Commission

The Nutcracker is a fairy tale ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, composed in 1892. Alexandre Dumas. It was commissioned by the director of the Imperial Theatres’ Ivan Vsevolozhsky. In Western countries, this ballet has become perhaps the most popular ballet, performed primarily around Christmas time.

Tchaikovsky was less satisfied with this than his last ballet. Though he accepted the commission from Ivan Vsevolozhsky, he did not particularly want to write it, though he did write to a friend while composing the ballet that each day he was becoming more and more attuned to the task.

While composing the music for the ballet, Tchaikovsky is said to have argued with a friend who wagered that the composer could not write a melody based on the notes of the octave in sequence. Tchaikovsky asked if it mattered whether the notes were in ascending or descending order, and was assured it did not. This resulted in the Grand adage from the Grand pas de deux of the second act, which happens just after Waltz of the Flowers.

The first complete performance of the ballet outside Russia took place in England in 1934. Its first complete United States performance was in 1944, by the San Francisco Ballet, staged by its artistic director Willam Christensen. The New York City Ballet first performed George Balanchine’s staging of The Nutcracker in 1954.

One novelty in Tchaikovsky’s original score was the use of the celesta, a new instrument Tchaikovsky had discovered in Paris. He wanted it for the character of the Sugar Plum Fairy to characterize her because of its sound. Tchaikovsky also uses toy instruments during the Christmas party scene. Tchaikovsky was proud of the celesta’s effect, and wanted its music performed quickly for the public before he could be “scooped.”

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