Peter and the Wolf

1947 coloring book cover

Peter and the Wolf (Russian: Пе́тя и волк, tr. "Pétya i volk", IPA: [ˈpʲetʲə i volk]) Op. 67, a "symphonic fairy tale for children", is a musical composition written by Sergei Prokofiev in 1936. The narrator tells a children's story, while the orchestra illustrates it. It is Prokofiev's most frequently performed work and one of the most frequently performed works in the entire classical repertoire. It has been recorded many times.


In 1936, Prokofiev was commissioned by Natalya Sats, the director of the Central Children's Theatre in Moscow, to write a musical symphony for children. Sats and Prokofiev had become acquainted after he visited her theatre with his sons several times.[1] The intent was to introduce children to the individual instruments of the orchestra. The first draft of the libretto was about a Young Pioneer (the Soviet version of a Boy Scout) called Peter who rights a wrong by challenging an adult. (This was a common theme in propaganda aimed at children in the Soviet Union at the time.) However, Prokofiev was dissatisfied with the rhyming text produced by Antonina Sakonskaya, a then popular children's author. Prokofiev wrote a new version where Peter captures a wolf. As well as promoting desired Pioneer virtues such as vigilance, bravery and resourcefulness, the plot illustrates Soviet themes such as the stubbornness of the un-Bolshevik older generation (the grandfather) and the triumph of Man (Peter) taming Nature (the wolf).[2]

Prokofiev produced a version for the piano in under a week, finishing it on April 15. The orchestration was finished on April 24. The work debuted at a children's concert in the main hall of the Moscow Conservatory with the Moscow Philharmonic on 2 May 1936. However, Sats was ill and the substitute narrator inexperienced, and the performance failed to attract much attention.[1][3][4][5] Later that month a much more successful performance with Sats narrating was given at the Moscow Pioneers Palace. The American premiere took place in March 1938, with Prokofiev himself conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall, Boston with Richard Hale narrating. By that time Sats was serving a sentence in the gulag, where she was sent after her lover Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky was shot in June 1937.[6]


Peter, a Young Soviet Pioneer,[7][8] 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 him for being outside in the meadow alone ("Suppose a wolf came out of the forest?"), and, when he defies him, saying: "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 the tree with the bird, but the duck, who has jumped out of the pond, is chased, overtaken, and swallowed by the wolf.

Seeing all of this from inside, 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 him, while he lowers a noose and catches the wolf by his 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: "If you listen very carefully, you'll hear the duck quacking inside the wolf's belly, because the wolf in his hurry had swallowed her alive."

Performance directionsEdit

Prokofiev produced detailed performance notes in both English and Russian for Peter and the Wolf. According to the English version:

Each character of this tale is represented by a corresponding instrument in the orchestra: the bird by a flute, the duck by an oboe, the cat by a clarinet playing staccato in a low register, the grandfather by a bassoon, the wolf by three horns, Peter by the string quartet, the shooting of the hunters by the kettle drums and bass drum. Before an orchestral performance it is desirable to show these instruments to the children and to play on them the corresponding leitmotivs. Thereby, the children learn to distinguish the sounds of the instruments during the performance of this tale.[9]


Peter and the Wolf is scored for the following orchestra:[10]

Each character in the story has a particular instrument and a musical theme:[11]

French horns
woodwind and trumpet theme, with gunshots on timpani and bass drum
string instruments (including violin, viola, cello, and double bass)

A performance lasts about 25 minutes.[12]


According to an article by Jeremy Nicholas for the classical music magazine Gramophone in 2015, the best overall recording of Peter and the Wolf is by the New Philharmonia Orchestra, narrated by Richard Baker and conducted by Raymond Leppard in 1971. Gramophone's best DVD version is the 2006 film by Suzie Templeton; its music is performed, without narrator, by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Mark Stephenson.[13]

Date Narrator Orchestra Conductor Label Notes
2018 Giacomo Gates New England Jazz Ensemble Jeff Holmes Self-released Complete Peter and the Wolf score arranged for jazz ensemble by Walter Gwardyak with modern libretto by Giacomo Gates Video on YouTube
2017 Alexander Armstrong Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Vasily Petrenko Warner Classics
2015 David Tennant The Amazing Keystone Band Le Chant du Monde
2015 Harry Shearer Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra Carlos Miguel Prieto
2015 Alice Cooper Bundesjugendorchester Alexander Shelley Deutsche Grammophon
2012 Bramwell Tovey Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Bramwell Tovey Video on YouTube
2011 Phillip Schofield Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse Michel Plasson EMI
2008 Jacqueline du Pré[14] English Chamber Orchestra Daniel Barenboim Deutsche Grammophon
2007 Konrad Czynski (Yadu) London Philharmonic Orchestra Stephen Simon Maestro Classics [15][16][17]
2006 Colm Feore Windsor Symphony Orchestra John Morris Russell This recording has never been released commercially, but is only available via the WSO's website[18] or at the WSO's gift shop.
2005 Willie Rushton London Philharmonic Orchestra Siân Edwards Classics for Pleasure
2003 Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill Clinton, Sophia Loren Russian National Orchestra Kent Nagano PENTATONE PTC 5186011 The album won the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children
2003 Antonio Banderas, Sophia Loren Russian National Orchestra Kent Nagano PENTATONE PTC 5186014 In Spanish
2001 Sharon Stone Orchestra of St. Luke's James Levine Deutsche Grammophon as part of A Classic Tale: Music for Our Children (289 471 171–72, 2001)
2000 Lenny Henry Nouvel Ensemble Instrumental Du Conservatoire National Supérieur De Paris Jacques Pési EMI
2000 David Attenborough BBC Philharmonic Yan Pascal Tortelier BBC Music for BBC Music Magazine; a free CD came with the June 2000 issue
1997 Anthony Dowell Ross MacGibbon, director (video) Film of a ballet performance, starring David Johnson, Layla Harrison, Karan Lingham[19]
1997 Dame Edna Everage Melbourne Symphony Orchestra John Lanchbery Naxos Records
1996 Sir John Gielgud Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Andrea Licata Intersound Recordings
1996 Ben Kingsley London Symphony Orchestra Sir Charles Mackerras Cala Records
1995 Kirstie Alley RCA Symphony Orchestra George Daugherty Sony Masterworks From the Chuck Jones TV special Peter and the Wolf
1994 Melissa Joan Hart Boston Symphony Orchestra Seiji Ozawa Sony Classical Hart was in her "Clarissa" persona from the Nickelodeon television series Clarissa Explains It All.
1994 Patrick Stewart Orchestra of the Opéra National de Lyon Kent Nagano Erato
1994 Sting, Roberto Benigni Chamber Orchestra of Europe Claudio Abbado Deutsche Grammophon This was used as the soundtrack to the television special Peter and the Wolf: A Prokofiev Fantasy.
1993 Peter Schickele Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Yoel Levi Telarc With a new text by Peter Schickele
1993 Loriot English Chamber Orchestra Daniel Barenboim Deutsche Grammophon Narrated in German, with text adapted by Loriot.[20] A 1996 performance by the Deutsche Oper Berlin is available on YouTube, narrated by Loriot and directed by Marcello Viotti.[21]
1991 Jack Lemmon Prague Festival Orchestra Pavel Urbanek Laserlight Digital DDD 15 386
1991 Dom DeLuise The Little Orchestra Society Dino Anagnost Musicmasters Classics MMD 67067 This was part of the album called "Three Children's Classics".
1991 Oleg and Gabriel Prokofiev New London Orchestra Ronald Corp Hyperion Records The narrators were the son and grandson of the composer.
1989 Noni Hazlehurst Sydney Symphony Orchestra Stuart Challender ABC Records Hazlehurst also narrated the Saint-Saëns/Ogden Nash The Carnival of the Animals on the same album
1989 Sir John Gielgud Orchestra of the Academy of London Richard Stamp Virgin Classics Sir John's royalties for this recording were donated to The League of Friends of Charity Heritage, a facility for physically handicapped children.
1989 Christopher Lee English String Orchestra Sir Yehudi Menuhin Nimbus Records
1989 Sir Peter Ustinov Philharmonia Orchestra Philip Ellis Cirrus Classics CRS CD 105[22]
1989 Jonathan Winters Philharmonia Orchestra Efrem Kurtz Angel Records Winters also narrated the Saint-Saëns/Ogden Nash The Carnival of the Animals
1987 Paul Hogan Orchestre de Paris Igor Markevitch EMI It retained the traditional plot but transferred the locale to the Australian Outback. This recording was withdrawn soon after its release because of unflattering portrayals of Australia's aboriginal people and is now considered "out of print".
1987 Lina Prokofiev (Sergei Prokofiev's widow) Royal Scottish National Orchestra Neeme Järvi Chandos Records
1986 Itzhak Perlman Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Zubin Mehta EMI
1984 William F. Buckley Jr. RTL Orchestra Luxembourg Leopold Hager Proarte Digital Records
1984 Dudley Moore / Terry Wogan Boston Pops Orchestra John Williams Philips The American release (412 559–2) was narrated by Dudley Moore, while the UK release (412 556–2) featured Terry Wogan as narrator
1980 Tom Seaver Cincinnati Pops Orchestra Erich Kunzel MMG
1979 Carol Channing Cincinnati Pops Orchestra Erich Kunzel Caedmon Records TC-1623
1978 David Bowie Philadelphia Orchestra Eugene Ormandy RCA Red Seal Bowie's recording reached number 136 on the US Pop Albums chart.
1977 Cyril Ritchard Philadelphia Orchestra Eugene Ormandy Columbia Records ML 5183
1975 Karlheinz Böhm / Hermione Gingold / Jean Richard Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Karl Böhm Deutsche Grammophon The original German LP release featured Karlheinz Böhm as narrator (2530 587). The UK, and Australian releases featured Hermione Gingold (2530 588). The French release featured narrator Jean Richard (2530 640).
1974 Will Geer English Chamber Orchestra Johannes Somary Vanguard Records VSO-30033
1973 Mia Farrow London Symphony Orchestra André Previn EMI ASD 2935
1972 Rob Reiner studio orchestra Jerry Yester United Artists Records UAS-5646 Contemporary version by Carl Gottlieb and Rob Reiner; never released on CD
1972 George Raft London Festival Orchestra Stanley Black Phase 4 Stereo SPC-21084 In this version, the story is reformulated as a gangster tale in the style of the Hollywood films that Raft had once acted in.
1971 Richard Baker New Philharmonia Orchestra Raymond Leppard EMI
1970 Sir Ralph Richardson London Symphony Orchestra Sir Malcolm Sargent Decca Records Volume 5 of The World of the Great Classics series. This version is praised in various editions of The Stereo Record Guide as the finest recording and narration of the work ever made.
1969 Hermann Prey / Alec McCowen Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Bernard Haitink Philips Records The original German release featured Hermann Prey as narrator. The UK release featured Alec McCowen as narrator.
1968 Kyu Sakamoto The Philharmonia Orchestra Herbert von Karajan Angel Records Narration in Japanese
1966 Richard Attenborough Philharmonia of Hamburg Hans-Jürgen Walter Columbia Records
1965 Sean Connery Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Antal Doráti Phase 4 Stereo
1965 Claude Piéplu Orchestre de Paris Igor Markevitch EMI Narrated in French
1965 Lorne Greene London Symphony Orchestra Sir Malcolm Sargent RCA Victor
1962 Kenneth Horne Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra Otto Ackermann Concert Hall
1961 Carlos Pellicer Orquesta Sinfónica de México Carlos Chávez Mexican CBS MC 1360
1960s Garry Moore Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of London Artur Rodziński Whitehall WHS20040.[23] The reverse side of this 12-inch LP record also features The Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saëns with Garry Moore (narrator), Josef and Grete Dichler (duopianists), and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra conducted by Hermann Scherchen.
1960 Leonard Bernstein New York Philharmonic Leonard Bernstein Columbia Records The popularity of the group's televised Young People's Concerts made this an auspicious release
1960 Captain Kangaroo Stadium Symphony Orchestra of New York Leopold Stokowski Everest Records SDBR-3043
1960 Beatrice Lillie London Symphony Orchestra Skitch Henderson Decca Records
1959 José Ferrer Vienna State Opera Orchestra Sir Eugene Goossens Kapp Records Narrated in Spanish and English
1959 Michael Flanders Philharmonia Orchestra Efrem Kurtz EMI Records
1957 Boris Karloff Vienna State Opera Orchestra Mario Rossi Vanguard Records
1956 Peter Ustinov Philharmonia Orchestra Herbert von Karajan Angel Records
1955 Arthur Godfrey Andre Kostelanetz's Orchestra Andre Kostelanetz Columbia Records mono recording; has never been issued on CD
1953 Victor Jory unknown Vicky Kosen Peter Pan Records mono recording; has never been issued on CD
1953 Alec Guinness Boston Pops Orchestra Arthur Fiedler RCA Victor
1950 Milton Cross Mario Janero, piano Musicraft Records 4 78-rpm discs
1950 Eleanor Roosevelt Boston Symphony Orchestra Serge Koussevitzky RCA Victor mono recording
1949 Frank Phillips London Philharmonic Orchestra Nikolai Malko Decca LX 3003[24] Frank Phillips was a well-known BBC Radio newsreader
1946 Sterling Holloway Disney originally made for an episode in the 1946 film Make Mine Music
1941 Basil Rathbone All-American Orchestra Leopold Stokowski Columbia Masterworks Restored from original Masterworks set M-477 by Bob Varney[25]
1939 Richard Hale Boston Symphony Orchestra Serge Koussevitzky RCA Victor

Adaptations of the workEdit

Walt Disney, 1946Edit

Disney's 1946 animated short

Prokofiev, while touring the West in 1938, visited Los Angeles and met Walt Disney. Prokofiev performed the piano version of Peter and the Wolf for "le papa de Mickey Mouse", as Prokofiev described him in a letter to his sons. Disney was impressed, and considered adding an animated version of Peter and the Wolf to Fantasia, which was to be released in 1940. Due to World War II, these plans fell through, and it was not until 1946 that Disney released his adaptation of Peter and the Wolf narrated by Sterling Holloway. It is not known if Prokofiev, by that point behind the Iron Curtain, was aware of this.[26] It was released theatrically as a segment of Make Mine Music, then reissued the next year, accompanying a reissue of Fantasia (as a short subject before the film), then separately on home video in the 1990s.[27] This version makes several changes to the original story. For example:

  • During the character introduction, the pets are given names: "Sasha" the bird, "Sonia" the duck, and "Ivan" the cat.
  • As the cartoon begins, Peter and his friends already know there is a wolf nearby and are preparing to catch him.
  • The hunters get names in a later part of the story: "Misha", "Yasha", and "Vladimir".
  • Peter daydreams of hunting and catching the wolf, and for that purpose exits the garden carrying a wooden pop gun.
  • At the end, in a reversal of the original (and to make the story more child-friendly), the narrator reveals that the duck Sonia has not been eaten by the wolf. Earlier in the film, the wolf is shown chasing Sonia, who hides in an old tree's hollow trunk. The wolf attacks out of view and returns in view with some of her feathers in his mouth, licking his jaws. Peter, Ivan, and Sasha assume Sonia has been eaten. After the wolf has been caught, Sasha is shown mourning Sonia. She comes out of the tree trunk at that point, and they are happily reunited.

In 1957, for one of his television programs, Disney recalled how Prokofiev himself visited the Disney studio, eventually inspiring the making of this animated version. Disney used pianist Ingolf Dahl, who resembled Prokofiev, to re-create how the composer sat at a piano and played the themes from the score.[28][29]

British–Polish co-production, 2006Edit

In 2006, Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman directed and produced respectively, a stop-motion animated adaptation, Peter & the Wolf. It is unusual in its lack of any dialogue or narration, the story being told only in images and sound and interrupted by sustained periods of silence. The soundtrack is performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra, and the film received its premiere with a live accompaniment in the Royal Albert Hall.[30] The film won the Annecy Cristal and the Audience Award at the 2007 Annecy International Animated Film Festival,[31] and won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. This version makes some changes to the original Prokofiev story; for example:

  • Peter bumps into one of the "hunters" (teenage bullies in this telling) who throws him in a rubbish bin and aims at him with his rifle to scare him; the second hunter watches without interfering (thus, a dislike towards the hunter/bullies is immediately created).
  • Because of a broken wing, the bird has trouble flying and takes Peter's balloon to help it get aloft.
  • After Peter has captured the wolf in a net, the hunter gets him in his rifle's telescopic sight coincidentally, but just before shooting, the second hunter stumbles, falls on him and makes him miss the shot.
  • The caged wolf is brought into the village on a cart where Peter's grandfather tries to sell it. The hunter comes to the container and sticks his rifle in to intimidate the animal (as he did with Peter earlier on). At that time Peter throws the net on the hunter, who becomes tangled in it.
  • Before the grandfather has made a deal, Peter unlocks the cart after looking into the eyes of the wolf. They walk side by side through the awestruck crowd and then the freed wolf runs off in the direction of the silver moon shining over the forest.


2007 production, Toronto, Canada

Up to 1959Edit

  • In 1958, a videotaped television special entitled Art Carney Meets Peter and the Wolf, with Art Carney as main entertainer, along with the Bil Baird Marionettes, was presented by the American Broadcasting Company, and was successful enough to have been repeated twice. The show had an original storyline in which Carney interacted with some talking marionette animals, notably the wolf, who was the troublemaker of the group. This first half was presented as a musical, with adapted music from Lieutenant Kijé and other Prokofiev works which had special English lyrics fitted into them. The program then segued into a complete performance of Peter and the Wolf, played exactly as written by the composer, and "mimed" by both "human" and "animal" marionettes. The conclusion of the program again featured Carney interacting with the animal marionettes. The show was nominated for three Emmy Awards.[citation needed]



  • The Rock Peter and the Wolf is an album by Jack Lancaster and Robin Lumley released in 1975. Performers on the album include Jack Lancaster, Robin Lumley, Gary Brooker, Bill Bruford, Phil Collins, Julie Driscoll, Stephane Grappelli, Jon Hiseman, Brian Eno, Alvin Lee, Gary Moore, Cozy Powell, Manfred Mann, Keith Tippett, Viv Stanshall, and the English Chorale.[citation needed]


  • American film and television actor Ray Bolger served as the narrator for a 1981 live-action version with real animals, directed by Dan Bessie and produced by Pyramid Media. The music was performed by the Santa Cruz Chamber Orchestra conducted by Dr. Lewis Keizer.[36][37]
  • The 1983 film A Christmas Story features music from Peter and the Wolf prominently during scenes of the character Scott Farkus bullying other characters. The surname Farkus is a variation of farkas, which is Hungarian for "wolf".
  • Justin Locke wrote a 1985 sequel to the story, using the original score. Peter VS. the Wolf is the Wolf's trial, where he defends himself against the charge of "Duckicide in the first degree, with one gulp." The original music is presented as evidence, but then the Wolf calls individual musicians to the stand and cross-examines them. It requires five actors for a stage presentation.[38]
  • In 1985, Arnie Zane choreographed a punk music ballet version of Peter and the Wolf.[39]
  • In 1988, "Weird Al" Yankovic and Wendy Carlos produced a comedic version, using a synthesized orchestra and many additions to the story and music (e.g., Peter captures the wolf using his grandfather's dental floss, leading to the moral of the story: "Oral hygiene is very important").[40]
  • In 1989, in an episode of the Muppet Babies entitled, "Skeeter and the Wolf", Skeeter fills in for Peter, Gonzo is the bird, Scooter is the cat, Fozzie is the duck, Nanny is the grandparent, and Kermit and Piggy are the hunters.[citation needed]




  • In 2010, Denver musicians Munly and the Lupercalians released Petr & the Wulf, an alternative take on the original story. Told from the different perspectives of all the characters: Grandfater, Petr, Scarewulf, Cat, Bird, The Three Hunters, Duk, and Wulf. Released on the Alternative Tentacles label.[53]
  • In 2012, ITV used a version of the main theme as the title music for their coverage of the European Football Championships, because Prokofiev was born in present-day Ukraine, one of the host countries.[54]
  • In 2013, filmmaker Wes Hurley premiered his short film Peter and the Wolf – a graphic adult version of the story featuring Peter as a gay werewolf-hunter and imagery inspired by Tom of Finland.[55][56]
  • In 2015, a recording done on the Walt Disney Concert Hall organ, arranged by Josh Perschbacher, and narrated by Michael Barone (host of the radio program Pipedreams from American Public Media)[57]
  • In 2015, the New England Jazz Ensemble (with the Wallingford Symphony Orchestra) debuted pianist Walter Gwardyak's jazz arrangement of Peter and the Wolf for big band. The narration was written and performed by vocalist Giacomo Gates.[58] The recording was self-released on April 22, 2018.

In copyright lawEdit

In 2012, the US Supreme Court's decision in Golan v. Holder restored copyright protection in the United States to numerous foreign works that had entered the public domain. Peter and the Wolf was frequently cited by the parties and amici, as well as by the Court's opinion and by the press, as an example of a well-known work that would be removed from the public domain by the decision.[59]


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External linksEdit