Tchaikovsky - Nutcracker Suite No. 1
1. Miniature Overture
3. Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy
5. Arabian Dance
6. Chinese Dance
7. Dance of the Mirlitons
8. Waltz of the Flowers
Nutcracker is universally popular, and (probably) the best-known of
all music. As such, it probably “needs no introduction” - but it's going
to get one anyway!
a shy, fatalistic neurotic, was inevitably going to have more than his
fair share of ups and downs. In 1877 he was morally blackmailed into marriage
by an admiring but mentally unstable pupil. Their opposed “preferences”
soon precipitated a disastrous end to their relationship. Of course, it
was far more complicated than that, but the upshot was nose-grindingly
simple: Tchaikovsky was left in a state of nervous breakdown, relieved
by the generosity of the mysterious, wealthy widow Nadezhda von Meck. For
the next three years her patronage enabled him to devote himself entirely
to his art. At the end of 1890, illness forced Mme. von Meck to terminate
their strange alliance. Tchaikovsky was, naturally, very upset, but was
otherwise enjoying some success: conducting in Germany, France and England,
a very satisfactory visit to the USA (1891), and attending a performance
of his Eugene Onegin under Mahler in Hamburg (1892).
a tendency to marvel at composers who produce joyful music whilst in dire
straits (for instance, Mozart and Beethoven), presumably because we think
that a composer's creativity should be stimulated by his personal circumstances.
That this is utter tosh is borne out by countless examples. In 1892, while
he started work on his Sixth Symphony, arguably his most sorrowful
score, Tchaikovsky was completing his Nutcracker, arguably his happiest.
Moreover, apparently he had no enthusiasm for the libretto, so here we
go again, this time marvelling at how masterpieces can be born out of a
sense of duty, and ignoring how often composers are inspired to produce
dross! (Though not Tchaikovsky, I hasten to add).
No.1 is what is commonly referred to as “the” Nutcracker Suite,
which has been instrumental in sparking a love of music in many children
down the years, though I doubt, regretfully, that it still continues this
estimable service in these days of “street wisdom”. No matter, the real
wonder of this music is not that it should appeal to children as such,
but that it does appeal to the fabled “child” in all of us. Who can at
home play the record, or now face this wonderful, living orchestra, without
the anticipatory thrill of being transported back, through a haze of nostalgia,
to the wide-eyed magic of Christmas Past? The very air seemed to tingle
and sparkle, and the chill world seemed to glow in luminous expectancy.
Tchaikovsky's miraculous blend of toytown tunes and wrapping-paper orchestration
conjures the very same enchantment. How he does it is a constant source
of wonder, but wonderful it is, and in this day and age it is a wonder
for which I for one am increasingly grateful.
a reminder is scarcely necessary, here is a brief resumé
of the movements: Miniature Overture - skips delicately, the atmosphere
of charmed fantasy heightened by omitting bass instruments; March
- an exciting profusion of fanfares and swirling strings; Dance of the
Sugar-Plum Fairy - the perfect application of the newly-invented celesta;
- a fast and furious Russian folk-dance, spinning ever more dizzily; Arabian
Dance - slow, sinuous, exotic (and just a touch erotic?); Chinese
Dance - full of flute flourishes; Dance of the Mirlitons - before
which there will be a short pause while you unwrap your Fruit & Nut;
Waltz of the Flowers - brimming with grace and elegance, Tchaikovsky's
most inspired foray into the form of the French Valse.
© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street,
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