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Jun 21

Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker Suite

I studied this for my O-level music exam in the late 70’s to early 80’s and I still find it a very comforting experience to listen to.  Tchaikovsky really nailed the “painting a picture with music” meme in this work.

I recently read that the Nutcracker was composed in collaboration with choreographer Marius Petipa who put some major restrictions on tempos and even the number of bars to use in certain pieces.  While this didn’t exactly inspire Tchaikovsky, he kept to his brief and the results are here in all of their glory.  It’s a wonderful suite, easy on the ear and just so descriptive. This will always be a favourite of mine, even though I had no choice in studying it, it gave me nothing but pleasure to do so and has given me hours of pleasure since.

The overture describes the fairies decorating the Christmas trees beautifully.  Nothing in the bass keeps it light and airy and the lovely flute just screams flight!!! I can hear tinsel being draped over the branches.

The march of the toy Soldiers has military precision throughout. I LOVE the straight bass line under the dotted melody, marching on.

The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, such a well recognised melody but Tchaikovsky’s innovative use of the celeste is the making of this piece. I also love the way the woodwind gives gravitas to the melody.

The Russian Dance is a furious and exciting burst of music, short and always moving.  Close your eyes and you can see the Cossack dancers.

The Arabian Dance.  I just love the transitions from major to minor and vice versa in this piece and the oboe takes you straight to the desert, while the bass plods relentlessly through the sand dunes.

The Chinese Dance is a beautiful melody, light and airy. It is over too quickly for me.

The Dance of the Reeds has this gorgeous counter melody that kind of drags against the main theme in the first section. One of the more popular themes from the suite as it has been used in commercials and TV extensively.  I often wonder how Tchaikovsky would have handled writing music to picture in the modern age, such was his ability to describe using music.

The Waltz of the Flowers is a perfectly paced melody that keeps the listener hooked with odd little syncopated phrase endings, and effective mood changing trips from major to minor and back again that lift the listener then push him back into contemplation.

 

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