Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

The complete decline of the choreographic art!

Donald Macleod explores the rich vein of fairy tale and fantasy in Tchaikovsky's music, focusing on enchanted sleep and a brush with the supernatural.

Donald Macleod explores the rich vein of fairy tale and fantasy in Tchaikovsky's music. Today, enchanted sleep and a brush with the supernatural.

No-one likes a cast-off, and Tchaikovsky was no exception. At first that extended even to the libretto his beloved brother Modest had written for the now almost completely forgotten composer Nikolay Klenovsky, based on Pushkin's short story The Queen of Spades. The collaboration was aborted and the libretto became available. Initially Tchaikovsky was dismissive, but he came round to the idea and set to work with gusto. The story concerns a gambling-addicted army officer, Hermann, who's in love with Lisa. Lisa's guardian, an old countess, is reputedly in possession of a failsafe formula for winning at cards, but when Hermann tries to force it out of her she dies of fright. The Queen of Spades wasn't an ace in the hole at its first performance in December 1890, but critical hostility quickly receded, and it's retained a firm place in the repertoire ever since. The same is true of the ballet Tchaikovsky completed immediately beforehand - The Sleeping Beauty. Tsar Alexander II achieved almost British levels of understatement when, after attending a special dress rehearsal of the complete ballet, he gave his considered opinion: 'very nice'.

The Sleeping Beauty, Op 66; Act 3 No 22, Polacca
Russian National Orchestra
Mikhail Pletnev, conductor

The Queen of Spades, Op 68 - Act 3 scene 1
Misha Didyk, tenor (Herman)
Larissa Diadkova, mezzo soprano (Ghost of the Countess)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Mariss Jansons, conductor

The Sleeping Beauty, Op 66; Act 1
Russian National Orchestra
Mikhail Pletnev, conductor.

1 hour

Music Played

  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

    The Sleeping Beauty - Ballet Op 66 Act 3 No 22 Polacca

    Orchestra: Russian National Orchestra. Conductor: Mikhail Pletnev.
    • DG : 476-5321.
    • Deutsche Grammophon.
    • 11.
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

    The Queen Of Spades Op 68 - Act 3 scene 1

    Performer: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra And Chorus. Singer: Misha Didyk. Singer: Tatiana Serjan. Singer: Larissa Diadkova. Conductor: Mariss Jansons.
    • BR Klassik: 900129.
    • BR Klassik.
    • 1.
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

    The Sleeping Beauty Op 66 Act 1

    Orchestra: Russian National Orchestra. Conductor: Mikhail Pletnev.
    • DG : 476-5321.
    • Deutsche Grammophon.
    • 11.

Broadcast

Composers A to Z

Composers A to Z

Visit the extensive audio archive of Radio 3 programmes about Composers and their works.

Who knew? Five eye-opening stories from Composer of the Week

Who knew? Five eye-opening stories from Composer of the Week

The production team reflects on 5 of Donald Macleod’s best stories from the last 20 years

A man out of time – why Parry's music and ideas were at odds with his image...

A man out of time – why Parry's music and ideas were at odds with his image...

The composer of Jerusalem was very far from the conservative figure his image suggests.

Five reasons why we love Parry's Jerusalem

Five reasons why we love Parry's Jerusalem

What is the strange power of Jerusalem which makes strong men weep?

Composer Help Page

Composer Help Page

Find resources and contacts for composers from within the classical music industry.