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St. Joseph Pro Musica Children's Concert
April 21, 1991
Preparatory Materials
Prokofiev: Peter and the WolfRavel: Mother Goose Suite

Note:  The following materials were prepared for use preceding a children's concert.  The notes are designed to be accompanied by musical examples at the points indicated.

Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Peter and the Wolf

Sergei Prokofiev, one of the most important composers of the 20th century, was born in Russia just 100 years ago, on April 23, 1891.  His mother, a pianist, began to play music for him when he was still a baby.  She also gave him his first music lessons.

The young Prokofiev showed unusual talent as a pianist and composer.  He wrote his first piano piece at age 5, and by the time he was 9 years old he had completed his first opera.  He entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory to study music seriously when he was 13 years old and remained there for 10 years.  During that time he studied with the most important teachers of Russia.  When he graduated, Sergei won a very important prize for his excellence.  Along with the honor of winning, he was awarded his own grand piano.

Following World War I and the Russian Revolution, Prokofiev spent time in America, Paris, and Germany performing as a pianist and conductor and composing music.  During this time he and his wife Lina had two boys, Sviatoslav and Oleg.  Prokofiev later returned to his native Russia where during very troubled times for his country he and other musicians were given a very hard time in their efforts to create great music.

Today he is honored in his own country as well as around the world as a great composer of piano music, operas, ballets, and music for orchestra and films.

Sergei Prokofiev liked children and animals very much.  Peter and the Wolf, one of his most famous pieces, was written for a children's theater in Moscow.  He wrote the story and the music for the tale in about two weeks.  The story uses the symphony orchestra to help tell of brave Peter who cleverly outwitted the wicked wolf, with the help of the crafty cat, the unfortunate duck, the grumpy grandfather, and the carefree, courageous bird.  Each character is given its own music played by a certain instrument.  Listen as the narrator explains each character and instrument.  (Musical Example)

To show you how the music helps the narrator tell the story, listen for the wolf, bird, and cat music.  Especially notice the wolf snapping and the bird teasing.  (Musical Example)

The story ends by everyone marching off to the zoo.  As Peter leads the procession, now the whole orchestra plays his music.  As you hear parts of the march, listen for the wolf, hunters, cat, grandfather, bird, and the duck inside the wolf.  (Musical Example - perhaps students could call out characters' names as they hear them)

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Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Ma Mere l'Oye (Mother Goose Suite)

Pianist and composer Maurice Ravel was born in 1875 in the southern part of France near Spain.  Soon after his birth his family moved to Paris where he lived most of his life.  After young Maurice began to take piano lessons, his father encouraged him to practice by giving him and extra half franc of allowance for every half hour that he practiced.

In 1889 the 14-year-old Maurice visited the World's Fair in Paris where he saw many wonderful things and heard exotic music from around the world.  Through his life he wrote music inspired by faraway places.  Maurice always loved children and animals, and when visiting friends he would sometimes sneak away from the adult company to play with the children and their toys.

Ravel had some special friends, Jean and Mimi Dodebski.  He loved to read stories to them.  To help encourage them to practice the piano he wrote a special set of piano duet pieces for them based on the French fairy tales that he read to them.  He called the suite "Ma Mere l'Oye" (Mother Goose).  When it came time for the first performance, Jean and Mimi were too frightened, so two other girls, Jeanne Leleu (age 11) and Geneviève Durony (age 14) played them.

Later Ravel arranged the music to be played by the symphony orchestra, and then later he used the music to make a ballet about the story of Sleeping Beauty.

The names of the parts of the suite for orchestra are: 1.  Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty in the Forest; 2.  Tom Thumb3.  Laideronnette, Empress of the Chinese Nodding-Dolls; 4.  Conversations of Beauty and the Beast; 5.  The Enchanted Garden.

Listen to how Ravel uses the orchestra to help tell these different stories:

The slow sad music for flute and harp picturing Sleeping Beauty in the Forest.  (Musical Example)

Hear how disappointed the English Horn makes Tom Thumb sound as he discovers that the birds (violins, piccolo, clarinet) have eaten the crumbs that were supposed to guide his family home. (Musical Example)

Exotic music paints a picture of the little empress Laideronnette taking her bath while the little nodding dolls entertain her by singing and playing tiny instruments. (Musical Example)

In the story of Beauty and the Beast, listen to the beautiful sound of the clarinet representing Beauty and the bassoon as the Beast. When Beauty agrees to marry the Beast, the harp and solo violin signal the magical moment that the Beast turns back into a handsome prince. (Musical Example)

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 1991.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts