EXPLORING MUSIC

Exploring Music: Tchaikovsky's Best--The Nutcracker

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TCHAIKOVSKY: THE NUTCRACKER (HIGHLIGHTS)

Philharmonia Orchestra

John Lanchbery, conductor

 

I never cease to marvel at the musical ig­norance and deprivation experienced by my generation. All we knew of The Nut­cracker was the op. 71a Suite, I daresay largely through Stokowski's ministrations on disc and screen. I suppose we were dim­ly aware that it was extracted from a ballet score. I recall my own delight when Arthur Fiedler, in the mid-'40s, brought out an album of a "second suite," consisting of about 15 minutes of music previously unknown to me.


I guess I heard the whole ballet via a two-­LP Urania set conducted by one Otto Dobrindt, but perhaps that followed atten­dance at a NYC Ballet performance in the early '60s at the old City Center-a Christmas present from my sister, Carter Houck. I recall vividly two aspects of that experience. We were sitting in the balcony at the right end of row 3 center. Row 2 center was filled with a gaggle of small girls bracketed by two young matrons. When the curtain rose, the children immediate­ly stood erect on their seats. Our view was wholly blocked, so I leaned over and ask­ed the matron at my end if she would ask the girls to sit down. "Wassmarra?" she snarled. "Cantcha see itsa boitday?" For­tunately the ushers were on our side.


Perhaps I don't really recall the other thing. Perhaps it's a dream or the product of senility. In the first act there was a miracle of theatercraft by which the Christmas tree grew until it filled the stage. That much is beyond argument and has been much commented on. But it seems to me that the action was accompanied by a violin solo so ravishing that it interfered with one's respiration. I have never heard it on any recording (including the one under consideration), and I've heard a good many in my time. Is there anyone out there who can explain this curious phenomenon?


In my opinion, Tchaikovsky is at his best in ballet, despite the popularity of the om­phaloskeptic late symphonies. In fact he may well be the 19th century's greatest ballet composer. Of his three ballets, I prefer the Nutcracker; I must admit that I am intluenced by plots. The other two contain wonderful music, but I am allergic to most classical ballet--all those tutued digitigrade ladies being hoisted to no discernible purpose by muscle-bound gentlemen. But the story of Nutcracker has ingenuity and imagination that the music and the dancing reflect.


The story originates with E.T.A. Hoff­mann, an unhappy and multitalented genius of the romantic era. Lawyer, painter, singer, pianist, composer, and im­presario, he was above all a first-rate writer of fiction. (He serves as both source and protagonist in Offenbach's opera Les con­tes d'Hoffmann. Recently a number of his compositions, including his opera Undine, have appeared on records.) I had never read his 1816 novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse-King until recently, when I ac­quired Ralph Manheim's translation (gorgeously illustrated by Maurice Sendak). I found it expectably longer and more com­plex than the ballet plot, and, like most of Hoffmann, fraught with meaning.


Tchaikovsky knew this work, but what Petipa, the choreographer, used was a watered-down French retelling by the elder Alexandre Dumas, which was further simplified by his scenarist. But, says Sen­dak, Tchaikovsky obviously had the original in mind, and "his music, bristling with implied action, has a subtext alive with wild child cries and belly noises. It is rare and genuine and does justice to the private world of children." Several recent productions have more or less successful­ly tried to capture the feel of Hoffmann, notably Sendak's for the Pacific Northwest ballet, and Baryshnikov's televised and videocassetted one.

 

John Lanchbery was for 20 years chief conductor for the Royal Ballet, and is responsible for such scores as Tales of Beatrix Potter (now on videotape) and an updated version of La fille mal gardee (ditto). His reading is that of man who knows how a ballet goes, though I am influenced by plots. The other two contain wonderful music, but I am allergic to most classical ballet-all those tutued digitigrade ladies being hoisted to no discernible purpose by muscle-bound gentlemen. But the story of Nutcracker has ingenuity and imagination that the music and the dancing reflect.

 

The story originates with E.T.A. Hoff­mann, an unhappy and multitalented genius of the romantic era. Lawyer, painter, singer, pianist, composer, and im­presario, he was above all a first-rate writer of fiction. (He serves as both source and protagonist in Offenbach's opera Les con­tes d'Hoffmann. Recently a number of his compositions, including his opera Undine, have appeared on records.) I had never read his 1816 novella lbe Nutcracker and the Mouse-King until recently, when I ac­quired Ralph Manheim's translation (gorgeously illustrated by Maurice Sendak). I found it expectably longer and more com­plex than the ballet plot, and, like most of Hoffmann, fraught with meaning.

 

Tchaikovsky knew this work, but what Petipa, the choreographer, used was a watered-down French retelling by the elder Alexandre Dumas, which was further simplified by his scenarist. But, says Sen­dak, Tchaikovsky obviously had the original in mind, and "his music, bristling with implied action, has a subtext alive with wild child cries and belly noises. It is rare and genuine and does justice to the private world of children." Several recent productions have more or less successful­ly tried to capture the feel of Hoffmann, notably Sendak's for the Pacific Northwest ballet, and Baryshnikov's televised and videocassetted one.


John Lanchbery was for 20 years chief conductor for the Royal Ballet, and is responsible for such scores as Tales of Beatrix Potter (now on videotape) and an updated version of La fille mal gardee). His reading is that of a man who knows how a ballet goes, though I might quarrel I over some of his tempos. The recording is lucid.

