Petrushka (ballet)

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Igor Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky as Petrushka, 1911
Nijinsky as Petrushka

Petrushka ( French Pétrouchka , Russian Петрушка ) is a ballet in four pictures based on music by Igor Stravinsky . The action takes place at a fair in Saint Petersburg in 1830. The main characters are three jugglers' puppets who mysteriously come to life: Petrushka, the ballerina and the Moor. The Petrushka is a figure of the popular Russian puppet theater corresponding to the Kasper .

Stravinsky wrote the libretto together with Alexander Benois . The choreography was done by Michel Fokine , the costumes and set by Benois. This gave the work the nickname "Ballet of the Street". It was premiered on June 13, 1911 in Paris by the Ballets Russes under the musical direction of Pierre Monteux .

Classification in Stravinsky's complete works

After Stravinsky had previously composed mainly small forms such as songs, he switched to larger forms from around 1903 at the suggestion of Rimsky-Korsakov . When he became famous overnight as a ballet composer after the premiere of Feuervogel in 1910, he got the next commission straight away. A work on pagan Russia was discussed, which became Le sacre du printemps , which was enormously important for music history and premiered in 1913 .

During the preparatory work for the Sacre , Stravinsky came up with the idea for another work, which was to be about a wildly gesticulating jointed doll, from which Petrushka finally emerged in 1911 . For example, he reports in his memoirs (1936): “During this work I had the stubborn idea of ​​a jointed puppet that suddenly gains life and, through the diabolical arpeggio of its jumps, exhausted the orchestra's patience so much that it threatened it with fanfares. From this a terrible confusion develops, which ends at its climax with the painful and lamenting collapse of the poor jumping jack. " Petrushka was originally designed as a concerto for orchestra and piano , but was made at the suggestion of Djagilew , the founder and then impresario of the Ballets Russes, rewritten to ballet music.

In a historical context, Petrushka can be assigned to Stravinsky's second creative period: the time of his great ballets in collaboration with the Ballets Russes. It plays an important role in Stravinsky's work. The three works Feuervogel , Petruschka and Sacre established Stravinsky's world fame - later works could no longer build on this success, even if despite several stylistic changes they always retained the typical dance character of Stravinsky's works. In addition, Petrushka is considered the highlight of the New Russian character ballet by Dyagilev and Fokine .

Instrumentation (revised version 1947)

3 flutes (third flute as Piccolo ), 2 oboe , 1 English horn , 3 clarinets (third as a bass clarinet ), 2 Fagotte , 1 Kontrafagott , 4 horns in F , 3 trumpets in C and B , 3 trombones , 1 tuba , Timpani , triangle , cymbals , bass drum , snare drum , tambourine , tam-tam , xylophone , celesta , harp , piano , strings

Main characters: ballerina, Petrushka, Mohr, juggler


1.Picture by Ewald Dülberg in the Kroll Opera House (1928)

Image I: Folk festival in the butter week

The venue is a fair on the Admiralty Square in St. Petersburg during the Butter Week in 1830. Various showmen can be seen, including the small theater of the juggler. A mixed crowd of children, drunks, classy society and common people throng the fair. The participants are accompanied by typical music. For example the dancer in the music box scene, in which the folk song “Am druid Herbstabend” is used as a template. The main plot takes place within the framework of this colorful hustle and bustle: the puppet show of a juggler, whose puppets - the ballerina, Petrushka and the Moor - have become human through the work of his magic, a flute melody.

Karsawina as a ballerina

Picture II: At Petrushka

The scene takes place in Petrushka's cell. The melancholy Petrushka (typical sympathetic hero of Russian fairs) suffers from the cruel abuse of the juggler, his ridiculous appearance and his ugliness. He seeks consolation in his love for the stupid and vain ballerina, but is rejected because of his ugliness and awkwardness. Instead, she falls in love with the vicious but splendidly dressed Moor.

Image III: At the Mohren

The setting is now the Moor's room. The ballerina is impressed by the magnificent robes of the Moor and wants to win him over. When they finally embrace, Petrushka appears. He is jealous and so it comes to a scuffle, at the end of which Petrushka is thrown from the Mohr from his apartment and the ballerina runs away.

Fig. IV: Folk festival in the butter week

The venue is again the fair. Again the hustle and bustle of the hilarious crowd is shown. A happy dance, however, is abruptly interrupted by a scream from the small theater. Petrushka tries to flee from the angry Moor. The ballerina tries in vain to hold back the Moor, but he manages to kill Petrushka with his saber. The terrified visitors to the fair watch as Petrushka dies plaintively. To calm the crowd, the juggler shows that they are still just puppets. The crowd gets lost again and only the juggler remains alone on the stage to carry Petrushka's corpse back to the theater. At this moment the spirit of Petrushka appears over the theater, mocking the juggler. He drops Petrushka in shock and flees from the stage.


