I discovered the wondereful music for this ballet once it had already been completed by Stravinsky and the ballet's plot, created together with Alexandre Benois, was completely ready. I entered a collaboration with the composer and the designer when they had already created the plot's protagonists and the main line of its development. Nevertheless, when I say "my ballet Pétrouchka", when I say that it is one of my most successful achievements, one of my most significant productions, I feel I have every right so to do.
The ballet Pétrouchka may be spoken of as a dramatic musical opus by Igor Stravinsky which holds an exceptional place in new music. The ballet Pétrouchka may be spoken of as one of the very best works by the designer Benois. The ballet Pétrouchka may be spoken of as a Fokine production that is one of the fullest embodiments of ballet reform. In this case there was no collaboration in the sense of us all working together at the same time, the joint work of the composer, choreographer and designer. It was not at all like working on The Fire Bird, when Stravinsky played the music for me at the very outset of its creation and I tried to convey to him every instant of the ballet and excite his imagination with the scenes that I saw so clearly. Here the work followed an entirely different scheme. The composer dealt with his task, and only then did I approach my own. (…) We both spoke of the sufferings of Pétrouchka in our own language: Stravinsky through sounds and I through gestures. (…)
The thing that touches me in the music of Pétrouchka is the characters of Pétrouchka and the Moor. Not because the cries of the oboe so closely resemble the nasal voice of puppeteer who accompanies the movements of Pétrouchka the puppet through silly cries through his nose. Mozart said that the most dreadful situations should be conveyed in such a manner that the music soothes the ears. Pétrouchka is an example of how, tormenting the ears, one can caress the soul. It sits well with me. I can't express how wonderful it is for me that the composer found those sounds, those combinations of sounds and timbres that depict before my eyes the image of the loving, downtrodden and forever miserable Pétrouchka. Now, when I choose these words to describe what Pétrouchka is, I feel how inadequate words are and how helpless I am, and value all the more the eloquence of the music and the gestures.
The entire image of the Moor embodies blunt self-satisfaction. A voluptuous lucky man. A favourite child of Fate. Everything in him is foolish. The sounds that Stravinsky do not caress the ears. There is no melody that provides pleasure. No-one would ever think of singing the Moor's melody for their own pleasure. To a large extent it is barking, snorting or bass pizzicatos. But each integral image is formed in the imagination. It is such a joy that the character is so accurately expressed.
Michel Fokine. Extract from the book "Against the Tide"