The Nutcracker (Russian: Щелкунчик) is a ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, composed in 1891–1892, and based on The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (German: Nußknacker und Mausekönig), a story by E. T. A. Hoffmann (1816). Alexandre Dumas' adaptation of the story was set to music by Tchaikovsky (after the libretto of Marius Petipa) and has become the most popular ballet performed around Christmas time. It is appealing to children and adults alike and has been a standard yearly feature of theatres in many cities. A selection of eight of the more popular numbers from the ballet was made by the composer, forming The Nutcracker Suite, designed for concert performance. The titles of the ballet (simply The Nutcracker) and the suite (The Nutcracker Suite) are frequently confused.
The story has been published in many book versions including colorful children's versions. The plot revolves around a blonde German girl named Clara Stahlbaum.1
The curtain opens to see the Stahlbaums' house, where a Christmas party is being held. Clara, her little brother Fritz, and their mother and father are celebrating with friends and family, when the mysterious godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, enters. He quickly produces a large bag of gifts for all the children. All are very happy, except for Clara, she being the only one who does not receive a gift. Herr Drosselmeyer then produces three life-sized dolls, who each take a turn to dance. When the dances are done, Clara approaches Herr Drosselmeyer asking for a gift. Sadly, Drosselmeyer is out of presents. Clara runs to her mother in a fit of tears.
Drosselmeyer conjures up a Nutcracker. Clara is happy, but her brother Fritz is jealous, and breaks the Nutcracker. Drosselmeyer chases him off and mends the toy.
The party ends and the Stahlbaum family go to bed, but Clara is concerned about her Nutcracker, and comes out to the Christmas tree to see it. She falls asleep with the Nutcracker in her arms. When the clock strikes midnight, Clara hears the sound of mice. She wakes up and tries to run away, but the mice stop her. The Nutcracker and his band of soldiers rise to defend Clara, and the Mouse King leads his mice into battle.
A conflict ensues, and when Clara helps the Nutcracker by throwing her slipper at the Mouse King, the Nutcracker seizes his opportunity and stabs him. The mouse dies. The mice retreat, taking their dead leader with them. Clara cries for her Nutcracker, who is also dead, and her tears bring him back to life.
The two then dance, and the Nutcracker turns into a prince, who leads her into the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy, where dancing Snow Flakes greet them.
The people of the land dance for Clara and the Prince, and Clara wakes up under the Christmas tree with the Nutcracker toy in her arms (very cute and beautiful).
History of the ballet
Tchaikovsky composed the ballet in 1891–1892, but he was unsatisfied with it and considered it to be one of his less successful pieces.
The first performance of the ballet was held as a double premiere together with Tchaikovsky's last opera Iolanta on December 6/18, 1892, at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, Russia. The ballet was conducted by Riccardo Drigo and choreographed by Lev Ivanov. However, this performance had just limited success.
The current popularity of The Nutcracker is due in part to Willam Christensen, former Ballet master of the San Francisco Ballet, who imported the work to the United States in 1944. The success of the ballet and George Balanchine's choreography for his own 1954 version created a winter tradition of Nutcracker performances in the United States.
The music in Tchaikovsky's ballet is some of the composer's most popular. The music belongs to the Romantic tradition and contains some of his most memorable melodies which are frequently used in television and film. The Trepak, or Russian dance, is one of the most recognizable pieces in the ballet, along with the famous Waltz of the Flowers and March, as well as the ubiquitous Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy. The ballet contains surprisingly advanced harmonies and a wealth of melodic invention unsurpassed in ballet music. Nevertheless, the composer's reverence for Rococo and late 18th-century music can be detected in passages such as the Overture, the "entrée des parents," and "Tempo di Grossvater" in Act I.
One novelty in Tchaikovsky's original score was the use of the celesta, a new instrument Tchaikovsky had discovered in Paris. He wanted it genuinely for the character of the Sugar-Plum Fairy to characterise her because of its "heavenly sweet sound". It appears not only in her "Dance," but also in other passages in Act II. Tchaikovsky also uses toy instruments during the Christmas party scene.
Suites derived from this ballet became very popular on the concert stage. The composer himself extracted a suite of eight pieces from the ballet, but that authoritative move has not prevented later hands from arranging other selections and sequences of numbers. Eventually one of these ended up in Disney's Fantasia. In any case, The Nutcracker Suite should not be mistaken for the complete ballet.
Although the original ballet is only ninety minutes long, and therefore much shorter than Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty, some modern staged performances have omitted or re-ordered some of the music, or inserted selections from elsewhere, thus adding to the confusion over the suites. In fact, most of the very famous versions of the ballet have had the order of the dances slightly re-arranged, if they have not actually altered the music.
However, nearly all of the CD and LP recordings of the complete ballet present Tchaikovsky's score exactly as he originally conceived it.
In 1962 a novelty boogie piano arrangement of the "Marche", entitled "Nut Rocker", was a #1 single in the UK, and #21 in the USA. Credited to B.Bumble and the Stingers, it was produced by Kim Fowley and featured studio musicians Al Hazan (piano), Earl Palmer (drums), Tommy Tedesco (guitar) and Red Callender (bass). "Nut Rocker" has subsequently been covered by many others including The Shadows, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and the Dropkick Murphys.
"Taking the Nutcracker Home" http://www.bostonphoenix.com/boston/movies/reviews/documents/03372380.asp This article, however, has one glaring error - it states that the Baryshnikov "Nutcracker" was first telecast on PBS, when in fact, it was first telecast on CBS, complete with three commercial breaks - one between the Overture and Act I, one between Acts I and II, and one placed after the ballet ended and before the closing credits appeared onscreen. It moved to PBS in later years, when commercial TV began to telecast even fewer classical music programs than they were showing already. On PBS, it was/ is usually shown during Pledge drives, where the break between Acts I and II provides the opportunity for a pledge break.
The suite derived and abridged from the ballet became more popular for a time than the ballet itself, partly due to its inclusion in Walt Disney's Fantasia. The outline below represents the selection and sequence of the Nutcracker Suite culled by the composer.
The version heard in Fantasia, however, omitted the Overture and the Marche.