Tchaikovsky Nutcracker Suite Analysis Essay

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Section A: Background


1. Why did the composer write this piece of music in this way? Think about where they were from (time and place) and the motivation for writing?

During the romantic period, the music style was composed differently in comparison to the music from the classical era. While the Classical era had strict laws of balance and restraint, the Romantic era exhibits music that is more expressive, meaning the composers allowed for artistic freedom, experimentation and creativity. Many romantic composers used elements of folk music to express their cultural identity and nationalism.

The ballet was based on a story called "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by a german writer E. T. A. Hoffmann. Which was then adapted by a french writer, Alexandre Dumas later on. The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky is based on the version of Dumas. Tchaikovsky probably wouldn't have believed that his ballet would one day become an international success, and sadly he did not live long enough to find out.

Tchaikovsky probably composed this piece of music in an expressive way while drawing attention to the melody as it was the dominant feature of the piece. He composed an expressive, vivid piece with the new instrument called a celesta, which gave the special magic in the dance.


2. Where and when was the first performance of this piece? Which families of instruments were written for in the score? List names and pictures of each.

The first performance of this piece was played on the 18th of December 1892 when the Nutcracker Suite was performed for the Russian Musical Society in St. Petersburg at the Imperial Mriinsky Theatre. The string, percussion, woodwind and brass families of instruments were written for in the score, which include, the flute, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, horns, celesta, violin, viola, cello and double bass.

Section B: Musical features

1. How did the instruments function within the selected works - discuss melodic, harmonic, textural and timbral features

The instruments in this piece work together to create a pleasing sound. The work begins with an accompaniment with the string orchestra, which supports the celesta melody to create substance in the piece. The melody line played by the celesta from bar 5, is the main theme which is carried out until bar 19. As the audience, we hear the melody line stand out, as it is played with expression and varied dynamics, with the use of chromatic notes too. 

 Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is a combination of a homophonic and polyphonic piece. The song is constantly crescendo and decrescendo. The main melody repeats as well throughout the piece. The tone colour gives off a warm, gentle feeling to it.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is very popular. In the beginning of the piece, the music starts out soft with the plucking of strings, and slowly gets louder as the sound of a xylophone comes in with the main melody. As the piece progresses, you can hear strings-most likely violins and cellos-come in and as well as a bassoon or clarinet or bass clarinet.



2. What do you like about the piece? Refer to at least 3 of the elements of music: melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, structure, timbre, expression and dynamics.
Tchaikovsky's famous Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy features the sounds of an instrument called a celesta. The celesta is similar in appearance to a piano, but contains metal plates instead of strings. The strings are hit by hammers, producing a very soft, bell-like sound. I particularly liked the use of a celesta and how the rest of the instruments develope around the central melody.

 Tchaikovsky was one composer who you could say was really good at “painting with sound” – creating all sorts colours, textures, moods, and landscapes, especially how he structures the music in this way. I really like the use of texture in the music as it is a simplistic piece of music in ternary (ABA) form, that is attempting to convey the delicate and gen tle nature of a fairy. 


The melody of the Dance of the Sugar Plum fairy is composed with a very chromatic melody line, meaning the piece features many accidentals. This is very different, as many compositions aren’t composed this way.


Section C: Optional Questions 

4. Have there been other versions of this music written or recorded, or combined with other media and how do they differ?
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is an extremely popular piece of music. It has been used in aspects of media specially cartoons and movies for children. 
It is often jazzed up for television commercials at Christmas times.    
In the first two examples the actual music hasn't changed much just the tempo of it. The music in Barbie is much faster and the music in Fantasia much slower than the original orchestral music. The third example on the other hand is completely different seeing as it is only played with one instrument: Glass Harp. 
For example:
                     Barbie in the Nutcracker                                                   Fantasia                                                                       Glass Harp




5. Why is it so popular

"The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," is famous for three reasons. The first is that the ballet's composer, Peter Tchaikovsky, used an instrument that hadn't been heard in Russia prior to the writing of "The Nutcracker": the celesta. Tchaikovsky had discovered the instrument, on his way through Paris when he was traveling to New York for the opening concerts at Carnegie Hall. The tinkling, crystalline sound of the instrument captured the attention of composers and others who appreciated music, propelling the dance to nearly instant fame. The second reason the music is so famous is because it is usually used in one of the most technically challenging dances in the entire ballet. Everyone looks forward to this dance because they know that, assuming all goes well, it will be an example of amazing dancing. Lastly, for most ballet companies in the United States, producing "The Nutcracker" is an annual Christmas tradition, typically bringing in anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the year's revenue. The Sugar Plum Fairy, therefore, is one of the most widely seen ballet act and most widely heard piece of music. 

The instruments played in the "dance of the sugar plum fairy"
  1. Flute
  2. Oboe
  3. Cor anglais
  4. Clarinet
  5. Bass clarinet
  6. Bassoon
  7. Horn
  8. Celesta
  9. The string family

The Nutcracker By Peter Tchaikovsky Essay

Through hundreds of productions of The Nutcracker, that have thrilled several crowds, audiences have experienced the fear from oversized mice and the thrill of the Land of Sweets. Written by Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker is danced around Christmas annually. The Nutcracker was inspired by and based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s novel, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (“The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet”). A girl named Clara receives a nutcracker as a Christmas present who comes to life to fight the Mouse King. Clara journeys through the Land of Sweets as audiences are mesmerized by the dancers with the extravagant, flamboyant, exaggerated, and bizarre costumes, props, and heavy make-up perform the famous piece. But why has this ballet maintained its mass appeal since its first performance in 1892? Perhaps it is because in an effort to outstage previous performances, directors continue to integrate elements of expressionism like plot distortion and stylized acting to create a fantasy world.
The Nutcracker, written by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky in 1891, was first performed a week before Christmas in 1892 (History of the Nutcracker). Born in Votkinsk, Russia, on May 7, 1840, Tchaikovsky, the son of a mining engineer, had only occasional musical training as a youth (“Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky” 1). Around the age of twenty-one, he did serious musical study and graduated with a silver medal from the St. Petersburg Conservatory(1). He published his first orchestral works, a symphony and an opera, by 1869 (1). Inspired by E. T. A. Hoffmann’s libretto, Tchaikovsky wrote his best-recognized ballet, The Nutcracker (“Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky” 2).The Nutcracker lends an ironic understatement to Tchaikovsky because of the ballet’s cheerfulness and Tchaikovsky’s various forms of mental stress he faced throughout his life (2). Tchaikovsky lived a depressed and unhappy life because he struggled with people calling him homosexual, marriage, being away from Russia, and being insulted often (2). His writing of plays and music served as his therapy. Therefore, his plays were cheerful which was ironic compared to his depression and mental stress that he faced during his life. Now, this ironic ballet has become the most popular to be performed around Christmas time (History of the Nutcracker).
This children’s fantasy relating how young Clara receives a nutcracker soldier for Christmas, which then magically comes alive to save her from the wicked Mouse King, created an exciting and fascinating ballet that has caught many audience’s attention throughout the years performed (“Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky” 2). After getting a nutcracker as a present for Christmas, Clara and her brother, Fritz, fight. The fight is caused by Fritz’s jealousy of the attention that Clara’s new nutcracker had gotten. During the fighting between the children, the nutcracker’s arm is broken. Their father, Drosselmeyer, fixes the nutcracker with a handkerchief. Clara, worried about her beloved nutcracker, sneaks...

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