Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker

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The Nutcracker is amongst the most popular ballets ever written. The score is composed by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Enjoy the beautiful melodies played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by David Maninov.

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Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Artists: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra & David Maninov (conductor)

After Tchaikovsky’s qualified success with The Sleeping Beauty, he was invited to compose the music for a new ballet. The scenario was based on Alexandre Dumas père’s adaptation of a story by the German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, Nussknacker und Mausekönig. From the outset, The Nutcracker had its critics, none more trenchant than the composer himself. He wrote to his beloved nephew, Vladimir (Bob) Davydov, on 7 July: ‘… I finished the sketches of the ballet yesterday. You will remember that I boasted to you when you were here that I could finish the ballet in five days, but I have scarcely finished it in a fortnight. … The ballet is infinitely worse than Sleeping Beauty – so much is certain … If I arrive at the conclusion that I can no longer furnish my musical table with anything but warmed-up fare, I will give up composing altogether.’

At its St Petersburg premiere on 18 December 1892 The Nutcracker formed half of a double bill with the darker operatic component, Iolanta, generally thought superior. Posterity has reversed this judgement. It is true that hardly any story survives in the ballet’s voyage from the (mimed) semi-reality of an idealised family Christmas to the land of eternal sweetmeats (and nothing but virtuoso dancing). Yet the score itself is brilliantly alive with no hint of time-serving tinsel. Tchaikovsky’s exploitation of his unmatched gift for melody was never more audacious.

The miniature overture opening the work sets the fairy mood by employing only the orchestra’s upper registers. The first act is divided into two scenes. It is Christmas Eve and little Clara is playing with her toys. At midnight they come to life. Led by the Nutcracker, her special present, they overwhelm some marauding mice, after which he is transformed into a Prince. Clara and her Prince travel through a snowy landscape where they are greeted by waltzing snowflakes.

In Act 2 the Sugar Plum Fairy and the people of the Land of Sweets proffer a lavish gala of character dances. There follows a magnificent pas de deux for the Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy, the latter’s own variation realising the composer’s desire to showcase the celesta, a new instrument he had heard in Paris. Its unique timbre is here famously complemented by little downward swoops from the bass clarinet. Elsewhere Tchaikovsky incorporates several children’s instruments including a rattle, pop-gun, toy trumpet and miniature drum. After the festivities Clara wakes up under the Christmas tree, the Nutcracker toy in her arms, although in some versions she rides off with her Nutcracker Prince as if the dream has happened in reality.

The Nutcracker, Op. 71, Pt. 1:
0:00:00 I. Overture
0:03:21 II. The Christmas Tree
0:07:25 III. March
0:09:46 IV. Children’s Galop – Arrival of the Guests
0:12:14 V. Dance Scene – Arrival of Drosselmeyer
0:18:13 VI. Scene – Grandfather’s Dance
0:25:00 VII. The Magic Spell Begins
0:31:48 VIII. The Battle Between the Nutcracker and the Mouse
0:35:19 IX. Scene in the Pine Forest “Journey through the Snow”
0:39:00 X. Waltz of the Snowflakes

The Nutcracker, Op. 71, Pt. 2:
0:45:24 XI. The Magic Castle
0:49:14 XII. Clara & the Prince – XIII. Divertissement
0:53:47 XIV. Chocolate. Spanish Dance
0:54:58 XV. Coffee. Arabian Dance
0:58:22 XVI. Tea. Chinese Dance
0:59:29 XVII. Trepak
1:00:39 XVIII. Dance of the Mirlitons
1:03:01 XIX. Mother Gigogne and the Clowns
1:05:51 XX. Waltz of the Flowers
1:12:33 XXI. Pas de Deux. Dance of the Prince and the Sugar-Plum Fairy
1:17:03 XXI. Pas de Deux. Variation 1, Tarantella
1:17:47 XXI. Pas de Deux. Variation 2, Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy
1:20:03 XXI. Pas de Deux. Coda
1:21:29 XXII. Finale. Final Waltz and Apotheosis

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