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Petrushka is a ballet whose score was composed by Igor Stravinksy in 1910-11. It is the story of a love triangle set between three puppets: the titular character, a moor, and a ballerina, as well as other characters, and is set in St. Petersburg at a Shrovetide fair. Stravinsky used his orchestration to capture the various elements of a busy fair in old Russia. He also used music to portray the characteristics of the various characters, and drew upon well-known Russian folk music and themes as well. Several versions exist of Petrushka, including the original version from 1911, a revision in 1947, and several versions for piano. The most often performed version today is the 1947 version.
Petrushka is divided into four parts, called Tableaux, each depicting a scene consisting of several “episodes” in each scene, almost like a musical collage. A drum roll connects the various episodes. One distinctive feature of the piece is a compositional device Stravinsky used that is referred to as the “Petrushka chord”, representing Petrushka and appearing along with his character. It consists of a C major triad stacked with an F# major triad sounding together. Stravinsky’s use of Russian folk music is in keeping with the nationalist style characteristic of the early modern period.
An interesting comparison can be made between Stravinsky and Bartok, who both used folk music in their compositions. Each composer had a different approach to the use of folk music, however their techniques came about around the same time. Bartok was much more involved in his studies of folk music and more deliberate in its use. Stravinsky used folk music as more of an enhancement, it seems, and according to one [], “He rarely talked about his creative encounter with folk music and even tried later to conceal the Russian roots of his musical language.”
Stravinsky composed his 3 most well known ballets, Firebird, Petrushka, and Rite of Spring within a short span of each other. They were all successful in their own way. I think it is interesting to see the progression of Stravinsky as a composer, as he explores themes of folk melodies, nationalism, and primitivism. These pieces show exceptional musical storytelling.
"Petrushka." The Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 30, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/opr/t114/e5126
Stephen Walsh. "Stravinsky, Igor." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 30, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/52818pg3