The Nutcracker

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Snowflake Waltz, performed by Rick Dikeman in 1981

The Nutcracker ( Russian Щелкунчик , Shchelkunchik hear ? / I ) is an originally Russian ballet in two acts by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky . The Christmas fairy tale , to which the ballet goes back, Nutcracker and Mouse King , was written by ETA Hoffmann in 1816. Alexandre Dumas ' incarnated version of it was first set to music by Tchaikovsky around 1892 and is still one of the most popular ballets today. It is performed regularly by many theaters and opera houses , usually around Christmas. Audio file / audio sample


The focus of the ballet is the girl Clara ( Mascha in the Russian original ). She is the daughter of the wealthy Stahlbaum family. At Christmas, her godfather Droßlmeier comes over to give the big presents. He is a watchmaker and inventor and impresses the entire family with wind-up figures. They can make music and even dance. After the performance, Droßlmeier saved a little surprise: a magnificent nutcracker in a Prussian uniform. Much to Clara's dismay, her brother Fritz damages the nutcracker and angrily she takes the toy away from him. During the night she dreams of a battle between the toy soldiers led by the Nutcracker and the army of the Mouse King. When things look bad for the nutcracker, Clara grabs a slipper and throws it at the mouse king's head. The latter then remains dead and the nutcracker turns into a young, handsome prince.

The Nutcracker tells Clara that long ago the mother of the Mouse King turned him into an ugly wooden doll out of malice. Only when an innocent child genuinely worries about him and the nutcracker conquers the evil mouse king would the prince regain his human form. Clara's brave action and the death of the Mouse King have finally fulfilled this condition. Grateful and relieved, the nutcracker offers to take Clara into the realm of the sugar fairy (also called the realm of sweets ), where the sugar fairy would expect him. Clara is enthusiastic and accepts with beaming joy. The Sugar Fairy is no less relieved and delighted to see the Nutcracker again. Out of joy - and to show her gratitude to Clara - the sugar fairy organizes a fantastic festival at which a wide variety of dancers and acrobats from all over the world have spectacular performances. Russian dancers dance the trepak , Arab belly dancers perform, dancing reed flutes and a group of Chinese acrobats appear and much more. Each country hands Clara traditional delicacies and drinks. To top it off, the nutcracker and sugar fairy dance an elegant waltz. Afterwards, Clara travels home in a reindeer sleigh, where she can sneak back into her bed without the family and siblings noticing.


Tchaikovsky was inspired to do this work by a play that his brother Modest had written for his sister's children. Tchaikovsky told Marius Petipa about this family theater, who then wrote a libretto . Petipa originally wanted to take on the choreography , but then left it to Lev Ivanov due to illness . The work was performed for the first time on December 18, 1892 in the Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg in the choreography of Ivanov and the equipment by the opera director Ivan Vsevoloschski , less than a year before Tchaikovsky's death.

From Ivanov's original, the pas de deux of the sugar fairy and her cavalier remain . The open dramaturgy of the ballet and its combination of fairytale and decorative moments repeatedly challenged new choreographies: for example by Fedor Lopuchow (1928), Wassili Wainonen (1934), Nicholas Sergejew (1934), George Balanchine (1954), Juri Grigorowitsch (1966), Rudolf Nurejew (1968), John Neumeier (1971), Heinz Spoerli (1980), Jochen Ulrich , Günter Pick and Christian Spuck .

Occupation and structure

Orchestral line-up

The orchestra has a romantic cast:

3 flutes (2 and 3 also Piccolo ), 3 oboe (3rd English horn ), 3 clarinets (1 and 2 in A and B, 3rd bass clarinet ), 2 Fagotte , 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in A and Bb, 3 trombones , tuba , timpani , percussion (3 players: cymbals , bass drum , tam-tam , triangle , tambourine , castanets , ratchet , glockenspiel ), celesta , 2 harps , strings .

