Petya i volk (Peter and the Wolf) Op. 67………...…................……..……Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Russian composers like Sergey Prokofiev were under constant pressure to comply with the shifting
parameters of official Soviet cultural policy, and one of the things the government encouraged in the mid-1930s was
“practical” art music for children. In 1935, Prokofiev was attending a performance at the Moscow Children’s Theatre
with his sons when the director, Natalia Satz, approached the composer with an idea for a symphonic tale for children.
Within weeks he completed one of his most famous works, Petya i Volk (Peter and the Wolf), op. 67. The work is scored
for orchestra and narrator, and tells the story of a young boy’s adventures in the woods. Prokofiev represents each
character in the story with different instruments and an easily recognizable signature tune. The young boy Peter,
for instance, is represented by a sunny theme in the strings, while the bassoon represents his sterner grandfather.
The narration, written by Prokofiev himself, plays a vital part in the piece as it introduces each character and its
associated instrument in an introduction to the story. Since its 1936 premiere, performances of Peter and the Wolf
have featured some very famous and culturally significant narrators, including Leonard Bernstein, David Bowie,
Captain Kangaroo, Carol Channing, Sean Connery, Dame Edna Everage, Boris Karloff, Patrick Stewart, Sting, and now,
Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld……………...........…..…Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)
Along with Johann Strauss II, Jacques Offenbach was one of the most accomplished “popular” composers
of the nineteenth century. He is often credited with popularizing the operetta, a genre of shorter, “lighter” operas
that proliferated throughout Europe in the late nineteenth century. Offenbach was born in Cologne, Germany, but spent
the bulk of his career in Paris performing and composing for the city’s many opera theaters. He arrived in Paris in the
1830s and, after establishing himself as a performer and vaudeville performer, was appointed conductor at the theater
Comédie-Française in 1850. At the same time, he was compiling a program of short comic pieces featuring his own works
to be premiered at the Théâtre Marigny in the Champs Elysées. The theatre opened as Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens in
1855 and became a center for operetta in Paris, contrasting the increasingly serious Opéra-Comique. It was at this
theater that Offenbach premiered his most famous operetta, Orphée aux enfer (Orpheus in the Underworld) in 1858.
The operetta is a two-act satire based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Euridice. It was an enormous success, and
became prototypical for the composer’s large-scale operettas. The well-known overture was not actually composed
by Offenbach himself, but by Carl Binder (1816 – 1860), who used Offenbach’s themes for the Vienna production of
the opera in 1860. Despite this, the overture still provides a whimsical taste of the original stage work,
opening with a brisk fanfare and moving into a tender love song featuring solo cello, a jaunty waltz featuring
solo violin, and, ultimately, the famous can-can depicting the dance of the gods of the underworld.
Overture to Guillaume Tell…………………………….…......................…..Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
When Italian composer Gioachino Rossini came to live in Paris in 1824 he had already been revered as a
master of Italian opera. He had written nearly 40 operas, securing a reputation as the most successful opera composer of
his day if not the most prolific. The French audience, particularly the rising middle class, was particularly receptive
to Rossini’s works for both the Théâtre Italien and the Opéra. Guillaume Tell premiered in Paris in 1829 as what may have
been the most highly anticipated opera of the age. Combining Italian lyricism with extravagant theatrics of the French
Grand opera, Guillaume Tell was emphatically received. Though Rossini would continue to live in Paris for another four
decades, he did not write another opera following the premier of one of his most famous works.
The plot of Guillaume Tell is based on a novel by German author and critic Friedrich von Schiller entitled Wilhelm Tell,
which tells the story of the legendary fourteenth-century Swiss hero and marksman. The overture consists of four
distinct sections, beginning with a depiction of an Alpine sunrise using a quintet of cellos. The serene theme, however,
segues into a violent storm featuring blaring brass and rolling percussion. Following the storm, the scene returns to
its original bucolic state with the English horn imitating the Swiss yodel. Rossini actually based the melody on a
herding tune called a ranz de vaches, which was played on the Alpine horn. The mood abruptly shifts with the trumpets,
horns, and percussion sounding a fiery call to arms. For many Americans, however, the melody connotes a gun-slinging
man riding a horse named Silver.
Fantasia for Soprano Saxophone and Chamber Orchestra…...............Heitor Villa-Lobos 1887-1959
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Heitor Villa-Lobos received his earliest classical music education from his father,
though popular Brazilian idioms seemed to interest him more. Indeed, the popular music of early twentieth century Rio
would have an enduring influence in his output as a composer. Biographers have been unable to fully document Villa-Lobos’
life between 1905 and 1913, when the composer took a series of trips throughout Brazil and the Amazon. Many speculate that he was researching the country’s folk and traditional music, which he regularly worked into his compositions.
By the 1920s, Villa-Lobos was heralded as one Brazil’s most influential artistic figures, and remains perhaps the most
significant composer of Brazilian art music. Villa-Lobos composed his Fantasia for Soprano Saxophone and Chamber
Orchestra in 1948 following some of his first visits to the United States. Not many composers write for the soprano
saxophone, which is one reason why Villa-Lobos’ Fantasia has become standard repertoire for the instrument.
Olympic Fanfare and Theme………………………………..................................…... John Williams (1932- )
American composer, arranger, conductor and pianist John Williams has composed the soundtracks and served as
music director for over 70 films, making him a household name in film music. His compositions are featured in
Jaws, E.T., Star Wars, Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List, and many other critically acclaimed films,
for which Williams has been awarded Grammy Awards, Academy Awards, as well as several gold and platinum records.
From 1980 to 1993 Williams conducted the Boston Pops Orchestra, which has recorded many of his most
popular works. When the 1984 Olympics were scheduled to take place in Los Angeles, the Olympic Committee approached
Williams, by then the city’s most famous composer, to create a fanfare for the upcoming games. This was particularly
challenging, as American’s had long associated the Olympics with Leo Arnaud's fanfare from his Bugler's Dream suite,
which ABC had been using for their televised coverage of the games since 1968. Furthermore, the fanfare needed to
fit with the harmonic overtone series produced by the herald trumpets present at official Olympic events, meaning
the intervals available for the fanfare were somewhat limited. Williams was certainly up to the challenge, and
composed an enduring and iconic theme that has become unmistakably identified with the games.
Written and compiled by M.K. Ables