Peter and the Wolf 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.
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 (“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.”
The first American version, recorded in 1939 by RCA Victor, was issued in an album of three 78 rpm discs. It was narrated by Richard Hale, a film actor best known for villainous and exotic roles, with music performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Serge Koussevitzky. Hale also served as narrator for Arthur Fiedler’s 1953 RCA Victor high fidelity recording with the Boston Pops Orchestra, which also included Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and King Henry VIII dances by Camille Saint-Saëns and Edward German.
The Boston Pops Orchestra is an American orchestra based in Boston, Massachusetts, that specializes in playing light classical and popular music.
The Boston Pops was founded in 1885 as a second, popular identity of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), founded four years earlier. Consisting primarily of musicians from the BSO, although generally not the first-chair players, the orchestra performs a Spring season of popular music and a holiday program in December, the BSO schedule on break at those times. For the Pops, the seating on the floor of Symphony Hall is reconfigured from auditorium seating to banquet/cafe seating. In addition the Pops also plays an annual concert at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade every Fourth of July. Identified with its long-time director Arthur Fiedler, in the past the orchestra has recorded extensively, made frequent tours, and appeared regularly on television. The Pops Spring and Holiday seasons allowed the BSO to become one of the first American orchestras to provide year-round employment for its musicians.