Tag Archives: songs

Yet another French song in The Nutcracker

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I don’t know how I could have left this out of my ‘borrowings in the Nutcracker’ posts. The opening tune of Mère Gigogne is the French nursery rhyme Giroflé girofla. The 6/8 tune in the middle is another French song as well — Cadet Rouselle.

For previous posts about borrowings in The Nutcracker (and a few other things like ‘what is a mirliton?) see the list below:

  • Mirlitons July 18, 2008 6:23 am One conundrum I missed out from the list earlier: I was passing Paul in the King’s Road the other day, when I noticed a plate of Mirlitons in the window.  Bearing in mind that Act II of The Nutcracker is all about sweets, and the other divertissements have names like coffee, chocolate, tea etc. why ...
  • Tchaikovsky’s Großvater August 26, 2008 6:52 am Tchaikovsky’s Großvater: two sources The source of Tchaikovsky’s Großvater (the “grandfather dance” in the party scene in Act 1 of The Nutcracker, and the tune that Schumann quotes in Carnaval and Papillons)  is usually given as a song called “Als der Großvater die Großmutter nahm…”  It took me a long time to find a source, and then I discovered ...
  • Musical surprises #4: There’s a cuckoo in the Nutcracker December 4, 2009 7:26 am Well, a toy one anyway. If you look at the instrumentation for The Nutcracker over at www.tchaikovsky-research.org  (possibly the best resource about any composer on the web), you’ll see that apart from the famous celesta in the Sugar Plum Fairy, Tchaikovsky also includes a toy trumpet, drums, cuckoo, quail and cymbals. Either I’ve been asleep ...
  • Musical surprises #5: Mirlitons are cakes December 5, 2009 9:08 am OK, so I’ve posted about this before, but hey it’s Christmas, and it’s still one of the great mysteries of musical life: why in the Kingdom of the Sweets in The Nutcracker do you get chocolate, coffee, ginger, sugar plums, and er….reed pipes? Although the mirliton is some kind of instrument (the nearest thing to ...
  • Musical surprises #13: The male variation in Sugar Plum was originally in C minor December 13, 2009 2:07 am Tchaikovsky has a reputation for  bringing high production values to the composition of ballet scores  by conceiving them architecturally and symphonically. But in practice, he’s as likely to borrow, copy and paste from himself as much as anyone else, if not more. He was perhaps a bit better at disguising the joins. For example, when the ...
  • At last: a picture of a mirliton December 21, 2011 7:42 am I can’t tell you how pleased I am about this: Here, on a site dedicated to the iconography of the bagpipe, are two pictures of mirlitons (scroll down to see them), placed as I have always suspected within the general category of kazoo-like instruments, in French termed “flûte eunuque, kazoo, mirliton ou bigophone”. ‘Danse des Bigophones’ has ...
  • The Steamboat, the Nutcracker and Cher Dumollet: Bon voyage and Happy Christmas December 25, 2011 9:47 am On Christmas day of all days, I’ve had possibly the most interesting comment ever posted on my blog with regard to the score of the Nutcracker. Jesse Kleinman has pointed out the similarity between what is normally cited as the source for the contredanse in Act 1 of Nutcracker  (Bon Voyage, Cher Dumollet) and the ...
  • Yet another third-party melody in The Nutcracker? May 10, 2012 10:59 pm Think of the scene in Nutcracker where all the guests go to bed, and in particular the tune in the bass that repeats and fragments until everyone’s gone. Then listen to this, Le Réveil du Peuple from 1795:  and look at this: And now compare it with this: Coincidence, or borrowing?  In his article On Meaning in Nutcracker, Roland John Wiley remarks ...
  • On revolution in The Nutcracker and the limits of Google May 12, 2012 10:55 am French revolutionary musical borrowings in The Nutcracker —wny? As I said in my last post, where I think I’ve discovered a French counter-revolutionary song as a source for one of Tchaikovsky’s musical borrowings in The Nutcracker, I had a vague recollection of having read about the theory of Nutcracker being an allegory of the French Revolution.  Eventually, ...
  • More on borrowings in the Nutcracker May 18, 2012 4:22 pm I think most people know that there are quite a few musical borrowings in the Nutcracker, and that Tchaikovsky got the theme for the Arabian from somewhere – a Georgian folk song or something like that. But it’s only thanks to a post from Lawrence Sisk on the Tchaikovsky research site forum that I came to know ...
  • Yet another source for the Nutcracker party scene tune September 8, 2013 10:01 am It’s become something of a hobby, finding sources for the tunes in Tchaikovsky’s score for The Nutcracker. I thought I’d had all the surprises there were to be had when I discovered that the source for the tune of  the children’s galop in Act I was not only the French song Bon Voyage, Cher Dumollet, but also the New ...
  • Yet another French song in The Nutcracker February 16, 2014 10:28 am I don’t know how I could have left this out of my ‘borrowings in the Nutcracker’ posts. The opening tune of Mère Gigogne is the French nursery rhyme Giroflé girofla. The 6/8 tune in the middle is another French song as well — Cadet Rouselle. For previous posts about borrowings in The Nutcracker (and a few other things like ‘what is ...
  • And ANOTHER French song in the Nutcracker February 17, 2014 10:22 am Remember yesterday I said that the middle (6/8) section of Mère Gigogne in The Nutcracker just ‘had to be’ a French song? Well, I’ve found it, thanks to a post by Jeanne on a homeschooling site.  It’s Cadet Rousselle a trois garçons. Like so many French songs, it’s got that weird long anacrusis (like the children’s ...
  • More on the Nutcracker party galop December 30, 2018 5:49 pm Thanks to Kathie Brobeck who commented on one of my favourite posts, about the origins of the children’s galop in “Tchaikovsky’s” Nutcracker, saying that Steamboat is a Scottish tune. I have to say I’m still keeping my options open as to where the tune originated, and whether maybe it came to Scotland first via Spain/France. But Kathie’s ...

A christmas carol ballet class #15: Tendus in the centre – God rest ye merry gentlemen

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restTo download the song, either right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) the player above and select ‘save audio as’, or right-click (Mac: ctrl+click) this link and select ‘save link as‘.

This is scraping the bottom of the carol barrell a bit, because there’s nothing more unlike a Christmas carol, it seems to me, than a tendu and pirouette in the centre. One very well-spoken, lady-like ballet teacher once told me, referring to a class she’d taken of young boys at a famous elite ballet school “They all want to show me their pirouettes. I don’t WANT to see their f***ing pirouettes!”.  That’s christmas all over. You think it’s all tidings of joy and sparkly stuff, but carols are still quite sedate, and no place for f•••ing pirouettes.

Still, I tried.

“Oh I do like to be beside the seaside” sheet music online at last

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One of the reasons I’ll never have a hit record with Non, Je ne regrette rien is because unfortunately, I do have one big regret. Coming home in the car from Potton Hall after the recording session for Studio Series 5, the one with all the singalong tunes on, I realised we’d Oh I do like to be beside the seaside: picture of beach in Corsicacompletely forgotten to record Oh I do Like to be Beside the Seaside. It’s a beautifully silly song, but it’s not just that it makes people smile during class, it also happens to have a very useful rhythmic template. It works for those grands battements exercises that have a huge anacrusis and slow rumpty-tum rhythm that sounds turgid in music, but is fine for legs. You can slow down Oh I do like to be beside the seaside and it doesn’t sound too turgid, because the words are light.

When I was researching the album, I was amazed  – considering how popular and well known the song is – that I didn’t seem to be able to find the sheet music online. In the end, I had to get a colleague to bring me in his physical copy of the music. I still can’t find a scan of the sheet music anywhere, which makes me wonder whether there’s some odd copyright issue lurking there. But in the meantime, thanks to Tony Wilkinson for uploading a new typeset version of the song to the Free sheet music archive. He’s done the world a service.

Links to the sheet music for “Oh I do like to be beside the seaside”

Playing for ballet class tips #8: mix humour with lyricism

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If I had one golden rule for playing for class, this would be it: you can get people to listen to anything if you set them up the right way. It’s similar to the role of comic relief in tragedy: you can immerse yourself more willingly in tragic scenes if you’ve had a chance to let go in a comic one. Equally, comedy is all the funnier if you’ve just immersed yourself in tragedy.

Take Schubert, for example. I’m fairly certain that if you played a dancer a bit of Schubert (like the theme from the Trout Quintet, for example) they’d groan, and say ‘Oh no! It’s so dull. It sounds just like ‘class’ music.’ But that’s because they wouldn’t want a whole class to Schubert (and nor would I). But if, in a class, you set this up by pairing it on the other side of the exercise with something absurd like Big Spender, you set up a situation where one piece is a relief from the other.