In the first picture, in “ Grandfather's Dance ”, incidental music from playing children appears, with an obbligato toy trumpet and drums as well as a toy basin and cuckoo and quail flutes (in C major ) ad libitum . There is also a shot .

In the second picture, a two-part women's or children's choir sings a vocalise behind the stage in the “Snow Waltz” .

The solo use of the celesta is remarkable : The “ Dance of the Sugar Fairy ” in the second act is one of the first compositions to use the instrument as part of the symphony orchestra and is still the best-known piece in the classical repertoire for celesta.


The ballet is the musical representation of fairytale individual scenes. Besides the overture , the work has only two acts.

  • overture
  • 1st act - first picture
    • 1st Christmas party. Decorate and light up the Christmas tree
    • 2. March of the Tin Soldiers
    • 3. Little gallop of the children and appearance of the parents
    • 4. Droßelmeier's mess
    • 5. Grandfather dance
    • 6. Clara and the Nutcracker
    • 7. Battle of the mice and gingerbread soldiers
  • Second picture
    • 8. In the fir forest
    • 9. Snowflake Waltz
  • Act 2 - third picture

The Nutcracker Suite

Suites derived from ballet became very popular. There are different versions of these suites in which the order and the movements used vary, including a version by Tchaikovsky himself (op.71a). One version was used in Walt Disney's Fantasia .

A structure in detail:

    Overture miniature
  • Overture miniature: Allegro giusto, 2/4 time, B flat major
  • Danses caractéristiques
  • Marche: Tempo di marcia viva, 4/4 time, G major
Danse de la Fée Dragée (Dance of the Sugar Fairy)
  • Danse de la Fée Dragée (Dance of the Sugar Fairy): Andante non troppo, 2/4 time, E minor
  • Danse russe Trepak (Russian dance): Tempo di Trepak, molto vivace, 2/4 time, G major
  • Danse arabe (Arabic dance): Allegretto, 3/8 time, G minor
  • Danse chinoise (Chinese dance): Allegro moderato, 4/4 time, B flat major
  • Danse des mirlitons (dance of the reed flutes): Moderato assai, 2/4 time, D major
  • Valse des fleurs (Waltz of the Flowers): Tempo di Valse, 3/4 time, D major

Film adaptations

  • A cartoon "The Nutcracker Prince" 1990 by Paul Schibli
  • A Soviet cartoon from 1973 with the title лелкунчик ( Shchelkuntschik , "The Nutcracker") uses the music of the ballet as an accompaniment to the wordless plot.
  • The 2001 computer-animated American film Barbie and the Nutcracker (Lions Gate Films) and the Canadian cartoon The Nutcracker Prince (74 minutes playing time) also work the suite into their plot.
  • The British film The Nutcracker , directed in 2009 by Russian theater director Andrei Konchalovsky , is also based on the plot of the ballet and the literary model by ETA Hoffmann, but deviates in many details in terms of detail.
  • In November 2018, the American fantasy film The Nutcracker and the Four Realms came to the cinema.


  • Horst Koegler, Helmut Günther: Reclams Ballettlexikon , Stuttgart, Reclam, 1984, ISBN 3-15-010328-2 .

Web links

Commons : The Nutcracker  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

References and comments

  1. The score contains the following note: “This instrument is the same that is used in the toy symphonies by Haydn and Romberg. It is available in almost every music store. "
  2. The score contains the following note: "Where a celesta is not available, the part can be played on the piano."
  3. The score contains the following notes: “The instruments are identical to those used in Queen of Spades (1st scene). Two or more children's toy drums should be used on the stage. The performing drummer should not use a snare drum, but a children's drum (tambour d'enfant). "
  4. The score contains the following note: "In addition to the two instruments already mentioned in the score [...] the children can use instruments that are typically associated with children's symphonies, for example a cuckoo or quail flute, cymbals, etc."
  5. The score contains the following note: “A choir of 24 female or children's voices. The choir should consist of twelve soprano and twelve alto voices. It would be more desirable to have the voices of church choir boys, but twenty-four trained female voices selected from the opera choir will suffice. "