Tag Archives: folk music

More on the Nutcracker party galop


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 observation that the tune is just called Steamboat in Scottish music circles sent me searching, and here, for fun, is another version of the tune. I have now heard so many versions of this tune in folk music contexts that it seems exotic when I hear it in The Nutcracker. 


Yet another source for the Nutcracker party scene tune


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. Now, that Nutcracker party scene tune seems to have yet another source, or instantiation. 

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.

Answers on a postcard – from Brahms


On Monday I interviewed an expert on Hungarian fiddle playing, so I just loved this article on the Henle Verlag website about Michael Struck’s re-decoding of a postcard from Brahms that had already been (wrongly) decoded once in a book over a 100 years ago. Superficially, this looks like nerdy Urtext stuff, until you read the detail and watch the video of what the re-interpretation of those tiny markings in the Brahms score mean in practice. 

Playing for ballet class tips #3: Get yourself a fiddle book


Searching for petit allegro music

“There are two parts of the class where you need more music,” the late Anatoli Grigoriev said to me after I’d played for him a few times, “petit allegro, and adage.” It was quite matter-of-fact and friendly – he liked me playing for his open classes at the (old) Urdang Academy in Shelton Street, and he was being helpful, as he knew that I didn’t have a lot of experience.  He was right, too.  I had always struggled with petit allegro music, because you need so much of it, more notes per second than the rest of class.  I carried on struggling for years – in fact, through two 3-year stints in professional companies – without ever solving it satisfactorily.

Kerr's Third Collection of Merry Melodies: petit allegro music

Kerr’s Merry Melodies, a source for petit allegro music that’s lasted me for years

Then one day, I was in the music shop Kensington Chimes and I came across a fiddle book called  Kerr’s Third Collection of  Merry Melodies which I bought partly because I liked the title. But I also had a sense that I might never see another copy of the book for sale, and considering it was only £4 for 446 tunes, it was a bargain.

It was also the answer to many of my petit allegro music problems. Here were literally hundreds of tunes (and that’s just volume 3) that were brilliant for class: these jigs, reels, polkas, and hornpipes had exactly the right feeling of bounce, the right beat, the right speed, and the right infectious energy.

Why improvising at the keyboard doesn’t always produce convincing petit allegro music

They’re hard to play, because they’ve evolved out of the ergonomics of the violin and fiddle technique. The kind of leaps that are natural and easy on the violin aren’t easy on the piano. And that’s exactly why they sound good, and much more interesting and dance-like than the piano or vocal repertoire, which tends to move more by step than leap. This explains why I bored myself with my own attempts at improvising music for petit allegro: when you improvise at the keyboard, you tend to play what fits easily under your fingers. To recreate the fiddle sound, you have to do what fits easily on a violin, and that requires a lot more work.

Sites for fiddle tune books

There are hundreds of sites where you can get fiddle music for free, here’s just a few:


Russian and Ukrainian folk song site


 a-pesni is a huge and wonderful site  of Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and Belarusian songs of every description – old folklore, war songs, variety, revolutionary songs, army songs, you name it. Songs that have the melodies as well as the words have a little quaver sign by the title, and there are many of those. Google translate is terrible at translating lyrics but it’ll get you round the site well enough if you don’t read Russian.

I don’t often get excited by websites, but this is a real find, the folkloric equivalent of the IMSLP, if you like, for Eastern Europe.  Great for those of us always on the look our for new repertoire, and who love folk music like this.


Glazunov, Raymonda and Hullàmzò Balaton


NB: the ‘Raymonda’ bit starts at 1.59″ – I’ve coded it to start there automatically, but if it doesn’t, use the scroll bar to skip to that bit.

On a trawl through Hungarian music on IMSLP this morning, I saw a little phrase leap out at me from a page of Hullàmzò Balaton Op. 33 by Jenő Hubay, that looked identical to a bit of the coda from the Grand pas Hongrois from Glazunov’s Raymonda. Double-checked and double-checked, and sure enough, it is. Hullàmzò Balaton (The Waves of the Balaton) is apparently a folk song/csárdás that pre-dates both Hubay and Glazunov. Any more comments from Hungarian speakers would be most appreciated.
There’s an even more spectacular recording on this Youtube video (‘Raymonda’ starts at c. 2’42”)