Tag Archives: Tchaikovsky

The rarity of truly triple metre

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The male solo from 'Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux' - a truly triple 3 (despite the 6/8 time signature)

The male solo from ‘Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux’ – a truly triple 3 (despite the 6/8 time signature)

If you’ve been following this blog recently, you know that I’m a little obsessed with time signature and metre in the 18th & 19th centuries (see Compound errors and  Counting Tchaikovsky). Today, it paid off in company class, when I managed to play about 5 minutes of pirouette exercise in 3/4 without getting a single tempo correction. That’s rare for me. I speed up in pirouette exercises.

This is how learned to stop doing it: I wondered whether it would help if I deliberately thought in 3 – maybe I inadvertently think in 6 when I’m playing waltzes.  3/4 bars never stand alone in waltzes, they’re always in pairs, and usually in pairs of pairs. It had never occurred to me to make a connection between this and my acceleration problem. But my speeding-up was cured instantly when I made an effort to think in 3 rather than 6. That is, I made sure my cadences were on ‘8’, not ‘7’, and that every bar was a closed circle of 3, rather getting sucked up into an imaginary 6/8. It was hard work. I’m correcting a habit of a lifetime, made worse by playing all that waltz music which is by nature in hypermetrical duple compound metre, not ‘truly triple metre’ as I call it. 

I coined the term ‘truly triple metre’ when I wrote the RAD’s Music in Focus and Dance Class Anthology books (2005). I’ve recently repurposed some of this for Dance rhythms for ballet pianists on the RAD website. The hardest rewriting was about ‘truly triple metre’ for grand allegro, because all the truly triple metres I can think of are polonaises, mazurkas and so on, which of course aren’t right for grand allegro. So what’s wrong?

Truly triple waltzes are an impossibility. They shouldn’t exist, and they don’t. What teachers mean by a ‘big waltz’ or ‘grande valse’, is usually that big balletic waltz-type variation that you only get in ballet, and while they’re in 3/4 and they’re reminiscent of waltzes, It would be better not to use that name for this type of music except as shorthand for something that we all know is really something else. The only trouble is, we don’t have a name for it. I call them ‘waltz-type variations’, and I think Galina Bezuglaya does in her book about ballet accompaniment (in Russian), but I can’t find the page right now.

Truly triple allegros are not waltzes. Think of the male solo from Tchaikovsky pas de deux, the cabriole variation from Bayadère, Flower Festival male solo, the E major solo from La Source that is used in Australian ballet’s Coppélia, and the Act 1 pas de trois male solo from Swan Lake (C minor), the coda from Diana and Acteon pas de deux, and one or two of the Paquita solos. Then there are waltz-ish variations that have a really marked three in a bar, even if they have their cadence on 7 rather than 8 (the giveaway for not-really-triple-metre*) – the Bayadère and Diana and Acteon male solos, for example.

The reason I get faster playing pirouettes is because I’m treating every other bar as a weak hypermetric beat, which I then tend to swallow up or slightly snatch (something I do in 4/4 as well, I’ve discovered, listening to recordings. Sometimes that can be just right, but if there’s stuff happening within the bar, like the finish of a pirouette, then the dancer needs all the time that’s available in the bar. That’s what real 3/4 would sound like, it’s just that it doesn’t happen very often.

* The exception (I think) is where you get a cadence on 7, but then 8 is a proper thump of a final chord – not an afterthought, but an autonomous accent that isn’t an appendage to the bar before.

Counting Tchaikovsky

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sleeping_desire

Prince’s solo from Act 3 of Sleeping Beauty. A metrical mess.

On the weekend, I was playing the tarantella-ish Prince’s solo from Sleeping Beauty. Then, as every time I play this music, I panicked half way through the introduction – how many duh-da-da’s have I played? How many should there be? Is it 5? 3? 6? 4? Getting it wrong is enough to completely floor the poor person doing the solo.  I know in my heart that it’s really just ‘four in’ with a two quaver anacrusis, but if I look at the score and try to play it like a ‘proper’ 6/8, I flounder.

But now that I’ve read those the two articles on metre in 18th century music by Danuta Mirka and William Rothstein that I mentioned in my last post, my panic is over. I don’t try to inflect the solo with the metric rules I learned at school (i.e. it’s in 6/8, so therefore the upbeat must be light), and I just play it as if it was in 3/8, or in 6/8 but starting on the half bar. I don’t try to convey the duple metre of the 6/8 bar,  or try to make the ‘2’ of the first bar lighter than the 1 that I haven’t played because there’s a rest there (!)

Although Rothstein and Mirka are writing about 18th century music, I think the theories work for this, and for a lot of Tchaikovsky, particularly when it comes to the French songs in Nutcracker (like Cadet Rousselle or Bon Voyage Cher Dumollet and others). Not surprisingly, they comply with the ‘French compound metre rule.

This Desiré solo is an odd case, somewhere between an Italian and a French conception of 6/8 in Rothstein’s terms.

  1. It’s Italian (Rothstein) or compound 6/8 (Mirka), because each bar is a compound of two 3/8 bars, not a ‘duple compound’ metre in the modern sense. It could easily be written in 3/8, because it’s not that duple at a higher level.
  2. At the same time, it seems to lean towards a French compound metre in Rothstein’s terms, because it has a half-bar anacrusis, and the cadence (i.e. when it resolves to a root position chord at the end of a phrase), is on the first beat of the bar.

I think it’s more of (2) than (1), and it helps when playing it is to think less about the notated metre and the metrical accent it implies, and more about the way the melody is aiming towards the final cadence, like one of those end-accented Italian words in a line from an operatic aria (e.g. “Fortunatissimo per verità!” from “Largo al factotum” from The Barber of Seville).  

So why not write it in 6/8 but displaced by half a bar? Because of (2) above –  it must resolve on the downbeat according to the ‘French compound’ rule.  Why not write it in 3/8? Because the composed metre alternates between simple and compound  versions of 6/8 (in Mirka’s terms), and Tchaikovsky needs the larger-sized bar for when he wants a duple metre feel. When he shrinks the melody into double time, you can’t bar it any other way without it looking weird.

These bars are effectively in 4/4, even though the notated metre is 2/4.

These bars are effectively in 4/4, even though the notated metre is 2/4.

So Rothstein’s thoughts on national metrical types and Mirka’s discussion of ‘composed metre’ versus ‘notated metre’ make for an interesting two-pronged analysis of this piece that has annoyed and intrigued me for so long. For example, the bars with the semiquaver flourishes over the Neapolitan sixths near the end turn the composed metre into 4/4, and then immediately after, the cadential bars turn it into what you could consider a series of 1/4 bars – since you get a repeated half-bar figure that resolves every half bar (of the notated metre), a diminution by a factor of 4.

As for what’s going on in the middle section, Lord only knows. The resolutions now come in the middle of the bar, so what’s happened? It’s not in some kind of composed 3/8, because the cross-rhythms make for a longer composed/perceived metre – one way of looking at it is to see the final bar of the previous section being in 9/8, followed by two bars of 12/8. But not for long. Or maybe the first section is effectively in 3/8, the second effectively in 6/8 with the ‘real’ barline halfway through the bar. But what happens between that and the tune coming in again, it’s a bit of metrical mess, with Tchaikovsky just vamping garrulously between two chords (nothing new there) till he’s ready.

Is it clever? I’m not sure. All these metrical shennanigans make the piece awkward to play, and difficult to regulate in terms of tempo, and – for heaven’s sake – it’s only a 45 second solo, how much more detail do you want to cram in? But thinking about the music in terms of composed metre rather than notated metre, and as a ‘French’ or ‘Italian’ 6/8 rather than what we now call ‘compound duple’ time, makes playing it easier: you’re not trying to force a compound metre onto musical material that is doing something else.

Update on 6th August 2015

I’ve revised my opinion on this: Rothstein is absolutely right, but I am wrong here – what I find difficult is precisely the point of the music, the interplay between the vocal phrase and the notated meter. It is as if there is in fact a continual cross-phrasing at work. I had tried to simplify it for myself by trying to underplay the metrical accents, but in fact, I think what is required is to aim to be able to play both lines with their metrical implications against each other. I’ve managed it a few times in class with this piece, and noticed that ballet exercises often do the same: they’re “cross-phrased” against the music, but without the same kind of metrical accent as the accompaniment: there are fewer metrical implications. That probably isn’t very clear, but what I’m saying is, with music like this, there isn’t an easy way – you have to suck up the implications and try to do it, I think.

References

Mirka, D. 2008 Metre, phrase structure and manipulations of musical beginnings In D. Mirka & K. Agawu (eds.) Communication in eighteenth-century music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 83–111.

Rothstein, W. 2008 National metrical types in music of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries In D. Mirka & K. Agawu (eds.) Communication in eighteenth-century music. Cambridge UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 112–159.

And ANOTHER French song in the Nutcracker

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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 galop), which I have discovered, since writing this post, should probably be called “Franco-Italian hypermeter” (see this post)   I’m afraid once you’ve heard the French version, it’s quite disturbing to go back and hear the Tchaikovsky which sounds as if the tune starts on ‘1’ (it doesn’t though).

Cadet Rousselle was a real person (see wikipedia page on him) and the song, originally a satire about Rouselle, got taken up as a marching song by the Armée du Nord and was reportedly well known in France. Most interestingly, Bax, Bridge and Ireland wrote a set of variations on the theme, which was later orchestrated by Eugene Goossens. [Click to hear/buy it on Amazon]

For more Nutcracker borrowings and oddities, see yesterday’s list of Nutcracker posts on my site.

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 just has to be a French song as well – I’m sure I found the source once, but I can’t find the details. If you know what it is, please add it in the comments.

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: and look at this: And now compare it with this: Coincidence, or borrowing?  In his article On Meaning in Nutcracker, Roland John Wiley remarks that there are more ...
  • 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 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 about Ippolitov-Ivanov’s use of the same theme in his berceuse in the ...
  • 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 just has to be a French song as well – I’m sure I found the source once, but I can’t find the details. ...
  • 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 ...

Yet another source for the Nutcracker party scene tune

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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 England Steamboat Quickstep.

And now, if I’m not very much mistaken, here it is again, in a more modal form, accompanying a Basque dance.  Pure chance that I happened to look at this video, because someone I interviewed said that Basque dance could be very balletic, so I had a look on Youtube. And there in the middle of the first video I watched, is a little bit of Nutcracker history.

The video should start automatically at the relevant bit, at 3m16s,unless my embed-code editing doesn’t function on your device.

In fact, a quick search for ‘connections between Basque Dance and the Nutcracker’ found a comment on a recording of Nutcracker by Ladylavanda, saying that the children’s galop sounds like a traditional Basque dance called the Satan dantza.  She recommends searching for <Pastorala Xahakoa: Satanak>, and sure if enough, if you do, or if you search for Satan Dantza, you can find plenty of examples. And if you search for <Satan Dantza Cascanueces> (Nutcracker in Spanish) you’ll see a few MP3 downloads where Satan Dantza is the main title, and Nutcracker is in brackets. Here’s another even clearer example of the connection.

Playing for ballet class tips #22: With harmony too, less is more

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Swanilda's famous waltz. The first harmonic change comes only at the very end of the phrase.

Swanilda’s famous waltz from Coppélia. The first harmonic change comes only at the very end of the phrase.

If you’re improvising or harmonising a melody, there’s a lot to be said for just sticking to simple harmonies, and avoiding chromaticism or excessive modulation for the sake of it. It’s not a competition to see who can fit the most chords in. On the contrary, dance music depends on a certain amount of harmonic simplicity for its dance quality and feeling of lift and lightness.

It was one of my dissertation students who first drew my attention to this: if you look at some of the most famous and well-loved waltzes you can think of, many of them of them follow the pattern of Swanilda’s variation, which is to stay on the tonic for 6 bars, and then move to the dominant only in bars 7 and 8. In the case of Swanilda, what then happens is the reverse, like a harmonic palindrome – 6 bars of dominant 7th, followed by 2 bars of tonic.

Strauss does it, and Tchaikovsky does it. Another variant is to stay four bars in the tonic, and four in the dominant. Whatever happens, you get very simple harmony with a bass line toggling between the 1st and 5th degrees of the scale, little more. I looked at Oskar Nedbal’s Valse Triste for ages, trying to work out how he had achieved such subtle and unusual beauty, only to find that most of it was down to what he doesn’t do – he never moves from a bass line of G and D in the first 8 bars;  and again, the harmony is tonic for 6 bars, dominant(ish) for 2.

Likewise, two of the most famous codas in the ballet repertoire, the one in Don Quixote pas de deux and the one from Black Swan pas de deux, sit on a tonic pedal for ages, and modulate properly only right at the end of the phrase.

Yet the temptation when you’re improvising or composing is to try and throw as many tricks as you can into 16 bars of music, like you’re loading your plate at the salad bar.  I’ve seen 16 bar compositions for tendu exercises that have already modulated to a remote key by bar 4 (with a change of key signature), chromatic inner voices and bass-lines, interrupted cadences, and hardly a simple tonic or dominant chord in sight. I’d like to say that the result is a real dog’s dinner, harmonically, but in fact, dogs’ dinners I’ve seen tend to make more culinary sense.

If there’s a principle to follow, it’s to remember that 16 bars of music in a dance class have to be imagined as being a ‘clip’ of something larger, not a self-contained miniature. In fact, who writes 16 bar miniatures? There isn’t enough time to develop and resolve musical tension, so don’t try.

Playing for ballet class tips #7: Listen to orchestral recordings

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These blog posts make me sound like I know what I’m talking about. But they’re actually a catalogue of the mistakes I’ve made, and what I learned from them. One of my worst mistakes (and I still make it) is to focus on trying to play a piano reduction before I know what the orchestral original sounds like. It’s a stupid thing to do, because it’s usually a liberating experience. You get a feeling for the grand sweep, colour and drama of the music, which relieves you of the need to play every note on the page as if you’re entering an exam. You hear what’s focal, what’s marginal, and what’s not heard at all. Sometimes that means doing more than what’s on the page, sometimes less.

If ever there was an example of what I mean, it’s the Silver Fairy variation from Sleeping Beauty Act III.

Silver Fairy: Grace notes? Don’t waste your energy.

I bet I’m not the only pianist who’s detested this solo in its piano reduction (above).  You can’t move for those pesky grace notes everywhere – you can’ t play the tune or the accompaniment without being told ‘Play this! Play that! Embellish this! Prettify that!” Not even Czerny would have written a grace note study that was so dastardly to play.

But now listen to the original orchestral version  (click the image on the left to see the score – pg.99 onwards) – can you actually hear the grace notes in the right hand at all? No. Because they’re not there. They’re an attempt to reproduce the glockenspiel E flats which are on the beat, not in front of it. As for the ones in the left, they’re inaudible as musical detail – piano offbeats in the violins. What you get by listening to the recording is a sense of the overall point of the variation which is that it’s a pretty little polka-ish thing with a piano solo in it. What you want to hear is that solo, more than anything, so if you mess around trying to play those grace notes, you’re obscuring the point of the piece, and making your life needlessly difficult.

 

 

 

 

 

More on borrowings in the Nutcracker

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I think most people know 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 about Ippolitov-Ivanov’s use of the same theme in his berceuse in the Caucasian Sketches (the tune starts at 00:59 – click here to jump directly to the right part).

Further to this, I’ve now come across an interesting reference to this from a 1913 interview with the conductor Modeste Altschuler, entitled The Music of the People in Russian Masterpieces.  Speaking of the role of folk singing in Russia, he says:

 If you are sick your mother sings you a song, part prayer, part superstition, part lullaby, which may do you far more good than the doctor’s drugs. There is a song for nearly every disease. For instance, if you had the measles your mother or your nurse would sing.While in Russia four years ago, I had many occasions to speak to Ippolitov-Ivanov regarding folk-songs in Russia, and he called my attention to a Berceuse, the theme of which is used by the Caucasian women as a lullaby for the children affected with the measles. Tschaikovsky has used the first four measures of the same theme in the Arabian Dance, from his Casse Noisette suite, while Ippolitov has developed it to a greater extent in his lovely piano piece. After all it is a folk-song melody, so every composer is entitled to the use of it.

He then quotes the first few bars of the Berceuse which in Ippolitov-Ivanov’s version is in F# minor:

Ippolitov-Ivanov: 'Berceuse', from Caucausian Sketches Op 42 No. 2 (2-piano score) via IMSLP

The connections between Ippolitov-Ivanov and Tchaikovsky are not tenuous, they are very real and documented  – they met in Tiflis, Georgia in 1886, and were in contact until Tchaikovsky’s death. If Ippolitov-Ivanov could tell Altschuler of the story of this lullaby, then he could have told Tchaikovsky. If Altschuler’s account is reliable, then this adds further weight to Wiley’s argument (see earlier post) that Act II of the Nutcracker might be interpreted as a musical idealization of  Tchaikovsky’s  childhood, a mourning nostalgia for happier times with his sister – who had died as he was composing The Nutcracker.

Wiley has a theory about the pas de deux that  the  rhythm of the pas de deux melody matches exactly the spoken rhythm of the  text of an Orthodox funeral rite. If this is correct, and the Arabian is a borrowing of a song sung to sick children, then Act II is even less  the chocolate box it appears on the surface.  There is more: it has always puzzled me that the Sugar Plum Fairy is thematically and tonally directly related to the Snowflakes, as if she’s not so much made of sugar, but of ice.  And it’s in a minor key, a comparative rarity for 19th century ballet solos, even in Tchaikovsky. Act 2 is also enclosed in two haunting,  barcarolles, symbols of journeys and transitions to other worlds.

For all this, I tend to agree with Wiley about Tchaikovsky’s borrowings and quotes – they’re not intended to rise to the surface, they are private. But they are fascinating, all the same.

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:

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. 

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.