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Extract of full score of Nureyev's Siegfried solo in Act 2 of Swan Lake
Nureyev’s Siegfried Solo in Act 2 of Swan Lake

Maybe I’ve just led a sheltered ballet life, but after 30+ years of playing for more rehearsals and casts of the white swan pas de deux from Swan Lake Act II than I can remember, I was astounded the other day to discover that there was a bit of the score that I didn’t know—never heard it, never seen it. For a recording project, someone asked me for a piano version of Nureyev’s solo for Siegfried from Act II. I hope you’re all going what act 2 solo? with me. 

So here it is: 

Le lac des cygnes – act 2 Siegfried variation from seminkova on Vimeo.

I almost despaired to the point of emailing Lars Payne, orchestral librarian at ENB  who knows everything [see earlier post] there is to know about ballet music, particularly Swan Lake, but I’ll admit it, I was too proud to confess that I didn’t know what it was. So I started searching, and found something on the Nureyev Foundation website that said “Nureyev restores the prince’s variation which used to be habitually cut after the dance of the big swans.”  Again, I thought “which variation?!”  I had already looked through the 1877 version of the score at least twice, trying to find it, and through the 1895 Langer version, to see if was something that had been added posthumously. As I listened, I began to doubt myself: is this Tchaikovsky at all? Since I had already promised to record it, I began to dread that it was (as turned out to be the case in another Nureyev restaging) John Lanchbery had quietly faked a Tchaikovsky-like solo to save the day. 

I had another look at the Kashkin score—which by the way, I’ve used for years—and sure enough, there at the end of the pas de deux (not after the dance of the big swans, actually) is the so-called “prince’s variation,” which is more like a coda for the pas de deux couple. In fact, my experience was what made me miss it in the first place: I was so used to the conventional ending to the pas de deux, that I wasn’t expecting to see anything novel there—so I didn’t. You can find it yourself in the Kashkin score on IMSLP, but in case you miss it and to save time, here are the relevant pages in a two page file

It’s in nicely rounded 8-bar phrases except for the last phrase, which is 6 bars—though you could cut it or extend it easily. In typical Tchaikovsky fashion, there’s a kind of trompe l’oreille effect, whereby the first motif sounds as if it’s an anacrusis, but it is isn’t—it keeps chasing its own tail like a Möbius strip. 

Eventually, I remembered that I had seen it once before, though without registering any of the notes. I was playing for the Ballet Masterclasses in Prague, where we were going to White Swan in the pas de deux class. I said very casually, oh yes, it’s fine, the score’s on IMSLP, no need to worry. With about 5 minutes to go before the class, I printed it off, and then to my horror, noticed that the ending I was expecting. Fortunately, we did have a score of the right version. 

2 thought on “Nureyev’s Siegfried solo in the White Swan pas de deux”
  1. thank you, jonathan–that music is on the michael tilson thomas lso recording and he takes it quite fast, and i always thought it was an orchestral coda-to-the coda, sort of change-of-blocking music–very interesting to see it slowed to a full out male variation

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist