Peter and the Wolf

bowie wolf

Peter and the Wolf (pt. 1).
Peter and the Wolf (pt. 2).
Peter and the Wolf (pt. 3).
Peter and the Wolf (pt. 4).

I have held this one back (it should have been slotted in the “Heroes” era), as I had intended it as the final Christmas post on this blog, which I assumed would be in 2012. However, given my recently slowed pace (mild illness, overwork, burnout) and the still-massive amount of songs left to get through, it seems likely that the blog will still be active in December 2013, though blessedly it will be quite near the end by then.

So: Peter and the Wolf. Sergei Prokofiev was commissioned by the Central Children’s Theatre in Moscow to write a symphony that would encourage musical taste in children. He wrote it allegedly in four days; it premiered on 5 March 1936, and according to Prokofiev, got a lukewarm reception. During the Thirties, Soviet art was often concerned with magic, fairy tales, legends and domestic happiness, with a consequent cult of the child and Stalin as a sort of national paterfamilias; Stalin was rehabilitating the idea of the “traditional family” (despite, or because, the fact that a housing shortage meant that a set of families were often jammed together in communal apartments).

Peter and the Wolf soon made its way to the West, its permanence assured a decade later, when Walt Disney made a film of it. From the late Thirties on, record labels made a habit of finding seemingly any actor with a spare afternoon to do the narration: Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Jose Ferrer, Paul Hogan, Sirs John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, Patrick Stewart, Sean Connery, Dame Edna Everidge, and Sharon Stone. “The piece has become the classical equivalent of The Vagina Monologues,” wrote Cynthia Kaplan (who wound up buying the Bowie version) in her Leave the Building Quickly.

In 1977, RCA was looking to release a new version with the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy. They were reportedly turned down by Peter Ustinov and Alec Guinness (the latter was in demand, as Star Wars had just come out) and decided on Bowie. He later said he agreed to do it as a Christmas present for his son, and in December ’77 he flew to New York to record his narration.

It’s one of the more charming versions of Peter and the Wolf ever recorded. Bowie was always inspired when he did children’s material (see his narration of The Snowman), giving it dignity and grace, never being condescending (he’s great in particular as the pissy cat: “Is it worth climbing up so high? By the time I get there the bird will have flown away!“). His old producer Ken Scott, after hearing “Kooks,” said he wished that Bowie would do a whole album of kid’s songs. This is as closest as Bowie ever came.

Here’s hoping that everyone has a merry Xmas and a fine New Year. We’ll be back around the New Year to finish off Buddha of Suburbia, and then onward to greater things Outside. Thanks, once again, to all readers and commenters.

See you in 2013.

C. O.

32 Responses to Peter and the Wolf

  1. This is actually the only officially released Bowie recording I have never heard. Must get around to it someday. Anyway have a Very Merry Xmas and a fantastic New Year.

  2. Brendan O'Lear says:

    Still my favourite of all Bowie photos on the cover. Unfortunately – and my memory may be playing tricks here – my cover was defaced by a big sticker advertising the green vinyl inside. I think that was considered a good thing back then.
    So it really goes Low, “Heroes”, Peter and the Wolf …

    Best wishes to everyone. I’ve learned a lot – not all of it good! -in the last year.

  3. Maj says:

    I actually have this one on a CD, and while I’m usually a pretty cool Bowie fan and can criticise our man where I think or feel it’s needed, when it comes to this record I just turn into a crazy fan girl because Bowie reading a fairytale is just TOOOO CUUUUUUUUUUTE.

    (See, I told ya.)

    He definitely should have made more kids stuff (see The Laughing Gnome…however embarrassed by it he is, that’s his problem because it’s genius for what it is). He is indeed very charming on this one and shame he didn’t do more stuff like this – narrating, as well as more acting.

    Happy Christmas to you Chris, and to everyone else here! πŸ™‚ xxx

  4. angusdurer says:

    Thank for this and for a wonderfully illuminating blog.
    Happy Christmas to you and all Bowie-philes here

  5. MC says:

    Merry Xmas, everyone! Cheers, Chris. Looking forward to going Outside in January!

  6. Drum Drum Boy says:

    A good English alternative to the French version featuring GΓ©rard Philippe; Bowie’s a good narrator! Happy Xmas you all!