Alexander Benois: Draft for the set, 1911

The world premiere on June 13, 1911 in the Théâtre du Chatelet in Paris was a great success for everyone involved. Vaslav Nijinsky danced the title character, Tamara Karsawina the ballerina. Both the stage design as well as the choreography and the musical execution were described as very successful by the audience and the performers.

Stravinsky was later critical of the premiere. He found some crowd scenes rather unsuitable, he had imagined the juggler and the Moor completely different. Above all, the crucial scene of the mocking Petrushka was worked out indistinctly and ambiguously. Stravinsky later referred to the choreographer Fokine as one of his most unpleasant collaborators and most unpleasant contemporaries.


Like all of his works, Stravinsky revised Petrushka several times. At the same time as the original version, which was published as a score in 1912, he prepared a piano reduction for four hands for practice purposes. These versions were reissued in 1914 due to numerous errors. In 1921 he worked out a version for piano solo in three movements ( Trois mouvements de Petrouchka - a commission from Arthur Rubinstein ). In 1947 a revised edition of Stravinsky's appeared, which was also reissued as a piano version. This essentially provides for a significant reduction in the orchestra from 68 to 45 musicians, which is probably also due to the adaptation to the significantly smaller orchestras of the post-war period . In addition, various tempo indications were completely changed, the strings were used better and the piano was given a more important role, so that it again corresponds more to the original concert performance of the work. In addition, the ending was changed for the concert performance. Stravinsky himself did not like this ending, but was persuaded to work it out because otherwise the plot would not be understandable.

There is an orchestral suite version for both the original version and the revised version from 1947. This is a kind of suggestion as to which numbers of the work can be omitted from the performance. This suite was therefore not published as an independent print, but only to be understood as a practical performance tool. Furthermore, from 1936 onwards, several transcriptions were published , of which only one version for violin and piano, which was published under the title Danse Russe , was authorized.

Stravinsky said he was very pleased with a version for piano duo by pianists Babin and Vronsky.

Most recently, a suite of animated films was released in 1956, which was recorded in the Warner Bros. recording studios in Los Angeles.

Musical characteristics

The ballet is divided into three stylistically different images. The fair as the first and last picture frames the action of the puppet theater - Petrushka's unrequited love for the ballerina as the second and the scene with the Moor as the third picture. Stravinsky uses a special form of collage for this , the stencil technique : individual scenes stand out from a carpet of sound with their characteristic motifs and rhythms .

The first picture imitates typical sound impressions from a fair:

  • Muddle of voices: The constantly changing and yet apparently constant sound is achieved through tremolos and rhythmically varying layers of figures. These are constantly being recombined in their chronological order.
  • Highlighting individual images or people: Signals and fanfares are used to represent individual, particularly haunting or loud sounds.
  • Folklorism : To emphasize the folk character of the festival, Stravinsky uses quotations from Russian folk songs and popular melodies from Austria and France.

The second and third pictures are characterized by characterizations of the protagonists :

  • The juggler: In order to clarify its mystical effect on the audience, his performance is prepared with a drum roll and a subsequent general break. The impression is reinforced by the following chromaticism of the wind instruments and the muted strings.
  • Petrushka: His lyrical dance music is in clear contrast to the otherwise rigid, puppet-like music. The chromaticism of the accompaniment, which shows his humanity, also characterizes his demon, the juggler.
  • The ballerina: The ballerina is also prepared with a drum roll. In addition, there is a lively, dancing trumpet solo, accompanied by a snare drum basic strike.
  • Der Mohr: The dullness of the Mohr is illustrated by the simple, ostinat rhythm in the bass drum, cymbals and strings and by the "stupid-looking" melody.
  • Petrushka's fight against the Mohren: This section is much more aggressive than anything before , due to irregular eighth notes in extreme volume and sharpened second and tritone intervals . Parts of the Petrushka motif are taken up again in modified form. The saber beats are represented by scraps of motif, cymbal tremolo and the tambourine beat (“hold the tambourine close to the ground and let it fall”). Petrushka's death itself is shown by an enlarged, chromatically descending variant of his motif.

Stylistically, Petrushka stands out clearly from the previous Romanticism . The compositional principles used lead to an unemotional sound impression that goes against the sound ideal of Romanticism. Instead of predominantly homogeneous structures that convey a musical context, opposites are methodically and mechanically exposed. This is done through the composition method of the stencil technique, which is typical for Stravinsky . In doing so, given, mostly opposing elements of the composition are variably linked through combination, shortening / expansion and / or repetition. Melodic or rhythmic elements, individual motifs and / or complex structures can be used as elements. The result is an effect in the sense of counterpoint . However, individual voices are no longer set against each other, but styles or sound impressions.

