Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky

Nutcracker, suite from the ballet, Op. 71a

    Description by Michael Morrison

    From a strictly professional point of view, Tchaikovsky should have been a happy man in 1890. Finally acknowledged as the greatest Russian composer, he had produced symphonies, concertos, ballets, and his latest opera, The Queen of Spades, had been hailed as a masterpiece. He had accepted an offer to conduct his works at the opening of Carnegie Hall in New York, and had in hand commissions from the Imperial Opera Directorate at St. Petersburg for a one-act lyric opera and another ballet.

    His personal life, however, had become a train wreck and he was clinically and deeply depressed. Then, his long-time patroness, the Mme. Nadezhda von Meck, suddenly withdrew both her friendship and her financial support. His brilliant new opera was suddenly withdrawn after only 13 performances. In January 1891, he wrote his brother Modeste, "I am very tired...Is it wise to accept the offer of the opera?...My brain is empty; I have not the least pleasure in work."

    Further -- the choice of subject for the new ballet had been made for him. It was to be a setting of Alexandre Dumas' adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann's tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Tchaikovsky insisted the work was unsuitable as the framework for a ballet, but set to work on it. Incredibly, he sketched out the entire first act before setting sail for America in March, but not before advising the Opera Directorate that the work could not be finished before December and would thus be ready for the following season, not the very next.

    An unexpected musical highlight of the trip was the discovery in Paris of an instrument called a celesta, and immediately fascinated with it, he ordered his publisher to obtain one for use in the new ballet. By early July, the second act had been sketched and Tchaikovsky set to work orchestrating the lengthy work. This took until March 1892 and it was at this point that the suite came into existence. A concert in St. Petersburg on March 19 was to include his orchestral fantasy Voyevode, but Tchaikovsky substituted instead a 20-minute suite consisting of excerpts from the ballet. These are not performed in the same order as in the ballet itself and are ordered thus: Overture; No. 2 March; No. 14 Variation 2 (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy); No. 12d Trepak (Russian Dance); No. 12b Coffee (Arabian Dance); No. 12c Tea (Chinese Dance); No. 12e (Dance of the Mirlitons), and No. 13 (Waltz of the Flowers). The celesta appears in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

    Rising above his suicidal state of mind, Tchaikovsky crafted wonderful short dance tunes for the suite. The opening overture is scored for high strings and winds only and is a cheerful curtain raiser. The march is brisk but suggests toy soldiers as opposed to real ones, and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is positively ethereal in its use of the celesta. The Russian Dance is as furious and rousing any 60-second piece could be, and the Arabian and Chinese dances are tiny jewels which, if not particularly authentic, are brilliantly evocative. Possibly the most brilliant and original work is the Dance of the Mirlitons -- a flute trio -- and the suite ends with the perfectly beautiful Waltz of the Flowers. It is music such as might have been crafted by Mozart himself had he persevered into the Romantic age and approached this same subject. It remains one of his most enduring works.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Overture
    2. March
    3. Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy
    4. Russian Dance [Trepak]
    5. Arabian Dance
    6. Chinese Dance
    7. Dance of the Reed Pipes [Danse Mirlitons]
    8. Waltz of the Flowers

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Menuetto Classics
    2017 ABC Classics
    2017 Deutsche Grammophon 4797477
    2017 Arbiter ARB 164
    2017 Deutsche Grammophon
    2017 Bridge 9493
    2016 Naxos 8578334-35
    2016 ZYX K 110102
    2016 Mark Records 52130 MCD
    2016 PentaTone Classics PTC 5186229
    2016 Decca / Philips 4788977
    2016 Ermitage / Symphonia ERM 1014
    2016 PentaTone Classics PTC 5186579
    2016 Signum Classics SIGCD 441
    2016 British Military Music Archive BMMACG 1612
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4795448
    2015 Guild / Guild Historical GHCD 2413
    2015 AAO Music MCRP 2689312
    2015 Erato
    2015 Urania / Urania Records WS 121167
    2015 K-Tel 136433
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4794647
    2015 Walt Disney D 002066392
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon 4793447
    2014 Broken Audio BRAU 1154
    2014 Decca
    2014 Decca
    2014 Brilliant Classics 94881
    2014 Cameo Classics CC 9022CD
    2014 Tuxedo Music TUX 1021
    2014 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon / Eloquence
    2014 Sony Classical 88843045052
    2014 Haenssler / Hänssler Classic 93313
    2013 Oratorio CCT 70232
    2013 Harmonia Mundi HMU 907493
    2013 Alto ALC 6003
    2013 Classical Gallery / Platinum Entertainment 7013
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon / Universal
    2012 Warner Classics 672307
    2012 Brilliant Classics 9251
    2012 Guild GMCD 2386
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 002894770055
    2012 K-Tel 56873
    2012 Decca
    2012 Decca 4783366
    2012 Broken Audio BRAU 0616
    2011 ABC Classics 969617
    2011 ZYX 57000
    2011 Decca
    2011 Decca
    2011 Classic FM / Decca CFMFW 42
    2011 Sony Classical 886978400727
    2011 Denon Records
    2011 Red Bus Classical RCLAS 030
    2011 Alto 1106
    2011 Royal Philharmonic Masterworks RPM 28060
    2011 Decca / Eloquence ELQ 4804849
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099963201
    2010 Laserlight / Zebralution
    2010 Audite 04480
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Dorian / Dorian Sono Luminus 92121
    2010 Decca
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Decca
    2010 AAO Music
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 4778847
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
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    2009 Documents/Membran / Membran 231885
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon
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    2009 DA Records / Zebralution
    2009 Haenssler 93254
    2009 Opus KURA 7041/2
    2009 Decca
    2009 Decca 4781728
    2009 Walt Disney
    2008 Echo Bridge Home Entertainment / Platinum Disc 4083
    2008 CAvi-music 553015
    2008 Warner Classics
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099920762
    2008 Berlin Classics 14422
    2008 ZYX Music 100552
    2008 Philips 4125542
    2008 Decca 466419
    2008 Naxos 8570418
    2008 Camerata Records 28120
    2008 Arte Nova 592030
    2008 Sony Music Distribution 87883
    2008 Arte Nova Classics 563590
    2008 Angel Records / EMI Classics 578522
    2008 EMI Classics 3800162
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099951203
    2008 Cala Records 547
    2008 Madacy Entertainment 53753
    2007 Metro Triples 833
    2007 Regis Records 1286
    2007 Zyx - Kids / ZYX Music 1081
    2007 Classic Mania 93320
    2007 Amado Classics 4000
    2007 Document 223602
    2007 Music & Arts 1201
    2007 EMI Music Distribution 82229
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    2007 Union Square Music 51
    2007 Zig Zag Territoires ZZT2030102
    2007 Apex
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    2007 EMI Music Distribution 80015
    2007 Opus KURA 7029
    2007 Emporio 2/1-4
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon 4776579
    2007 Decca 000972302
    2007 Decca 000895202
    2006 Brass Classics 3004
    2006 St. Clair 93712/4
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    2006 Decca 000623502
    2006 Kind Of Blue KOB 10011
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    2004 St. Clair 31382
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    2004 Compendia / Intersound 5780
    2004 St. Clair 31232
    2004 Belart/Karussell 450029
    2004 Sony Music Distribution 87875
    2004 RCA Victor Red Seal / BMG / RCA 62861
    2004 Golden Classics / Madacy 9135
    2004 Onyx Classix 6600
    2004 Denon Records 17428
    2004 Reader's Digest Music 4047
    2003 ATMA Classique 22124
    2003 Aura Classics 0128
    2003 St. Clair 31032
    2003 Sony Music Distribution 87982
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 000130602
    2003 Zig Zag Territoires 30102
    2003 PentaTone Classics 5186107
    2003 History 45515
    2002 St. Clair 6379
    2002 Madacy 2621
    2002 Deutsche Grammophon 471744
    2002 Pro Organo 7077
    2002 Real Sound (RS) 636760
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    2001 Lifestyles 215005
    2001 Eclipse Records / Ent. Media Partners 64456
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    2001 Andante 2986-2989
    2001 Angelok 1 9902
    2001 Vanguard / Vanguard Classics 150
    2001 Classica d'Oro 1037
    2001 BCI-Eclipse Distribution 40033
    2001 St. Clair 7332
    2000 Amadis 7110
    2000 Onyx Classix 1915
    2000 Direct Source 75042
    2000 Deutsche Grammophon 469 214-2GP2
    2000 BBC Legends 4044
    2000 Classiks on Toys / Direct Source 6526
    2000 Decca 467 403-2DEQ
    1999 Lifestyle Classics 1760
    1999 Concerto 2802
    1999 Philips 454987
    1999 Echo Bridge Home Entertainment / Platinum Disc 10932
    1999 RCA 59484
    1999 Intersound 3854
    1999 Decca
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    1999 Decca 466379
    1999 Platinum Disc / Platinum Entertainment 1642
    1999 Biddulph Recordings WHL047
    1999 MAH MAH 027
    1998 Intersound 1738
    1998 Grammofono 2000 78837
    1998 Sony Music Distribution 69255
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    1998 Philips 456931
    1998 Cala Records 0521
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    1998 Grammofono 2000 78836
    1998 Fine Tune 3311
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    1998 London 455810
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    1995 Naxos 8 553271
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    1994 Classical Heritage 1207
    1994 Deutsche Grammophon / PolyGram 445766
    1994 Deutsche Grammophon 437806
    1994 Deutsche Grammophon 439021
    1994 London 443555
    1994 Reference Recordings 3605
    1994 Ambassador 1902
    1994 Madacy 5641
    1994 Sony Music Distribution 47636
    1993 Delos DE3132
    1993 A&M 0136
    1993 Masters of Music 3015
    1993 Telarc Distribution 80068
    1993 Erato 45964
    1993 Decca 417700
    1992 RCA / RCA Victor GD 60878
    1992 RCA Victor 60878
    1992 Naxos 550050
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 48056
    1991 Pearl GEMMC 9488
    1991 Sony Music Distribution 46550
    1991 RCA / RCA Victor 67182
    1991 Decca 430707
    1991 RCA 60775
    1990 London 417300
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 419175
    1990 Decca 410551
    1987 London / London 417400
    1984 Decca / Philips / Universal
    1984 Philips 411471
    1980 Tahra 214
    History 204570
    Prism Entertainment 255
    Gary L. Sattazahn
    RCA 60297
    Philips 442356
    Donau 8110
    RPO 7010
    Music & Arts 631
    Sony Music Distribution 46708
    Saint Ignatius College Prep
    Stradivari 6118
    K-Tel Distribution 3896
    Supraphon 110643
    Disney 60001
    Brilliant Classics 8593/1
    Pickwick 11002
    Decca 001078802
    Musical Heritage Society 5189648
    All Russia
    Musica Classica 2011
    Modern Mandolin Quartet
    Pickwick 16
    Hear This! 3104
    Vanguard 5005
    Koch 7172
    Kem-Disc 1001
    Gemini 620
    Public Music Inc. 1039
    Philips 422265
    Erato 063018965
    Erato
    Digital Focus 57241
    Windham Hill Records 11108
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    EXL 4230
    Pro-Arte Records 582
    RCA 55233
    Aurophon Records 31422
    Intercord Klassische Diskothek 830817
    Pickwick 11039
    Madacy 8438
    Naxos 35312
    Analekta 29712
    Masters of Music 3019
    CBS Masterworks 46275
    CBS Records 37238
    Pro-Arte Records 121
    Amado Classics 04036
    Onyx Classix 66172
    Erasmus 77
    Deutsche Grammophon 410873
    Monolit 715391542
    RCA 61711
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    Digital Focus 57252
    EMI Music Distribution 89485
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    Real Sound (RS) 9510060
    London 425958
    As Disc 520
    Pro Organo 7012
    Alfa 1007
    Pro-Arte Records 3015
    Forlane 16
    Masters of the Millennium 2001
    Intersound 3089
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    Pro-Arte Records 912
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    RealTime 2004
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