Last week I explored the newest holiday hits, but one classical work has been on the top of the holiday hit list since its premiere on December 18, 1892: The Nutcracker, composed by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

The Story

The Nutcracker tells the story of Clara, a young girl, who is given a nutcracker as a Christmas gift from her godfather. Enamored by the figurine, she falls asleep under the Christmas tree with him in her arms. She then enters into a fantasy land with toys larger than life and embarks on a journey full of battles, snow, and sweets. The most famous rendition of the story is The Nutcracker and the King of Mice written by E.T.A. Hoffman.

The Music: Variations and Arrangements

The ballet provokes powerful emotions with its dramatic crescendos contrasted with delicate phrases. One of the highlights of the piece is the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” which incorporates the celesta, a novel instrument for the time. Tchaikovsky wanted to be the first to use the celesta at a concert in Russia, so he had it secretly shipped from Paris, France. The sound of the celesta was to be such a surprise that it wasn’t even allowed to be played until the last rehearsal. Simon Rattle, conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker, and other musicians share more englightening stories in the video below.

For those of you who prefer non-traditional versions, there are plenty of boogie woogie, pop, and jam band arrangements of The Nutcracker.

Jazz lovers will enjoy Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s The Nutcracker Suite interpretations, recorded in 1960.
And The Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s piece “A Mad Russian’s Christmas” kicks the ballet up to the rock level.  
Music from The Nutcracker has also slipped into many movies, films, and television shows, but my favorite incorporation is in Disney’s Fantasia. The film includes eight of Tchaikovsky’s dances, illustrated with fairies sprinkling drops of dew, mushrooms and flowers energetically dancing, and fish lurking in seaweed. 

Tomorrow night Strings Music Festival presents The Nutcracker with Jim Gamble Puppet Productions. This adaptation uses marionettes and the full-size puppets to bring the story to life. The show is sold-out, but you can call the box office on Thursday at (970) 879-5056 x 105 to see if any tickets have become available.

Posted on December 21, 2011
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