I’ve found that I can slip in all kinds of pieces that people think they don’t like this way. It’s what you might call a ‘relational’ approach: it’s not about finding a particular style of music for class, but about setting deliberately differentiated styles off against each other. The differentiation can be on any plane  – loud/soft, low/high, early/romantic, lush/thin, popular/classical, happy/sad, modal/tonal and so on.

This keeps people listening, which is what you want. But it’s also more gratifying for you as a musician: it gives you the energy to pay attention to the detail in contrasting styles rather than drifting along in the same mode all the time.

On revolution in The Nutcracker and the limits of Google

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French revolutionary musical borrowings in The Nutcracker —wny?

As I said in my last post, where I think I’ve discovered a French counter-revolutionary song as a source for one of Tchaikovsky’s musical borrowings in The Nutcracker, I had a vague recollection of having read about the theory of Nutcracker being an allegory of the French Revolution.  Eventually, I remembered that I’d read it in German. But two hours of Googling words that I knew were in the book came up with nothing  (for the record, this should have done it, but didn’t: <Petipa, Tschaikowski, Carmagnole site:de>). At least I remembered that the book was in the RAD library, so I went there and asked:  “About ten years ago, I read a book in German. It was silver. It was something to do with Tchaikovsky and Petipa, but that wasn’t necessarily in the title. Can you help?”

Thanks to the brilliance of the library staff, we found it. The source was Lopukhov’s notes on Petipa’s sketches for Nutcracker, published in Eberhard Rebling’s (1980) Marius Petipa: Meister des klassischen Ballets; Selbstzeugnisse, Dokumente, Erinnerungen, three pages which argue – I think quite convincingly – that Petipa’s notes clearly indicate he had  the French Revolution in mind.

In fact, Wiley does mention this very briefly  in the 1984 article I already cited, On Meaning in the Nutcracker, and cites Lopukhov as his source in a footnote, but apart from Rebling’s translation, it’s not available, and you certainly won’t find it via Google, because Rebling’s book hasn’t been scanned.

Wiley says quite rightly that a revolutionary theme would be inappropriate for an Imperial ballet theatre, but as Lopukhov says, the evidence is there. Given Tchaikovsky’s allegiances, and the nature of the quotations, is it reasonable to think that their idea was to incorporate counter-revolutionary ideas? You can’t just ignore those parents dressed as incroyables who turn up in the party scene. Directly after their appearance to polonaise-style music, the dance of aristocrats par excellence, the children dance ‘Bon Voyage Cher Dumollet’, which Lopukhov claims was a satire on the exile of Charles X to England (a claim I can’t substantiate from other sources, yet).  But then the song I identified as Reveil du Peuple that ends the party scene is also counter-revolutionary in spirit.

All the French borrowings may indicate nothing more that  Tchaikovsky was so depressed and blocked that he just picked up any theme going in order to finish a score that had become a problematic task. Between Tchaikovsky, Petipa and Vsevolozhsky, the plot, the scenes and the re-use of music for different purposes than the one it was originally intended (like the tarantella from act 1 that became the male solo in Act 2) may make the score unfathomable. But of all the borrowings, I think Le reveil du peuple is the most interesting, and the one which gives Act 1 the greatest coherence once you know what it is. The longer I live with Nutcracker, the darker and more mysterious it gets, something that Wiley’s article gets right to the heart of.

Both Lopukhov and Wiley say that there’s more to Nutcracker than meets the eye. Lopukhov says the problem with Nutcracker is not how to stage it, but to know what it means. Wiley says: ‘A persistent fault of Tchaikovsky criticism has been to point out the obvious in his work without exploring the possibility that subtle messages might be lying just below the surface.’ (1984:26).  It’s a shame that no-one seems to have taken up these thoughts since the 1980s.  And if you rely on Google, you’re unlikely to find the evidence that you’ll need to make a start.

Yet another third-party melody in The Nutcracker?

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Think of the scene in Nutcracker where all the guests go to bed, and in particular the tune in the bass that repeats and fragments until everyone’s gone. Then listen to this, Le Réveil du Peuple from 1795: 

and look at this:

From The Genleman’s Musical Companion (179?)

And now compare it with this:

The Nutcracker (Taneyev reduction)

Coincidence, or borrowing?  In his article On Meaning in Nutcracker, Roland John Wiley remarks that there are more borrowings of tunes in Nutcracker than the other ballets, despite being much shorter. Tchaikovsky was, by his own admission, in a rut. He needed tunes. This hardly sounds like a tune, and it’s simple enough that it could be just musical waffle. 

Le Réveil du Peuple: why is it in The Nutcracker? 

But it does match almost note for note a line  from ‘Le Reveil du Peuple‘, reprinted in The Gentleman’s Musical Companion as ‘The celebrated French air.” Since Tchaikovsky’s sympathies were monarchist, this has potential as a theory, and it’s a nice touch that this reveil is played as the people are in fact all going to bed. It also occurs just after the comedy battle in the party scene with all the toy trumpets. 

Is Tchaikovsky having a private joke, saying ‘Calm down you lot’, or is this apparently meaningless transitional material perhaps the key that connects the reality of the party scene battle with the dreamed one that is about to occur? Is Clara’s mind beginning to turn boys and their toys into revolutionaries? Two of the characters in the party scene are called ‘incroyables, after all.   There’s a book on Tchaikovsky’s ballets which runs with a theory of Nutcracker as an allegory of the French Revolution (Petipa even wanted a carmagnole in Act II) – can’t remember what it’s called, but I will.  If this borrowing is what I think it is, then the story has more legs than you might think.    I’ve googled but I can’t find any evidence online that someone has found this tune before. Do I win a prize, or am I the last to find out?

Update 28th December 2017

Since writing this, I’ve discovered much more about Le Reveil du Peuple in Laura Mason’s book Singing the French Revolution: Popular Culture and Politics, 1787-99  (Cornell University Press, 1996), and you can read a lot of the relevant pages on Google Books. I’ve also discovered that this very post (i.e. the one you’re reading now, but not this paragraph!) is cited in Damien Mahiet’s “The First Nutcracker, the Enchantment of International Relations, and the Franco-Russian Alliance” (Dance Research 34/2 (November 2016): 119–149). You can download this excellent paper from Academia.edu (there’s another one there by Mahiet on Nutcracker which is equally interesting). It’s very satisfying research method to have written a speculative blog on something and then find out more about the topic by finding the blogpost cited in more scholarly places. 

Both Mason’s and Mahiet’s go into this topic far more than I am capable of, and are really worth reading if this kind of thing interests you. 

Update 29th December 2017

After updating this post, and reading all this stuff about revolutionary songs again, I thought it’s only reasonable to ask, given that there’s a mouse battle about to happen, whether Tchaikovsky was simply thinking of the tune of Three Blind Mice? Or, at least, thinking of the tune and blurring it with Reveil du Peuple. 

The Urwärme of Ohrwürme

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Via Metafilter, the top 25 ‘earworms’ in France, with audio examples.   ‘Earworm’ is a direct translation of the German word Ohrwurm, meaning a tune that you can’t get out of your head. The more euphonic French term musique obsédante is perhaps the reason why Paris is better known as the city of romance than Berlin or Gelsenkirchen.

Ain’t misbehavin’ and other songs

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www.jazzstandards.com

Here’s a nice site: extraordinarily detailed and well-presented details about jazz standards such as Ain’t misbehavin’. There’s a list of the 1,000 most recorded jazz standards, and very detailed records for the top 300.   For each of these, you find details of the writers, the history of the song, biographies, sound clips, musical analysis,  context, quotes, links to more detail and albums & downloads, further reading.

Missing Nutcracker? Have a Cher Dumollet singalong

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I’ve been looking for this for ages, a rendition of the French children’s song Bon voyage cher Dumollet, the contredanse-like bit in Act 1 of The Nutcracker which is usually danced by children. Here it is:

And if you’d like to singalong and learn the words, here’s a children’s Karaoake version:

Happy Easter!

“Push a little button”

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This is the nicest story I’ve come across for a long time. Ninette was a student on a course I taught  on the BA (Hons) in Dance Education at the RAD a few years ago. All of a sudden, a song she recorded when she was 15 found its way onto the new licence fee adverts, and now the song’s been re-released after all these years.  Unfortunately, I never recorded a song for PYE when I was a kid, so I’ll never know what it feels like to have this happen to you, but I can imagine!

There’s a facebook group “Push a little button and help get Ninette to Number 1!

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