An example of this is the waltz of the Ballerina and the Moor. The dancing nature of the ballerina, represented by a dance by Joseph Lanner (Waltz: Die Schönbrunner , op. 200) is combined with the completely unsuitable "bumpy" motif of the Moor. The waltz Lanners is not at numeral 140 as usual in the 3/4 clock accompanied but alienated with a 6/8 movement.

Petrushka Example 1.png

If the waltz is repeated at number 149, the harps and violas play in the expected 3/4 time, but the cello breaks out again. In addition, there is the now completely unsuitable motif of the Moor, who is consequently also forced to break off his attempts to join the waltz.

Petrushka Example 1 5.png

With the help of stencils, the scene shows how little the couple of the Moor and the ballerina harmonize. Numerous other examples can be found in the fairground scenes when several actors present their motifs at the same time and thus embody the tangle of a fairground. Here the opposites create a feeling of familiarity with the scenery instead of the confusion as in the waltz. The complexity of the links between several templates can of course turn out to be arbitrarily complicated.


  • As a result of the restructuring from a piano work to a ballet, the former first picture became the later second picture (“Bei Petruschka”).
  • The reduced version from 1947 has a completely different sound impression than the previous one, which is considered to be more brilliant and more appropriate to the stage. A dispute over which version was the "better" was not resolved. While important conductors like Monteux and Ansermet defended the original version, Stravinsky himself preferred the revised version.
  • Richard F. Goldman published an arrangement in 1942 that is considered pirated under European law. In the same way, Goldman copied two numbers from Stravinsky's Firebird . Various other Petrushka pirated prints continued to appear after Stravinsky's death.
  • Stravinsky found the cartoon suite from 1956 to be a mutilation of his work. He only agreed to work on this version because, according to the law at the time, it could have been produced without him and he received $ 10,000.


  • Wolfgang Burde : Stravinsky . Goldmann-Verlag, Augsburg 1982, ISBN 3-442-33065-3
  • Wolfgang Dömling , Theo Hirsbrunner : About Stravinsky . Laaber-Verlag, Laaber 1985, ISBN 3-89007-046-9 .
  • Helmut Kirchmeyer: Stravinsky's Russian ballets. Reclam, Stuttgart 1974, ISBN 3-15-010247-2 .
  • Helmut Kirchmeyer: Annotated directory of the works and editions of Igor Stravinsky's works up to 1971 . Publishing house of the Saxon Academy of Sciences in Leipzig, Stuttgart / Leipzig 2002, ISBN 3-7776-1156-5 .
  • Heinrich Lindlar: Lübbes Stravinsky Lexicon. Gustav Lübbe Verlag, Bergisch Gladbach 1982, ISBN 3-7857-0312-0 .
  • Volker Scherliess : Stravinsky . Laaber-Verlag, Laaber 1983, ISBN 3-921518-80-6 .
  • Volker Scherliess: Igor 'Fëdorovič Stravinskij. In: Ludwig Finscher (Hrsg.): The music in past and present. Bärenreiter / Metzler, Kassel / Stuttgart 1994, ISBN 3-7618-1136-5 , Person Part Volume 16, Sp. 116–166.
  • Manfred Sievritts: Igor Stravinsky: Petruschka (ballet in 3 pictures). In: Siegmund Helms, Helmuth Hopf (Hrsg.): Work analysis in examples. Gustav Bosse Verlag, Regensburg 1986, ISBN 3-7649-2276-1 .
  • Igor Stravinsky: Life and Work. Atlantis / Schott, Zurich 1957.
  • Igor Stravinsky, Robert Craft: Memories and Commentaries . University of California Press, Berkley 1959, ISBN 0-520-04402-9 .

Web links

  • Petrushka . Ruhr Piano Festival - interactive score, history, teaching materials, etc.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Igor Stravinsky: Life and Work. (1957), p. 40.
  2. Volker Scherliess: Igor 'Fëdorovič Stravinskij. In: Ludwig Finscher (Hrsg.): The music in past and present. (1994), Person Teil vol. 16, col. 119
  3. Heinrich Lindlar: Luebbe Stravinsky lexicon. (1982), p. 147.
  4. ^ Helmut Kirchmeyer: Stravinsky's Russian ballets. (1974), p. 75.
  5. Wolfgang Burde: Stravinsky (1982), p. 73.
  6. ^ Igor Stravinsky, Robert Craft: Memories and Commentaries (1959), p. 33 f.
  7. ^ Helmut Kirchmeyer: Stravinsky's Russian ballets. (1974), p. 100.
  8. Manfred Sievritts: Igor Stravinsky: Petrushka (ballet in 3 pictures). (1986), p. 302.
  9. Manfred Sievritts: Igor Stravinsky: Petrushka (ballet in 3 pictures). (1986), p. 306.
  10. Manfred Sievritts: Igor Stravinsky: Petrushka (ballet in 3 pictures). (1986), p. 307.