Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Nutcracker Suite

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: 25 Minutes
Genre: Suite
Time of Creation: 1891
World Premiere: 07 March (jul.) / 19 March (greg.) 1892 (St. Petersburg)

Table of Contents

Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite in 5 Sentences

In the Nutcracker Suite, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky compiled eight movements from his popular ballet The Nutcracker. However, work on the Nutcracker Suite was completed before the entire ballet was finished. This gave the opportunity to perform the suite before the actual ballet in order to “test” the audience’s reaction in advance. Accordingly, Tchaikovsky conducted the first performance of the suite six months before the first performance of the actual ballet. Today, the eight movements of the Nutcracker Suite are the best-known parts of the ballet (and probably Tchaikovsky’s best-known pieces), which has to do with the fact that the suite, which lasts only 25 minutes, is often played as part of a concert.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite

Highlight 1: Ouverture miniature

Tchaikovsky begins his suite with an “Ouverture miniature” – a “mini overture:”

Highlight 2: Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

Actually, all the dances in the Nutcracker Suite are so well known that it is difficult to single out any one. For example, an eternal “evergreen” is the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy:

Highlight 3: Chinese Dance

In the middle segment of the Nutcracker Suite, Tchaikovsky presents dances in three different national styles. In addition to a Russian and an Arabic one, there is also this Chinese dance:

Highlight 4: Flower Waltz

With so many dances, of course a waltz can’t be missing – in Tchaikovsky’s case it’s a Waltz of Flowers:

3 Questions and Answers about Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite

Question 1: What are the parts of the Nutcracker Suite?

1) Ouverture miniature (“mini overture”)
2) Marche (“March”)
3) Danse de la Fée Dragée (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy)
4) Danse russe Trepak (Russian dance)
5) Danse arabe (Arabic dance)
6) Danse chinoise (Chinese dance)
7) Danse des mirlitons (Dance of the reed flutes)
8) Valse des fleurs (Flower Waltz)

Question 2: Has Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite been used in other contexts?

Yes. Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite is popular as film music, for example in the Disney movie “Fantasia”.

Question 3: What is special about Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite?

Most notable is the use of the celesta in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The celesta looks similar to a piano, but produces a sound reminiscent of bells. Tchaikovsky became acquainted with this instrument in Paris in the summer of 1891 – and used it in a prominent way in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

2 Recommended Recordings of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite

Recording 1: Sinfonia Rotterdam, Conrad van Alphen (live, 2014)

Conrad van Alphen brings out the finest facets of Tchaikovsky’s music in this performance with Sinfonia Rotterdam, including taking many tempos a bit slower than one might be used to:

Recording 2: Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Halasz (studio, 1988)

A slightly older studio recording comes from the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Michael Halasz:

1 Quote about Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite

Of Tchaikovsky's three ballets (...) Nutcracker is the best, its music admittedly not for the normal ballet audience.

Review of "Nutcracker" in the Russian newspaper Peterburgskaya gazeta (on December 09, 1892)

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