This sequence is based on the very first melody from the overture to P.I. Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet.
This sequence is dedicated to all of the musicians, dancers, costume and set designers, stage crew, ushers, building operations people, and many more all wishing they could work right now.
Premiering in 1892, The Nutcracker was one of Tchaikovsky‘s final compositions. The ballet is now popular worldwide, but more so in North America where many ballet companies generate over 40% of their annual ticket revenue from their December/January Nutcrackers.
As a result, it is hard to believe this work was not a success when it debuted. The critical eyes of the audience were not impressed by the choreography, dancing, and long wait for the Prima Ballerina. Their ears were more impressed, leading to the initial success of the 20-minute orchestral suite extracted from the ballet score.
The work was commissioned by Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the director of the Imperial Theatres, and premiered as a double bill with Tchaikovsky’s final opera Iolanta. The ballet’s first complete United States performance was by the San Francisco Ballet on Christmas Eve of 1944. Legendary choreographer George Balanchine reworked the staging for the New York City Ballet in 1954, and it has been a staple of the Christmas season ever since.
Tchaikovsky channels a lifetime’s worth of compositional skill into this piece. His music is compositionally simple when compared music of the 20th century, but more layers and complexity doesn’t always lead to more expression. There are some strikingly beautiful moments in the ballet. My favorites are the Waltz of the Snowflakes, the Waltz of the Flowers (especially the harp solo), and the Pas de Deux (below).
This ballet carved out a permanent place for the celesta on the orchestral sound map. The bright glowing sound is synonymous with Christmas and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
When he wrote The Nutcracker, he had written five symphonies and had two successful ballets (Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty). He was the master of the orchestral “sigh”, and had developed the unique ability to write melodies that stick in the listener’s heads long after they leave the theater.
This melody is the first theme from the overture. It is first played by the upper strings in a light, bouncy style that sets the mood for graceful movements.
Play this sequence as if you are dancing with the joy an excitement of a child on Christmas Day. Challenge yourself to keep the dynamic light so you don’t wake your parents!
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