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Program Notes--Young at Heart

February 13, 2019

Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953): Peter and the Wolf, Op. 67

Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” represents a very bright spot in a very dark world. Prokofiev had left the Soviet Union shortly after the Revolution and worked in Europe and the United States until he moved back to Moscow in 1936. This was during the height of the Stalinist years when the Party was in control of all aspects of Soviet life, including arts and culture.

On his return home, Prokofiev began to work on “Peter and the Wolf” in collaboration with Natalia Satz, Director of the Moscow Children’s Musical Theatre. Prokofiev along with his wife and two young sons, had attended many concerts there.

In preparation for the work, Satz asked Prokofiev about his own first experience of an orchestra, and he told her about hearing the opera Faust for the first time when he was nine years old: “It made an indelible impression, of course. The music, the costumes, the action. Like all boys, I especially admired the sword fight. When I returned to the village, I wrote my first opera, The Giant – the words and the music. There was a duel in my opera too, of course, but the most important thing was missing – an orchestra. My cousin played the orchestral part on the piano, but it was not enough: the impact of all those instruments was unforgettable.” 
 

Peter and the Wolf  took Prokofiev two weeks to write and was a sensation when it premiered in May 1936 . Since then, Peter and the Wolf has introduced generations of children to the instruments of the orchestra

Just two years after its debut in Moscow, Prokofiev was in Los Angeles and played parts of “Peter and the Wolf” on the piano for none other than Walt Disney. In 1946 Disney released his animated adaptation of this musical fairy tale. It is not known if Prokofiev was aware of the adaptation of his work. By that time the Iron Curtain prevented most exchanges from East to West.

 

Benjamin Britten (1913 – 1976) The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra    

In 1945, just after the premiere of his opera Peter Grimes , Britten was asked by the British Ministry of Education to compose the music for a film to be called Instruments of the Orchestra, designed to acquaint young people with the sounds of the various instruments that make up the modern orchestra. He went to work on this assignment early the following year, taking his theme from the Rondeau which Henry Purcell composed in 1695.

About the work Britten said “I have a small film to write for the Board of Education"

 

 This work, in the composer's own words, "is affectionately inscribed to the children of John and Jean Maud: Humphrey, Pamela, Caroline and Virginia, for their edification and entertainment"

"The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" proved to be a success from its first performance.  "I'm glad that the Min. of Ed. chaps approve," Britten told a friend.  "I never really worried that it was too sophisticated for kids--it is difficult to be that for the little blighters!"
 

The "Young Person's Guide" remains one of the most popular compositions of its kind.  As with any superior educational experience, Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" simultaneously informs, stimulates and entertains students (of all ages).

 

 

Franz Josef Haydn ? (1732-1809) The Toy Symphony

This piece is now recognized as the work of one of three possible composers: Franz Josef Haydn, Leopold Mozart or Michael Haydn.

 

It is a delightful piece of musical humor of the kind that would have been characteristic of the musically good-natured  F. J.Haydn. Humor is a common trait in his music, though it is often related more to oddly constructed phrases or intentionally jarring or clumsy cadences and transitions. One writer, Louis Biancolli, relates a story about Haydn purchasing a set of toys at a famous toyshop during a visit to Bavaria, or possibly at a toy fair in Vienna. This acquisition apparently occasioned an “impish moment of practical joking,” the sort to which Haydn was reputedly given on occasion. The vagueness of the details is one of the problems with this story. It is also impossible to actually trace the work definitively to Haydn, in part because the records of his prolific instrumental output were not carefully kept. It is also common during this period for works of other composers to be attributed to the more famous Haydn. Sometimes this misattribution may result from confusion. Sometimes it would have been intentional as a way of boosting interest in a work for commercial reasons.   --Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra (abridged and edidted))

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