VS. the Wolf," leads a rather diverse artistic life. He was a member of the bass section of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra for seventeen years, and now regularly assists the Arts and Entertainment channel as score reader and music consultant for their broadcasts of the Boston Pops. Mr. Locke works as a media producer, as he says, "to support his writing habit," making both video and audio productions for corporate clients. Along with "Peter VS. the Wolf," Mr. Locke's works for children include "The Phantom of the Orchestra," "J.S. Bach, Superstar," "A Midsummer's Daydream," "The Legend of Albert Haahh," "The Splatgort Chronicles," and "Concerto for Kazoo and Famous Cellist." He recently completed an inspiration book, titled "I Believe in You."