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Petrouchka or Petrushka ( ; ) is a ballet with music by Russianmarker composer Igor Stravinsky.

Petrushka is a story of a Russian traditional puppet, Petrushka, who is made of straw and with a bag of sawdust as his body, but who comes to life and develops emotions. The story superficially resembles that of Pinocchio, but perhaps has more in common with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

According to Andrew Wachtel, Petrushka is a work that fuses music, ballet, choreography and history in perfect balance. It resembles Richard Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk (total artwork), but with a Russian approach.


Stravinsky composed the music during the winter of 1910–11 for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. It was premièred in Parismarker at the Théâtre du Chateletmarker on June 13 1911 under conductor Pierre Monteux, with choreography by Mikhail Fokine and sets by Alexandre Benois. The title role was danced by Vaslav Nijinsky. While the production was generally a success, more than a few observers were taken aback by music that was brittle, caustic, and at times even grotesque. One critic approached Diaghilev after a dress rehearsal and said, "And it was to hear this that you invited us?" Diaghilev succinctly replied, "Exactly". When Diaghilev and his company traveled to Vienna in 1913, the Vienna Philharmonic initially refused to play the score, deriding Petrushka as schmutzige Musik ("dirty music").

The work is characterized by the so-called Petrushka chord (consisting of C major and F major triads played together), a bitonality device heralding the appearance of the main character.


1911 original version

The original 1911 version of Petrushka is scored for 4 flutes (3rd and 4th doubling piccolo), 4 oboes (4th doubling English horn), 3 clarinets in B flat, bass clarinet in B flat (doubling clarinet 4), 3 bassoons, contrabassoon (doubling bassoon 4), 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in B flat (often doubling piccolo trumpet), 2 cornets in B flat and A, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, 2 snare drums (one offstage), 2 tambourines (one offstage), triangle, tamtam, glockenspiel, xylophone, piano, celesta, 2 harps and strings.

1947 revised version

Stravinsky's 1947 revised version is scored for the following smaller orchestra: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets in B flat (3rd doubling bass clarinet in B flat), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in B flat and C, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, tambourine, triangle, tamtam, xylophone, piano, celesta, harp and strings.

Compared to the 1911 version, the 1947 version requires: one fewer flute; two fewer oboes, but a dedicated English horn player instead of one doubled by the fourth oboe; one fewer bassoon, but a dedicated contrabassoon; neither of two cornets, but an additional trumpet; one fewer snare drum and one fewer tambourine by removing the offstage instruments; no glockenspiel; and one fewer harp.


The libretto was written by Alexandre Benois and Igor Stravinsky.

The play opens on St. Petersburgmarker's Admiralty Square. In progress is the Shrovetide fair known as Maslenitsa, a Russianmarker carnival before Lent, analogous to Mardi Gras. The people rejoice before the privations of the long fast.

Stravinsky's orchestration and rapidly changing rhythms depict the hustle and bustle of the fair. An organ grinder and two dancing girls entertain the crowd to the popular French song Une Jambe de Bois. Drummers announce the appearance of the Charlatan, who charms the captivated audience. Suddenly, the curtain rises on a tiny theater, as the Charlatan introduces the inert, lifeless puppet figures of Petrushka, a Ballerina, and a Moor.

The Charlatan casts a magic spell with his flute. The puppets come to life, leap from their little stage, and perform a vigorous Russian Dance among the astounded carnival-goers.

The second scene, after the performance, is set in Petrushka's Cell 'inside' the little theatre. The walls are painted in dark colors and decorated with stars, a half-moon, and jagged icebergs or snow-capped mountains. With a resounding crash, the Charlatan kicks Petrushka into this barren cell. We see that Petrushka leads a dismal "life" behind the show curtains. Although Petrushka is a puppet, he feels human emotions, including bitterness toward the Charlatan for his imprisonment, as well as love for the beautiful Ballerina, all of which is sensitively described by Stravinsky's Expressionist piano breaks. A frowning portrait of his jailer hangs above, as if to remind Petrushka that he is a mere puppet. This infuriates Petrushka, and he shakes his fists at the Charlatan's stern glare. Petrushka tries to escape from his cell, but fails.

The Ballerina enters the room. Petrushka tries to profess his love, but the Ballerina rejects his pathetic advances and hastily leaves. Petrushka collapses in a melancholic reverie.

In the third scene, the audience learns that the Moor leads a much more comfortable "life" than Petrushka. The Moor’s room is spacious and lavishly decorated, painted in bright reds, greens and blues. Rabbits, palm trees, and exotic flowers decorate the walls and floor. The Moor reclines on a divan and plays with a coconut, attempting to cut it with his scimitar. When he fails, he believes that the coconut must be a God and proceeds to pray to it.

The Charlatan places the Ballerina in the Moor’s room. The Ballerina is attracted to the Moor’s handsome appearance. She plays a saucy tune on a toy trumpet (represented by a cornet in the original 1911 orchestration) and dances with the Moor.

Petrushka finally breaks free from his cell, and he interrupts the seduction of the Ballerina. Petrushka attacks the Moor, but soon realizes he is too small and weak. The Moor beats Petrushka. Petrushka runs for his life, with the Moor chasing him, and escapes from the room.

The fourth and final scene returns to the carnival. Some time has passed: it is now early evening. The orchestra introduces a chain of colourful dances as a series of apparently unrelated characters come and go about the stage as snow begins to fall. The first and most prominent is the Wet-Nurses’ Dance, to the tune of the folk song "Down the Petersky Road". Then comes a peasant with his dancing bear, followed in turn by a group of a gypsies, coachmen and grooms and masqueraders.

As the merrymaking reaches its peak, a cry is heard from the puppet-theater. Petrushka suddenly runs across the scene, followed by the Moor in hot pursuit brandishing his sword. The crowd is horrified when the Moor catches up with Petrushka and slays him with a single stroke of his blade.

The police question the Charlatan. The Charlatan seeks to restore calm by holding the "corpse" above his head and shaking it to remind everyone that Petrushka is but a puppet.

As night falls and the crowd disperses, the Charlatan leaves, carrying Petrushka’s limp body. All of a sudden, Petrushka’s ghost appears on the roof of the little theatre, his cry now in the form of angry defiance. Petrushka’s spirit thumbs its nose at his tormentor from beyond the wood and straw of his carcass.

Now completely alone, the Charlatan is terrified to see the leering ghost of Petrushka. He runs away, with a single frightened glance over his shoulder. The scene is hushed, leaving the audience to wonder who is "real" and who is not.


The work is divided into four parts (tableaux) with the following scenes:

Part I: The Shrovetide Fair

  • Introduction (at the Shrovetide Fair)
  • The Charlatan's Booth
  • Russian Dance

Part II: Petrushka's Cell

  • Petrushka's Cell

Part III: The Moor's Room

  • The Moor's Room
  • Dance of the Ballerina
  • Waltz - The Ballerina & the Moor

Part IV: The Shrovetide Fair (Evening)

  • Dance of the Wet Nurses
  • Peasant With Bear
  • The Jovial Merchant with Two Gypsy Girls
  • Dance of the Coachmen and Grooms
  • The Masqueraders
  • The Fight - The Moor and Petrushka
  • Death of Petrushka
  • Apparition of Petrushka's Double.

Other versions

In 1921, Stravinsky created a piano arrangement for Arthur Rubinstein entitled Trois mouvements de Petrouchka, which the composer admittedly could not play himself for lack of adequate left hand technique.

In 1947, Stravinsky penned a revised version of Petrushka for a smaller orchestra, in part because the original version was not covered by copyright and Stravinsky wanted to profit from the work's popularity. The drumrolls linking each scene, optional in the 1911 original, are compulsory in the 1947 edition. The ballerina's tune is assigned to a trumpet in the 1947 version instead of a cornet as in the original. The 1947 version provides an optional fff (fortississimo) near the piano conclusion of the original. Stravinsky also removed some of the difficult metric modulations in the original version of the first tableau from the 1947 revision.

He also created a suite for concert performance that cut the last three sections: The Fight - The Moor and Petrushka, Death of Petrushka and Apparition of Petrushka.

In 1956, an animated version of the ballet appeared as part of NBC's Sol Hurok Music Hour. It was personally conducted by Stravinsky himself and was the first such collaboration. Directed by animator John David Wilson with Fine Arts Films, it has been noted as the first animated special ever to air on television.

Basil Twist debuted his puppetry version of Petrushka at Lincoln Center in 2001; it was performed as well at New York City Center's 2009 Fall for Dance Festival.

Expressions Dance Company performed a contemporary adaptation of Petrushka at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in 2009. The performance was entitled Score! and drew heavily on the concept of Reality Television.

Notable recordings


Ricardo Chailly conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (1995)

External links


  • Wachtel, Andrew (ed.). 1998. Petrushka: Sources and Contexts. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press. ISBN 978-0810115668
  • Walsh, Stephen. 2001. "Stravinsky, Igor". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.

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