  7. Trevor Mill says:

    Happy Xmas, I know it sounds silly but your blog was one of the highlights of the year.
    My sister bought me the vinyl version of this, it works well.
    There’s a guy called Johnny Morris who was better at the narration, mainly because it was my first ever ‘gig’. Tx

  8. Diamond Duke says:

    I actually haven’t heard this one yet, and I don’t have time just this moment. But one of these days, I’ll click on to those links above! Of course I’m quite familiar with Prokofiev’s Peter And The Wolf, and I like quite a few other things that Prokofiev has done (the Symphony No. 1, or “Classical, the Scythian Suite, Violin Concerto No. 1, bits and pieces of his Romeo And Juliet ballet suite…)

    Anyway, Merry Christmas, everybody! And have a very Happy New Year! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

  9. Rob says:

    As much as I’ve come to avoid Peter and the Wolf, simply from having heard it so many times over the years, Bowie’s is certainly one of the most charming iterations. It is a shame he never did more narrations.

    Merry Christmas, everyone. And many thanks C.O. for continuing to produce one of the most enjoyable websites on the Internet.

  10. Momus says:

    >in December ’77 he flew to New York

    I’d be interested to know at what points Bowie has flown and not-flown. My understanding is that he wasn’t flying at all in the early 70s after the Cypress return flight that triggered the phobia (thus taking the train to Japan, etc) and hasn’t flown at all since the heart attack, but that he flew in between.

    • col1234 says:

      yes, after only taking trains and boats from ’72 to ’76, he starts flying again ca. 1977 (the first time maybe when he tours with Iggy in the spring) and at year’s end he goes from London (Bing Crosby) to Kenya (“african night flight”) to NYC (Peter & Wolf) and then flies a good deal of the ’78 tour.

    • Brendan O'Lear says:

      Yes, I’ve always been curious about this ‘phobia’. As a kid I was keen to imitate everything DB did but the ‘fear of flying’ was one of two things I found difficult to accept about him (the other was an account of him enjoying lobster). The ‘fear of flying’ coincides so closely with the MainMan years that a cynic may be forgiven for seeing that organisation’s hand in its construction.

  11. Barb says:

    Merry Christmas Chris, safe travels

  12. Jasper says:

    Thanks for all the great posts this year, I look very much forward to what is coming up.

    I have one question. I will be spending at least the next half year in Berlin, and would like to know where I get the best info on Bowie’s time in Berlin, I think there was a book that came out not too long ago, but also seem to remember it being reviewed as full of faults. Any suggestions as to where I get the best info on his time there will be greatly appreciated.

    Merry Christmas

  13. Roman says:

    Apparently Bowie was very annoyed with RCA to only find out AFTER his recording, that he had not been first choice for the narration. This added to the tension between artist and label that had been festering over Low and Heroes.

    Happy Xmas, and long live this fine blog into 2013 and beyond!

  14. princeasbo says:

    Continued “well dones” for all your work Chris.

    Here’s some more Bowie-related silliness from Thrifty Vinyl (inspired by this blog) for all the Dame-iacs hereabouts:

  15. King of Oblivion says:

    Happy Christmas and thanks for this wonderful blog, it’s been a joy to read all year.

  16. Gnomemansland says:

    Thanks for pushing on so valiantly with the blog even if many of us are griping at some of the later period Bowie songs the commentary and quality of the writing is always exemplary –

  17. Jeremy says:

    Bowie always really scored when he did kids stuff, Labyrinth for example. I have an original pressing of Peter…and I quite like it. Great that he did a kids thing at the height of his cool in the late 70’s.

  18. sundaydiners says:

    Hi Chris, love it – did you get the track i emailed you? Would love to hear your take on it — cheers James D’Adamo (commenting from his nine -year old’s food blog πŸ™‚

  19. Stolen Guitar says:

    Happy New Year, Chris. Thanks for the work; it’s terrific and fills a hole that should never have been there in the first place. The quality of your research and work is comensurate with your subject and, hopefully, when you get published, will go a long way to resurrecting Bowie’s legacy. He’s the single most important British solo artist of all time and warrants the effort that you’ve put into this clear labour of love.Thanks! Any chance of doing the same for Roxy Music..? You know, when you’ve finished this little task? Good luck and enjoy the break.

  20. the Memorialist says:

    “Outside, Outside, Outside!” is our future for 2013; wish you liked Bish Bosch a i do!

    • Diamond Duke says:

      I do! I do! I liked Bish Bosch!! My three personal favorite tracks were Phrasing, Epizootics! and The Day The “Conducator” Died (An Xmas Song).

      Have you seen this particular fan-made trailer before? It’s quite the hilarious tribute/parody… πŸ˜€

      I think even Scott himself might even have a good chuckle at this one… πŸ˜‰

  21. Ramzi says:

    I found this blog a few weeks ago by a chance search on twitter, and my goodness what a discovery! My favourite Bowie period is Hours to Reality funnily enough, so I look forward to continue reading through in 2013!

  22. heathen72 says:

    OMFG He is releasing a new album!!!!!! I can’t believe it!

%d bloggers like this: