Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Nutcracker Ballet

The Nutcracker, Op. 71, is a fairy tale-ballet in two acts, three scenes, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, composed in 1891–92. Alexandre Dumas père's adaptation of the story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by E.T.A. Hoffmann was set to music by Tchaikovsky (staged by Marius Petipa and commissioned by the director of the Imperial Theatres Ivan Vsevolozhsky in 1891). The Nutcracker is one of my favorite ballets and it has become perhaps the most popular of all ballets, performed primarily around Christmas time.

The composer made a selection of eight of the numbers from the ballet before the ballet's December 1892 premiere, forming The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a, intended for concert performance. The suite was first performed, under the composer's direction, on 19 March 1892 at an assembly of the St. Petersburg branch of the Musical Society. The suite became instantly popular; the complete ballet did not achieve its great popularity until around the mid-1960s.

Perhaps some of the delight is the combination of fairy-tale- like music from the pen of Tchaikovsky along with the Dumas adaptation ( the original story by Hoffmann was much a much darker tale just as many now famous fairy tales for children have their origins in darker original versions). The music is notable for the eclectic breadth that it exhibits with sweeping romantic waltzes, a pastiche of dances representing different nationalities and miniatures that have a classical flavor (not the least as homage to Mozart whom Tchaikovsky revered). Among other things, the score of The Nutcracker is noted for its use of the celesta, an instrument that the composer had already employed in his much lesser known symphonic ballad The Voyevoda (premiered 1891). Although well-known in The Nutcracker as the featured solo instrument in the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" from Act II, it is employed elsewhere in the same act.

The Nutcracker Ballet is a continuing delight for viewing and listening during the holiday season.

No comments: