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Friday, 21 October 2016

The Nutcracker

After the success of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty, the St Petersburg Opera commissioned the Russian composer to write another score. He was asked to compose the music to accompany an adaption of a 1816 German story, E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, that they wanted to perform as a ballet.

According to German folklore, nutcrackers are given as good luck charms, and help to ward off evil. Hard-shelled nuts were often hung from Christmas trees, hence the nutcracker doll becoming a 19th Century festive staple.

The story is about a little girl who dreams that she is transported to a land of sweets and magic by the Nutcracker Prince and at first Tchaikovsky was unhappy with the setting of a Christmas party for children. However. the choreographer persuaded him by giving exact specifications of the rhythms and tempos needed for each dance.

The ballet was premièred at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on December 18, 1892. The original production was not a success, one critic called it "completely insipid." However, the 20-minute "Nutcracker Suite" that Tchaikovsky extracted from the ballet was well received - the Sugar Plum Fairy supposedly received five curtain calls.

The original production of The Nutcracker St. Petersburg, 1892 Wikipedia

One novelty in Tchaikovsky's original score was the use of the celesta, a percussion instrument, which produces a bell-like sound. The composer had secretly bought the newly invented glockenspiel-like instrument in Paris and he used it for the character of the Sugar Plum Fairy to characterize her because of its "heavenly sweet sound."

The Odeon label released the first ever long-playing album in 1909 when it released the "Nutcracker Suite" by Tchaikovsky on four double-sided discs in a specially designed package.

The Nutcracker was not performed in Western Europe until 1934 when it premiered in London. The complete Nutcracker has enjoyed enormous popularity since George Balanchine's 1954 production in New York and is now performed by countless ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season,

The original manuscript of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite was found on December 9, 1946 in wastepaper bought to cover the walls of a flat in St Petersburg, then Leningrad.

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