Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky

The Swan Lake, ballet, Op. 20

    Description by Robert Cummings

    While the composition of Swan Lake came in the period of 1875-1876, it incorporated music from an 1871 unpublished effort entitled The Lake of the Swans, the composer's first attempt at ballet. In addition, a second-act waltz was said to have been adapted from his 1869 opera Undine. Swan Lake was not a success initially, but shortly after the composer's 1893 death, it began to take hold. The work was then staged in the Riccardo Drigo version, which, with many excisions, additions, and reordering of numbers, became the standard performing version for many years.

    For Swan Lake Tchaikovsky composed an introduction and 29 dance numbers, which fall into four acts. The story, set in medieval Germany, centers on Prince Siegfried and his Princess-mother, who, reproaching her son for a lavish celebration at his chateau, commands him to take a bride from among a group of princesses invited to a ball for him the following day. Later the same evening the suddenly-bored Siegfried, at the behest of his friend Benno, gives chase with a group of hunters to a flock of swans. At a lakeside that night the Prince meets the beautiful maiden, Odette, who beseeches him to abandon the hunt for the swans, since they are her companions, cursed, like her, to adopt a winged appearance by the sorcerer Von Rotbart, except between midnight and dawn when they return to their human form. At the ball the next evening, Siegfried cannot choose a bride, but notices some strange guests, the disguised Von Rotbart and his daughter Odile, to whom the sorcerer has given the exact likeness of Odette. The unwitting Siegfried chooses her for his bride and swears to an oath of loyalty to her. In a dramatic lakeside finale, Odette throws herself into the lake and Siegfried joins her, thereby destroying Von Rotbart and his evil power. The young maidens are freed from their swan form and Siegfried and Odette are reunited when the lake vanishes.

    The music associated with Odette and the swans is probably the most famous in the ballet. It first comes near the close of the first act in the "Flight of the Swans." The oboe introduces the enchanting theme with harp accompaniment, the whole creating a fantasy-like atmosphere of wonder and expectation. In the Act Four finale, this music is played faster and with agitation in preparation for the main characters' demise. There are, of course, many other famous themes in this colorful work, including the waltz in the Act One "Entrance of the Guests." It is both carefree and festive in its nonchalance and brilliant colors.

    Tchaikovsky also wrote a number of dances of ethnic flavor, including an Hungarian czardas, a Spanish dance, Neapolitan dance, and mazurka, all colorfully imagined and brilliantly orchestrated. A complete performance of this ballet can range from slightly over two hours to about two hours and 20 minutes.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Introduction
    2. Scene (No. 1) (Allegro giusto)
    3. Waltz in A flat major (No. 2)
    4. Scene (No. 3) Entrance of the Pages (Allegro moderato)
    5. Pas de trois: Intrada - 1 (Andante sostenuto) - 2 (Allegro semplice - Presto) - 3 Prince - 4 (Allegro) - Coda
    6. Pas de deux: Waltz in D major - 1 (Andante/Adagio) - 2 (Waltz in B flat major)
    7. Pas d'action (Andantino quasi moderato - Allegro)
    8. Scene (No. 8) Dusk falls
    9. Goblet Dance (Tempo di polacca)
    10. Finale: Swan theme (Andante)
    11. Scene (No. 10) Swan theme (Moderato)
    12. Scene (No. 11) Benno's Entry
    13. Scene (No. 12)
    14. Dance of the Swans (No. 13): 1 Waltz in A major - 2 31st Dance of the Queen - 3 Danse générale - 4 Danses des petites cygnes -
    15. Scene (No. 14) (Moderato)
    16. Scene (No. 15) Danse de fançailles (Allegro giusto)
    17. Dances of the Corps de Ballet & Dwarves (No. 16)
    18. Scene: Arrival of the Guests & Waltz (No. 17)
    19. Scene (No. 18) (Allegro - Allegro giusto)
    20. Pas de Six: Intrada - Var. 1 (Allegro) - Var. 2 (Andante con moto) - Var. 3 (Moderato) - Var. 4 (Allegro) - Var. 5 (Moderato -
    21. Pas de Deux
    22. Hungarian Dance (Csárdás)
    23. Russian Dance
    24. Spanish Dance
    25. Neapolitan Dance
    26. Mazurka
    27. Scene (No. 24) (Allegro - Valse - Allegro vivo)
    28. Entr'acte (No. 25)
    29. Scene (No. 26) (Allegro ma non troppo)
    30. Dances of the Little Swans (No. 27) (Moderato)
    31. Scene (No. 28) (Allegro agitato)
    32. Final Scene (Andante - Allegro agitato - Alla breve)

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 PentaTone Classics PTC 5186640
    2017 Chandos CHSA 52045
    2016 Warner Classics 0190295974893
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4794646
    2014 Brilliant Classics 94949BR
    2014 Melodiya MELCD 1002223
    2013 EMI / EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099943330
    2013 Decca / Mercury 4785092
    2012 Melodiya MELCD 1001951
    2012 Decca
    2011 Apex / WEA Apex Classics 67865
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 RPO 26
    2010 Ondine 1167
    2010 EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 5099996768
    2010 Brilliant Classics 94031
    2009 Decca
    2009 EMI Classics
    2009 Denon Records 00795041941060
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Decca / Eloquence 4800563
    2008 Landscape Classics / Zebralution
    2008 VAI Audio 4446
    2008 VAI Audio 4450
    2007 Decca 000677702
    2007 Decca 0743216
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon
    2007 Decca
    2007 EMI Music Distribution 93243
    2007 Opus Arte 966
    2006 Classical Records 42
    2005 Inteli Kids IK1003
    2005 Silverline Records 284201
    2004 Vanguard Classics 1217
    2004 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 7243585541
    2004 Naxos 6 110005/6
    2004 Silverline Classics 288235
    2004 Deutsche Grammophon 000345202
    2004 Melodiya 403
    2003 RCA Red Seal 55707
    2002 Naxos 8 555873/4
    2002 Decca 4732832
    2001 Legacy Entertainment CBX001
    2000 Direct Source 8367
    2000 Amadeus 7005
    1999 Decca 4604112
    1999 Angel Records / Warner Classics 7243573624
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453055
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 457012
    1996 Teldec 16451
    1996 Royal Opera House Heritage Series 012
    1994 EMI Music Distribution 67394
    1994 Naxos 550246
    1994 Melodiya 70822
    1992 Decca
    1992 London 436212
    1991 Sony Classical 46592
    EMI Music Distribution 55041
    Everyman 5008
    Melodiya 32119
    RCA 7804
    EMI Music Distribution 49171
    RCA 62557
    EMI Music Distribution 749531
    Pickwick 32
    Vanguard 5008
    Conifer 16073
    JVC Compact Discs 6500