Exploring Music: Tchaikovsky's Best--The Nutcracker

Author

Publication

Listen


TCHAIKOVSKY: THE NUTCRACKER (HIGHLIGHTS)

Philharmonia Orchestra

John Lanchbery, conductor

 

I never cease to marvel at the musical ig­norance and deprivation experienced by my generation. All we knew of The Nut­cracker was the op. 71a Suite, I daresay largely through Stokowski's ministrations on disc and screen. I suppose we were dim­ly aware that it was extracted from a ballet score. I recall my own delight when Arthur Fiedler, in the mid-'40s, brought out an album of a "second suite," consisting of about 15 minutes of music previously unknown to me.


I guess I heard the whole ballet via a two-­LP Urania set conducted by one Otto Dobrindt, but perhaps that followed atten­dance at a NYC Ballet performance in the early '60s at the old City Center-a Christmas present from my sister, Carter Houck. I recall vividly two aspects of that experience. We were sitting in the balcony at the right end of row 3 center. Row 2 center was filled with a gaggle of small girls bracketed by two young matrons. When the curtain rose, the children immediate­ly stood erect on their seats. Our view was wholly blocked, so I leaned over and ask­ed the matron at my end if she would ask the girls to sit down. "Wassmarra?" she snarled. "Cantcha see itsa boitday?" For­tunately the ushers were on our side.


Perhaps I don't really recall the other thing. Perhaps it's a dream or the product of senility. In the first act there was a miracle of theatercraft by which the Christmas tree grew until it filled the stage. That much is beyond argument and has been much commented on. But it seems to me that the action was accompanied by a violin solo so ravishing that it interfered with one's respiration. I have never heard it on any recording (including the one under consideration), and I've heard a good many in my time. Is there anyone out there who can explain this curious phenomenon?


In my opinion, Tchaikovsky is at his best in ballet, despite the popularity of the om­phaloskeptic late symphonies. In fact he may well be the 19th century's greatest ballet composer. Of his three ballets, I prefer the Nutcracker; I must admit that I am intluenced by plots. The other two contain wonderful music, but I am allergic to most classical ballet--all those tutued digitigrade ladies being hoisted to no discernible purpose by muscle-bound gentlemen. But the story of Nutcracker has ingenuity and imagination that the music and the dancing reflect.


The story originates with E.T.A. Hoff­mann, an unhappy and multitalented genius of the romantic era. Lawyer, painter, singer, pianist, composer, and im­presario, he was above all a first-rate writer of fiction. (He serves as both source and protagonist in Offenbach's opera Les con­tes d'Hoffmann. Recently a number of his compositions, including his opera Undine, have appeared on records.) I had never read his 1816 novella The Nutcracker and the Mouse-King until recently, when I ac­quired Ralph Manheim's translation (gorgeously illustrated by Maurice Sendak). I found it expectably longer and more com­plex than the ballet plot, and, like most of Hoffmann, fraught with meaning.


Tchaikovsky knew this work, but what Petipa, the choreographer, used was a watered-down French retelling by the elder Alexandre Dumas, which was further simplified by his scenarist. But, says Sen­dak, Tchaikovsky obviously had the original in mind, and "his music, bristling with implied action, has a subtext alive with wild child cries and belly noises. It is rare and genuine and does justice to the private world of children." Several recent productions have more or less successful­ly tried to capture the feel of Hoffmann, notably Sendak's for the Pacific Northwest ballet, and Baryshnikov's televised and videocassetted one.

 

John Lanchbery was for 20 years chief conductor for the Royal Ballet, and is responsible for such scores as Tales of Beatrix Potter (now on videotape) and an updated version of La fille mal gardee (ditto). His reading is that of man who knows how a ballet goes, though I am influenced by plots. The other two contain wonderful music, but I am allergic to most classical ballet-all those tutued digitigrade ladies being hoisted to no discernible purpose by muscle-bound gentlemen. But the story of Nutcracker has ingenuity and imagination that the music and the dancing reflect.

 

The story originates with E.T.A. Hoff­mann, an unhappy and multitalented genius of the romantic era. Lawyer, painter, singer, pianist, composer, and im­presario, he was above all a first-rate writer of fiction. (He serves as both source and protagonist in Offenbach's opera Les con­tes d'Hoffmann. Recently a number of his compositions, including his opera Undine, have appeared on records.) I had never read his 1816 novella lbe Nutcracker and the Mouse-King until recently, when I ac­quired Ralph Manheim's translation (gorgeously illustrated by Maurice Sendak). I found it expectably longer and more com­plex than the ballet plot, and, like most of Hoffmann, fraught with meaning.

 

Tchaikovsky knew this work, but what Petipa, the choreographer, used was a watered-down French retelling by the elder Alexandre Dumas, which was further simplified by his scenarist. But, says Sen­dak, Tchaikovsky obviously had the original in mind, and "his music, bristling with implied action, has a subtext alive with wild child cries and belly noises. It is rare and genuine and does justice to the private world of children." Several recent productions have more or less successful­ly tried to capture the feel of Hoffmann, notably Sendak's for the Pacific Northwest ballet, and Baryshnikov's televised and videocassetted one.


John Lanchbery was for 20 years chief conductor for the Royal Ballet, and is responsible for such scores as Tales of Beatrix Potter (now on videotape) and an updated version of La fille mal gardee). His reading is that of a man who knows how a ballet goes, though I might quarrel I over some of his tempos. The recording is lucid.

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