The Nutcracker

Recommended recording

Curated by Maryna Boiko, Primephonic Curator

About this work

Tchaikovsky's ballet of the Nutcracker is based on Alexandre Dumas' translation of the original tale by E.T.A. Hoffman. Act One tells a story of how little Clara aids her magical Christmas gift (a nutcracker in the form of a soldier) defeat an army of mice. As a reward, in Act Two, he takes her to his magic kingdom and introduces her to a variety of subjects in a colorful stream of character dances. Tchaikovsky was initially displeased with the scenario for the ballet, which would be his last, because it lacked real drama. However, he reconciled himself to it and completed the Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a, which was popular from its first performance, before going on to complete the entire ballet. Those seven dances -- including the familiar Spanish (Chocolate), Arab (Coffee), Chinese (Tea), and Russian dances -- and the overture are essentially the same as they appeared in the final, full ballet. To these he added interludes and scenes, with music and orchestrations that are just as delightful. His supply of lovely themes is endless, and he constantly provides brilliant orchestration. Unique features of his instrumentation include the Overture, which is entirely without cellos and double basses; the "Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy," which was inspired by the new celesta, an instrument Tchaikovsky encountered in Paris while working on the score; and the "Waltz of the Snowflakes," which uses a children's chorus. He also used toy instruments, perfectly in keeping with a story for children. The ballet was not as successful as his other stage works when it first appeared, however, now the traditional Christmas ballet is so popular that its annual performance keeps many a ballet company afloat. If all you know of this ballet is the famous suite, by all means hear the entire work.

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