Sergei Prokofiev: “Peter and the Wolf” Narrated by Itzhak Perlman

Peter and the WolfAfter eighteen years of self-imposed exile in Europe and America, Prokofiev returned to his native Russia in 1936.  Shortly afterward, he was approached by Natalia Satz, director of the Moscow Musical Theater for Children, with a proposal to write a play that would introduce children to the instruments of the orchestra.  Prokofiev embraced the idea wholeheartedly.  He wrote the music to “Peter and the Wolf” in just one week, and orchestrated it the next.  He dedicated the work to Ms. Satz, and it was introduced to the public in May 1936.

I don’t remember my own introduction to “Peter and the Wolf”, but my brother Mort informs me that in 1952, when I was but four years old, he was given a set of 78 rpm records of “Peter” that quickly became one of his favorites.  That recording of “Peter and the Wolf” may well have been the first classical music I ever heard, and may have fostered not only my love of Prokofiev, but of classical music as a whole.

If so, then I owe a great debt to “Peter”, one I will attempt to repay here.  Through this post, I hope to continue to introduce young people to the instruments of the symphony orchestra, to Prokofiev, and the world of classical music.

This video has everything!  First, of course, there is Prokofiev’s magical score.  Who can forget the optimism of Peter’s theme, the menace of the Wolf, the grumpy Grandfather, cheery Bird, stealthy Cat, and plaintive Duck?  We also have Jörg Müller’s loving illustrations.  Children will learn not only the instruments’ distinctive voices, but also what they look like.  And for the music student, we even have the musical notation for each of the characters’ themes.

The narration in this video is by the great violinist Itzhak Perlman, and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is led by Zubin Mehta.  Share it with your children, or grandchildren!

Brahms: Horn Trio in E flat major, Op. 40

As I approach the second anniversary of this blog, I am conscious – and a little chagrined – that I have not yet featured any music by Brahms.  This is surprising on at least two levels.  First, Brahms was one of the first composers I came to know and love.  His two piano concerti, the Violin Sonata No. 3, the sonatas for viola and piano, the Paganini and Handel variations, numerous other solo piano works – these are all pieces that I have known and loved since my salad days.  Second, Brahms is such a great composer; how could I have neglected him until now?  In my opinion, no one beats Brahms – and few can equal him – when it comes to noble.  There is a grandeur to Brahms’ music, a profundity, that is ennobling to the listener.  At the conclusion of a piece by Brahms, we feel like better people.  We think grander, loftier thoughts, and are more forgiving of our enemies.

The Horn Trio was one of the first pieces of classical music that I came to know.  During my sophomore year in high school, my friend Andy Rangell often invited me to listen to him practice the piano during our lunch hour.  This trio happened to be one of the pieces he was working on, and I came to know it intimately as Andy played the piano and sang the horn and violin parts.

As familiar as I am with this piece, however, I woke up one morning recently with the ebullient theme from the fourth movement running through my head, but could not for the life of me identify it.  I knew the music so well, though, that I just continued to let it play, confident that I would soon recall what it was.  When its identity still eluded me, I decided that it might help if I sang it out loud.  I began to sing, “ba ya ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba…” in strict 6/8 time, and immediately knew what it was.  Something about singing it that way reminded me of the French horn, and that was all the help I needed.

This glorious performance dates from 1993, and features Itzhak Perlman on violin, Daniel Barenboim on piano, and Dale Clevenger on French horn.

Published in: on July 31, 2011 at 11:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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