Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Swan Lake

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

Duration: About 120 Minutes
Genre: Ballet
Time of Creation: 1875–1876
World Premiere: 20 February (jul.)/04 March (greg.) 1877 (Moscow)

Table of Contents

Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake in 5 Sentences

Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is such a famous ballet that people often mean “Swan Lake” when they say “ballet.” The plot centers on a prince who swears eternal fidelity to a beautiful swan queen in order to turn her back into a human. Of course, however, he breaks his oath (the fool) and falls for an evil sorcerer along with his daughter. The ending is often seen in different versions, but what they usually have in common is that the prince is reunited with his swan queen forever after all. It is remarkable how consistently Tchaikovsky has musically separated the two worlds (real world and swan world).

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

4 Highlights from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake

Highlight 1: Swan theme

World famous is the melancholy swan theme, which is repeated throughout the ballet:

Highlight 2: Dance of the four little swans

The Dance of the Four Little Swans is also so well known that it has become a frequent parody:

Highlight 3: Csárdás!

In the second act there are (as for example in the Nutcracker) various national dances. One of them is the Csárdás, which stands for Hungary:

Highlight 4: Black swan pas de deux

In this fateful scene, the false Odile seduces Prince Siegfried:

3 Questions and Answers about Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake

Question 1: Why did Tchaikovsky write Swan Lake?

Originally, Tchaikovsky had written a little ballet called Swan Lake to amuse his sister Alexandra’s children with it in private performances.

Question 2: What is the name of the black swan from Swan Lake?

The black swan from Swan Lake is called Odile and is the counterpart of the white swan Odette. Both roles are danced by the same dancer.

Question 3: Which production of Swan Lake is most influential to this day?

To this day, the most influential production of Swan Lake is the 1895 production of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. This production has become so “burned” into the collective memory of the audience that most productions to this day are based on it.

2 Recommended Recordings of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake

Recording 1: Mariinsky Ballet

This features the world famous Mariinsky Ballet (then known as the Kirov Ballet):

Recording 2: German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Karel Mark Chichon (Swan Lake Waltz)

Famous parts from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake can also be heard again and again in the concert hall. An example is a performance of the Swan Lake Waltz by the German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and Karel Mark Chichon:

1 Quote about Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake

The replacement of the original numbers by interpolated ones was practiced to an ever increasing degree, and eventually almost a full third of the music of Swan Lake was replaced by interpolations from other ballets, moreover mostly only average ones.

Nikolai D. Kashkin, director of the Moscow Conservatory, on the numerous changes made to the original version of Swan Lake shortly after its premiere

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