Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballet – a magical musical journey to the land where all good dreams come true.
The Nutcracker was one of his last compositions, written the year before he died. It tells the story of a magical Christmas Eve at the home of a little girl called Clara, when toys come to life to protect Clara against an attack by the terrifying Mouse King and his followers. A toy nutcracker given to Clara as a Christmas present leads the dolls in battle, but things go badly until Clara saves the day by throwing her slipper at the Mouse King. The Nutcracker immediately turns into a handsome Prince who takes Clara through a snow-covered forest to the Kingdom of Sweets. There she is welcomed by the Sugar Plum Fairy, who puts on an elaborate entertainment to thank her for saving the Prince. Delicious treats from around the world dance in her honour, including Chocolate from Spain, Coffee from Arabia, Tea from China, and Mirlitons (a sweet pastry) from France. Finally the Sugar Plum Fairy herself dances for Clara, and the evening ends in a grand waltz.
To show in music the delicate steps of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Tchaikovsky used an instrument which had only just been invented: the celesta. This is a keyboard instrument which looks like a small upright piano, but inside, instead of strings, there are dozens of little metal bars, a bit like a glockenspiel. It sounds like tiny fairy bells being played. Tchaikovsky heard a celesta while on a visit to Paris and realised at once that its glistening tones would be perfect for the Sugar Plum Fairy. So he had one brought into Russia — but secretly, to make sure that nobody got wind of his brilliant idea and used it first!
The ballet itself wasn’t a hit at the premiere: there’s not much of a story line in the second half, and the role of Clara and her brother Fritz were danced by real children — dance students from the Imperial Ballet School — at the first performance. Tchaikovsky’s music, however, was a great success from the start, admired for its beautiful melodies and the imaginative colours of the orchestral writing.
PYOTR IL’YICH TCHAIKOVSKY 1840–1893 The Nutcracker 1 Miniature Overture 2 Decorating the Christmas Tree 3 March 4 Arrival of Drosselmeyer 5 Departure of the Guests – The Magic Begins 6 Battle against the Mouse King 7 Journey through the Snow 8 Waltz of the Snowflakes 9 The Enchanted Palace 10 Arrival and Festive Welcome 11 Chocolate (Spanish Dance) 12 Coffee (Arab Dance) 13 Tea (Chinese Dance) 14 Trepak (Russian Dance) 15 Dance of the Mirlitons (Flutes) 16 Mother Gigogne and the Clowns 17 Waltz of the Flowers 18 Pas de deux 19 Tarantella of Prince Charming 20 Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy 21 Coda 22 Final Waltz
Queensland Symphony Orchestra Werner Andreas Albert conductor