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 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.