After the huge success of his first ballet, The Firebird (1910), Stravinsky got down to writing a work for piano and orchestra that would incorporate authentic Russian folksongs and dances. While composing the piece, he was haunted by the image of a puppet come to life, leading to the work being transformed into a ballet-pantomime, Petrushka, in which the piano is part of a brilliant, kaleidoscopic orchestra.
Petrushka is set at a Shrove Tuesday carnival in Saint Petersburg. The ballet tells the tragicomic story of a puppet in love with a ballerina. Stravinsky turns his back on the impressionist sonorities he continued to use in The Firebird, emphasizing percussive rhythms and vibrant colours. The original 1911 version calls for a very large orchestra. In his 1947 revision, nowadays the most frequently performed version, the composer scored the work for a slightly smaller orchestra.
© Claudio Ricignuolo 2023