Category Archives: Music

Tchaikovsky and the Nutcracker

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Tchaikovsky and the Nutcracker

Poor Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Following the huge success of The Sleeping Beauty ballet in 1890, the Tsar wanted another hit from Tchaikovsky and choreographer Marius Petipa.

Petipa took charge of the storyline of the ballet and created two scenes based on the Alexander Dumas adaptation of ETA Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The first act is a children’s pantomime, complete with party games. During Christmas festivities, Uncle Drosselmeyer gives Clara a toy nutcracker, which her brother promptly breaks. At night, the nutcracker (really Drosselmeyer’s nephew transformed by the evil mouse king) comes to life and with the toy soldiers defeats the mouse king and takes Clara on an enchanted journey. The second act finds the young couple in the Kingdom of Sweets, where confections dance for their entertainment.

But when Petipa handed over the synopsis, Tchaikovsky was appalled. Nothing sparked his interest and the music that emerged was dry and lifeless. He missed his first deadline for the performance.

Worse was yet to come. While traveling through Paris on his way to an American tour, Tchaikovsky learned about the death of his beloved sister Sasha. But in his grief he found inspiration for The Nutcracker. In Clara, he found a parallel for his sister. Memories of their childhood and the last Christmas they spent together, in 1890, sparked the music. The whole ballet transformed by his change in attitude. Tchaikovsky imagined himself as the magician Drosselmeyer. When Clara and the Nutcracker fight the Mouse King, Clara thwacks the rodent over the head with her slipper and breaks the spell, releasing the dashing Hans Peter. Heroism and freedom find voice in one of Tchaikovsky’s most longing melodies. Clara has become a woman, and in her the spirit of Sasha lives on.

The ballet’s second act is a reflection of the first, with the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince appearing as counterparts for Clara and Hans Peter. While the latter pair dance to a rising melody, the Sugar Plum Fairy’s pas de deux with the Prince is dominated by a solemn descending motif. The “Waltz of the Flowers,” with its brooding minor passages, echoes the triple-time dance through the snowflakes.

Despite its emotional power, the first audience in 1892 dismissed the ballet. Although the first act with the big Christmas tree and the children and the toy soldiers and the battle with the Mouse King is engaging, the second act hardly involves any drama at all; it’s just a series of colorful dances.

The libretto was criticized as not being faithful to the Hoffmann tale. Critics decried the featuring of children so prominently in the ballet*, and many bemoaned the fact that the prima ballerina did not dance until the Grand Pas de Deux near the end of the second act. Some found the transition between the “real” world of the first scene and the fantasy world of the second act too abrupt.

Response was more positive for Tchaikovsky’s score. One novelty in the score was the use of the celesta, a new instrument Tchaikovsky had discovered in Paris. He utilized it for the character of the Sugar Plum Fairy because of its “heavenly sweet sound”.

Despite the failure of its initial performance, The Nutcracker has become the most frequently performed of all ballets and has served as an introduction to classical music for many young people. It also would be young dancers’ first chance to perform in a ballet as well. Because the first act is set at a Christmas party, the ballet is often presented at Christmastime, and some major American ballet companies generate around 40% of their annual ticket revenues from performances of The Nutcracker.

*A sweet story about the children who participated in that first production: Apparently the children had a hard time learning the little toy instruments they were supposed to play on stage, and did not play them very well; but after the premier Tchaikovsky sent a note to all the children congratulating them on their performance and he sent each child a box of candy.

The information in this article came from:

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever seen The Nutcracker live? When our children were younger, we took them to see it at Princeton’s McCarter Theater and at Phoenix Symphony Hall. What other holiday entertainment traditions does your family enjoy? Share in the comments below.

 

Monday Morning Wisdom #183

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Monday Morning Wisdom #183

MMW

Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends. – Alphonse de Lamartine

Creative Juice #117

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Creative Juice #117

Wow! A varied offering this week.

To All the Veterans: Thank You for your Service

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Guest Post and Book Giveaway: A Tuba Christmas by Helen Wilbur – Illustrated by Mary Uhles

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A wonderful gift idea for your musically-inclined youngster! And a glimpse into the illustrator’s process.

This article by Kathy Temean previously appeared on Writing and Illustrating.

Writing and Illustrating

Author Helen Wilbur has new picture book titled, A TUBA CHRISTMAS, illustrated by Mary Uhles. It’s now available in bookstores. Raakhee has agreed to share a book with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Helen and Mary!

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

With a family that loves music as much as hers does, it was only a matter of time before it was Ava’s turn to pick out an instrument. Her mother plays the piano, her…

View original post 1,813 more words

Chris Thile, Mandolin Virtuoso

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Chris Thile, born in 1981, is an American mandolinist and singer-songwriter known for his folk and progressive bluegrass work in the trio Nickel Creek and the quintet Punch Brothers. He is also an accomplished classical musician. You may want to bookmark this post because there’s a lot of music here.

Thile was a child prodigy who begged his parents for a mandolin from the time he was 2 and picked up the mandolin for the first time at the age of 5. With his father, and Sara and Sean Watkins, he formed the acoustic group Nickel Creek in 1989, which became a trio when his father bowed out.

He also participates in the quintet Punch Brothers along with Gabe Witcher (fiddle/violin), Noam Pikelny (banjo), Chris Eldridge (guitar), and Paul Kowert (bass).

Thile also performs solo. His style is variously described as folk, progressive, bluegrass, “newgrass,” and roots music.

My brother, Bill, told me about Thile years ago, but I didn’t start following him until I stumbled upon this video where he plays and sings with one of my favorite musicians, YoYo Ma, and others:

Thile was awarded BBC’s Folk Musician of the Year award in 2007, a MacArthur Fellowship “genius” award in 2012, and he has been nominated eight times for Grammy Awards, winning four Best Album awards in different categories in 1997, 2002, 2013, and 2015 (Bluegrass, Contemporary Folk, Folk, and Contemporary Instrumental, respectively).

A two-time guest host on Minnesota Public Radio’s A Prairie Home Companion, Thile was Garrison Keillor’s hand-picked successor. After allegations of Keillor’s inappropriate behavior surfaced, the show was renamed Live From Here.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think of Chris Thile? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

In the Meme Time: Background Music

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Background music