The Nutcracker - Waltz of the Flowers and Russian Dance by Tchaikovsky
The story of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was transformed into a magical ballet in 1892 – and is now a Christmas favourite. A bit like a Tchaikovsky 'Toy Story', the enchanting narrative is full of wonderful characters and follows a young girl called Clara who is given a wooden nutcracker as a present. When the nutcracker comes to life as a handsome prince the two have to escape the Mouse King to reach the Land of Sweets, which is ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The two extracts from the suite give us the chance to look at very different dances: the whirling Russian Dance, based on a Ukrainian folk dance, and the elegant Waltz of the Flowers.
The Russian Dance - the Trepak - is a Cossack dance normally performed by men who would kick their legs out from a squatting position. In contrast, the Waltz of the Flowers is the final dance of the ballet where all the Sugar Plum Fairy's sweets celebrate Clara and the prince.
Listen out for: The different time signatures (beats in a bar) in each piece. The Trepak dance uses 2/4 (two beats in a bar) and the Waltz of the Flowers uses 3/4. This means it has three beats per bar and gives the waltz its distinct 'oom pah pah' feel.
Watch the introduction film at the top of the page then starting exploring the music:
Watch the full performances
About the composer
PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY
BORN: 1840 / DIED: 1893 / NATIONALITY: Russian
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (pronounced PYOT-uhr il-YEETCH chigh-KOFF-ski) wrote some of the best known and most performed music of all time. He was most famous, and indeed very famous, for his wonderful and exciting ballet scores and symphonies. In both he demonstrated a great skill with melody, unmatched orchestral energy and the ability to express the deepest of emotions. His 'real' life wasn’t a happy one at all though. His mum died when he was just 14 and he missed her terribly. He actually wrote most of his early pieces for her. As an adult he had terrible doubts and constantly wrote to his brother about how much of a fake he felt. It is in his sublime music that he expresses all of these feelings and that's why his music is some of the best loved and most performed in the world – happy, sad, excited, miserable, Tchaikovsky's music really makes us 'feel'.