Éric Chevillard at Music and Literature:
But here’s the rub: pummeled by Peter and the Wolf, knocked senseless, saturated, the child ends up definitively and permanently associating the instruments with the characters they arbitrarily play in the story. I’m a victim of that syndrome myself, and it’s left me lost to music forever. Because while the story expressly written for Prokofiev’s instrumental playlet obviously works very nicely, the same is not true of all the other pieces in the classical repertory. But for me, you understand, the muttering bassoon will always be a grumpy grandfather, the melancholy oboe a duck, the airy, twittering flute a bird, the mellow clarinet a velvet-pawed cat, the bass drum a hunter, the severe, somber horn a wolf emerging from the forest, and the violin that happy, fun-loving little hoodlum Peter.
Imagine, then, the nightmarish visions that come to me when I listen, for example, to Tchaikovsky’s Pathetic Symphony: the melancholy duck eats the eyes of the velvet-pawed cat, its claws shredding happy, fun-loving Peter’s belly as it dies. Then the muttering grandfather marries the melancholy duck while the hunters slaughter each other and the airy, twittering bird carries off the severe, somber wolf to devour it in its aerie! And Mahler’s Song of the Night: the severe, somber wolf is a finance minister, calling for a vote on a law that will sentence the velvet-pawed cat to shell peas. The airy, twittering bird vomits up wallpaper paste. Happy, fun-loving Peter plucks the melancholy duck alive, and the hunters shoot the grumpy grandfather in his bath. It’s horrible, but that’s nothing compared to the goings-on in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony: happy, fun-loving Peter rapes his grumpy grandfather, the velvet-pawed cat has succumbed to alcoholism, the airy, twittering bird and the melancholy duck appear only in the form of terrines three days past their sell-by dates, the severe, somber wolf and the hunters divide the world between them, in four pieces, like an orange.