Peter and the Wolf Music Curriculum Guide
Many composers in Russia around the time of Prokofiev wanted to create music that sounded very “Russian”. They were very proud of and inspired by their country. They used folk tunes, unusual scales, and techniques of their native land to create compositions that reminded their fellow Russians of the uniqueness of their country. One specific group of these “nationalistic” composers was called the Moguchaya Kuchka- “Mighty Handful”, or “Russian Five”. Their names were Mily Balakirev, Cesar Cui (pronounced kyew-ee), Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Alexander Borodin. They were, in some instances, privately taught and most had other careers prior to, or concurrent with, their musical ones.
The men in Trio Voronezh on the CD use three Russian folk instruments: the domra, balalaika and the bayan. The domra is a stringed instrument in the lute family. The most common one has three strings and it is often used to play the lead melody in folk ensembles. The bayan is a type of accordion with buttons instead of a keyboard. See a virtuoso bayan player on this video. The balalaika is a triangular-shaped string instrument also with three strings. There are many sizes of balalaika, from a tiny, seldom-used piccolo instrument to the large bass instrument with an endpin like a cello which is played by a member of the Trio Voronezh. Watch this video to see another balalaika player.
Peter and the Wolf Music Activities
Listen to music of any of these composers. Get CDs from the library or purchase them as MP3s from iTunes or another store. Here are some good suggestions with which to begin: Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” - This set of pieces is programmatic music, meaning it was composed to represent actual objects. In this case, paintings Mussorgsky saw. Draw a picture while you listen to some of these pieces.
- Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Russian Easter Overture” - See if you can identify the instruments as you listen.
- Borodin, selection from the opera “Prince Igor”.
- Here’s a website with many instruments to make on your own. (K+)
Program Music and Absolute Music
Program music is music that tells a story or is associated specifically with something outside the music (a painting, character or event). Peter and the Wolf is obviously wonderfully composed program music. Absolute music, in contrast, is music that was simply written for its own sake, without trying to express anything but the music itself. In visual art, paintings, drawings or sculpture that do not try to represent something specific are called “abstract”. Wassily Kandinsky (mentioned above) thought that art should be able to exist for its own sake - simply for color, line and shape- just like music can. Listen to these examples of program music and absolute music:
Examples of Program Music
* Symphonie Fantastique “March to the Scaffold”
* Vivaldi “4 Seasons”- Winter
* Holst “The Planets”- Mars, the Bringer of War
* Eric Whitacre “Cloudburst” Listen to the storm toward the middle and end of this piece.
* Beethoven Symphony #6, mvt. 4 “Storm”
Examples of Absolute Music
* Chopin etude
* Rachmaninoff “Vocalise” (by a fellow Russian)
* Mozart Symphony 40
* Brahms Symphony 1
Each instrument in the symphony orchestra has a unique sound. You hear many of these as “characters” in Peter and the Wolf- Peter’s theme is played by the strings, the cat’s by the clarinet, the duck’s by the oboe, the bird’s by the flute, the grandfather’s by the bassoon, the wolf’s by the french horns, and the hunters’ by the timpani. To study the instruments in the orchestra further, visit these links:
* Arts Alive Instrument Lab - explore the instruments in the orchestra
* New York Phil - interactive site to hear and study instruments and their sounds
* A quiz on the sounds of the orchestral instruments
* Currclick musical instrument families cards (free)
* Montessori materials - instrument and composer cards (fee)
* Peter and the Wolf with themes (scroll down to play each character’s theme)
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