Peter and the Wolf


Peter and the Wolf



Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev wrote the story and music for Peter and the Wolf. After living in the USA, Germany and France, Prokofiev moved back to Russia in 1936. While Prokofiev lived in Russia as a child and young adult, the Russia he moved back to was a different place than the one he grew up in. The government of 1936 used art to promote and encourage government endorsed Soviet ideals.

When Prokofiev was asked to write a musical symphony for the Central Children’s Theatre in Moscow by director Natalya Sats, there were several goals: to introduce children to the instruments of the orchestra and to promote Soviet ideals. Peter and the Wolf carries an underlying message common to Soviet art of the time: children were encouraged and celebrated for being resourceful, brave and loyal to the Soviet government of the day, even if it meant disobeying their elders.

Peter and the Wolf was first performed for children at the Moscow Conservatory in 1936. In 1938, Prokofiev travelled to the USA to conduct Peter and the Wolf for a children’s concert in Boston. During this same trip, Prokofiev played the piano version for Walt Disney, ‘le papa de Mickey’, as he wrote in a letter to his two sons. Since this time, Peter and the Wolf has been translated into many languages and performed for children around the world. It has inspired many adaptations for audio book, theatre, film, and animations, including Walt Disney’s short animation from 1946.

Did you know?

…that Russia is the largest country in the world? It is so large that it spans 11 time zones. If you travel from East to West across Russia, the time changes 11 times! Canada is the second largest country in the world after Russia, and spans 6 time zones.



Peter lives with his grandfather in the woods. One day, Peter goes to play beside a pond and watches a bird, duck and cat. The bird flies quickly here and there. The duck swims in the pond, out of reach of the cat prowling around the edge.

Peter’s grandfather comes to find Peter, scolds him for going into the woods by himself, and takes him home.

As soon as Peter and the grandfather leave, a wolf comes out of the forest, stalks the duck and eats it! Peter, watching from his house, sneaks out of the house and finds a clever way to capture the wolf. Hunters arrive, tracking the wolf. Peter convinces them not to shoot the wolf, but instead take the wolf to a zoo.



Folk tales use archetypes to tell a story. An archetype is a typical character, situation, or action that most people can relate to. Archetypes are often used in fairy tales to help us understand situations in real life.

For example, a superhero is an archetype who fights for good and saves people. Another archetype is the villain, or the bad guy. In a story with a superhero and a villain, we expect the superhero to win. The Big Bad Wolf is a common villain archetype in which the wolf is portrayed as mean, dangerous, deceitful and cunning. Some fairy tales that include wolves are Little Red Riding Hood, Three Little Pigs and A Wolf in Witch’s Clothing.

Unfortunately for the wolf, the wolf archetype reflects major misconceptions about wolves as they exist in their natural habitat. For centuries, wolves have been trapped, shot and poisoned out of concern they may attack humans or domesticated animals like cattle. In several countries, wolves have been completely exterminated by humans. In reality, wolves seldom attack humans. When prey is plentiful, wolves prefer natural prey to domesticated animals. Conservation efforts are helping wolves thrive in ways that are safe for both humans and wolves.


Wolves live in packs, or families that include mom, dad, newborns and cubs up to four years old. All the wolves in the pack care for the youngest cubs by bringing food and babysitting.

Wolves are carnivores and need meat to survive. They prey on other animals in order to feed themselves. As a pack they hunt large animals like caribou and elk. As individuals they hunt small animals like birds and mice.

One of the ways wolves communicate is through sound, including howls, growls, whines and whimpers. Howling tells other wolves, ‘Hello, I’m here’ and sometimes, ‘This is my territory – keep out!’

Eurasian wolf cubs

Did you know?

… that the scientific name for the Grey wolf is Canis lupus? The subspecies, or specific type of wolf, that lives in Russia is the Eurasian wolf: Canis lupus lupus.


Musical fairy tales: Peter and the Wolf and more

Peter and the Wolf is a story told in words and music – a musical fairy tale. The narrator tells the story in words as the orchestra tells the story in music. An instrument or group of instruments and a musical theme represents each character in the story. The musical theme tells us something of the personality of the character, and the emotion the character is feeling. In the case of the animal characters in Peter and the Wolf, this is called ‘personification’: attributing human characteristics to a non-human character.

For example, the oboe represents the duck. How would you describe the duck as represented by this theme? Fast and excited? Slow and sleepy?

The following excerpt is still the duck, but at a very different point in the story. How would you describe the duck now? What might the duck be feeling? What might be happening at this point in the story?

Here are the characters and it’s instrument and musical theme. How would you describe each character based on the theme?






French horn


Did you know?

… that Prokofiev composed his first piece for piano when he was 5 years old? And he composed an opera when he was 9 years old!

…and more…

Story telling through music has a very long history starting hundreds of years ago and continuing today. Here is a sneak preview of the music and stories featured in this concert:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart told stories through music in operas – 22 operas, in fact! The Magic Flute is an unusual opera: the characters sing and speak, rather than only singing. Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute sets the stage for this concert.

Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a musical tale about a sorcerer who asks his apprentice to do some chores. The apprentice does the chores – using magic he hasn’t quite mastered yet! Walt Disney used The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the 1940 animation Fantasia featuring Mickey Mouse as the apprentice.

Jean Sibelius’ Valse triste is an example of music that doesn’t tell a specific story, but rather conveys an emotion. The title gives away the emotion Sibelius wanted to convey. Some listeners may not find this piece sad, but anything from calming and sleepy to peaceful and elegant.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov wrote Flight of the Bumblebee as part of the opera The Tale of Tsar Sultan. In this opera a magic swan changes the tsar’s son into a bumblebee so he can fly to visit his father. The fast notes and quickly changing direction of the melody are an example of personification in music of the bee.

Camille Saint-Saëns‘s The Carnival of the Animals is a series of fourteen movements each based on one animal, such as the lion, tortoise, rooster and more.

Maurice Ravel composed the Mother Goose Suite for two children who were 6 and 7 years old: Mimi and Jean. This suite is based on fairy tales that Mimi and Jean knew, including Beauty and the Beast. Contrasting melodies that are high in the flute and low in the contrabassoon are a musical conversation between the two characters.



Match the character with the instrument that represents it in Peter and the Wolf:

Name one piece of music other than Peter and the Wolf that uses personification. It can be from this concert or from other music.

Carnival of the Animals,

Flight of the Bumblebee,

Star Wars,

Harry Potter


Where was Peter and the Wolf played for the first time?

Moscow, Russia

at the Moscow Conservatory

Name three fairy tales that feature a wolf as a character

Little Red Riding Hood,

Three Little Pigs, Stone Soup,

A Wolf in Witch’s Clothing.


Riddles: In teams of three to four students, think of a fairy tale that has a wolf in it and act it out using gestures and sounds, but without using words. Can the other students guess what fairy tale it is?

What character in Peter and the Wolf is represented by the following melody? 

Prokofiev wrote many pieces of music that tell a story. Can you imagine a story that goes with this music? How would you describe it in words?

This is a very different story told through music. Can you draw the story? Use three sheets of paper, one to draw the beginning, middle and end of the story as you hear it in this music.

For more information:

OSM Youth concerts’ambassador Patrice Bélanger and Adam Johnson, assistant conductor of the OSM, present invisible aspects of music that are really interesting to hear when you attend a symphonic concert.

OSM Youth concerts’ambassador Patrice Bélanger and Adam Johnson, assistant conductor of the OSM, present invisible aspects of music that are really interesting to hear when you attend a symphonic concert.