School of Music


Master of Arts in Music Education (MA)


Dan Suttles


Program Music, Peter and the Wolf


Music | Music Education | Music Performance


From the beginning of creation, people have told stories and passed them down from generation to generation. Stories come to life through all forms of communication: watching a play, listening to a podcast, or looking at a picture are just a few examples. The best stories have been written down in manuscripts, books, novels, and then sometimes eventually written into a script for a movie. But something about music makes it one of the most compelling and exciting ways to portray a story. It is one of the earliest and long-lasting forms of storytelling. Every musical work tells a story even if the composer did not intend for a piece to have a specific theme, narrative, or plot like “program” music. All musical works still share the ideas and thoughts of the composer, who is trying to connect the audience with his or her music. Music either tells a story on its own accord, causing the listener to react emotionally and interpret it in any way he or she desires, or music portrays a story in the way the composer intended. It creates an experience and emotional response that is far more frequent than the written word alone can achieve. Just like a novel has certain elements that make it great, music contains parallels that also make it a great story. The purpose of this lecture-recital is to reveal how the essentials of a story translate into musical devices, demonstrate those musical devices to the audience and show how to listen with intentionality during the performance, and assist the conductor in becoming a better music director. The focus of this document is to give clarity to the lecture portion of the recital and also to give special rehearsal considerations for the conductor while preparing the two works performed in the recital. The musical works used in this recital to help express the purpose of storytelling in music include: (1) G. F. Handel: “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth” from Messiah (soprano aria) and (2) Sergei Prokofiev: “Peter and the Wolf.” Since these works were written nearly two-hundred years apart, these pieces vary greatly in style and purpose, but they both tell a compelling story. The first chapter of this paper will describe the necessary elements for writing or telling a wonderful narrative and how composers use musical devices to convey those elements in song. It will also discuss the rise of musical division between “program music” and “absolute music” since they both started to become specifically categorized in nineteenth-century music. The next chapter will look at the transitions of musical eras and styles from Baroque to Classical to Romantic, the continued development into twentieth-century music, and how musical expression cemented new ways to tell a story. The final two chapters will examine a brief biographical history of the composers, their compositions, and a musical analysis with how the composers implemented parallels of writing a story into the score for each piece. The final chapters will also address specific rehearsal and performance considerations a conductor needs to make prior to performing these pieces.