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ClassicsOnline Home » TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I.: Sleeping Beauty (Highlights) (Slovak Philharmonic, Mogrelia)
The second of Tchaikovsky’s three full length ballets, The Sleeping Beauty was initially given a lukewarm reception by the Tsar. Today it is regarded as the greatest achievement of Russian ballet music in the 19th century. Based on the Perrault fairy-tale La belle au bois dormant and choreographed by the legendary Petipa, this work overflows with radiant and joyous inventiveness. These highlights are taken from the complete recording on Naxos 8.550490–92, given *** recommended status by The Penguin Guide which praises Andrew Mogrelia’s conducting for its ‘warmth, grace and vitality’.
Piotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)
The Sleeping Beauty, Op 66: Ballet in a Prologue and Three Acts (Highlights)
Born in Kamsko-Votkinsk in 1840, the second son of a mining engineer, Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky had his early education, in music as in everything else, at home, under the care of his mother and of a beloved governess. From the age of ten he was a pupil at the School of Jurisprudence in St Petersburg, completing his course there in 1859 to take employment in the Ministry of Justice. During these years he developed his abilities as a musician and it must have seemed probable that he would, like his contemporaries Mussorgsky, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin, keep music as a secondary occupation, while following another career.
For Tchaikovsky matters turned out differently. The foundation of the new Conservatory of Music in St Petersburg under Anton Rubinstein enabled him to study there as a fulltime student from 1863. In 1865 he moved to Moscow as a member of the staff of the new Conservatory established by Anton Rubinstein’s brother Nikolay. He continued there for some ten years, before financial assistance from a rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck, enabled him to leave the Conservatory and devote himself entirely to composition. The same period in his life brought an unfortunate marriage to a self-proclaimed admirer of his work, a woman who showed early signs of mental instability, and could only add further to Tchaikovsky’s own problems of character and inclination. His homosexuality was a torment to him, while his morbid sensitivity and diffidence, coupled with physical revulsion for the woman he had married, led to a severe nervous break-down.
Separation from his wife, which was immediate, still left practical and personal problems to be solved. Tchaikovsky’s relationship with Nadezhda von Meck, however, provided not only the money that at first was necessary for his career, but also the understanding and support of a woman who, so far from making physical demands of him, never even met him face to face. This curiously remote liaison only came to an end in 1890, when, on the false plea of bankruptcy, Nadezhda von Meck discontinued an allowance that was no longer of importance, and a correspondence on which he had come to depend. Various rumours circulated about Tchaikovsky’s sudden death in 1893, officially attributed to cholera, an explanation that has in recent years seemed more probable.
Tchaikovsky wrote the music for three full length ballets. The first of these, commissioned by the Imperial Theatres in Moscow, was Swan Lake, first staged at the Bolshoy Theatre in March 1877. The last of the three, Nutcracker, a work about which the composer had his usual doubts, was mounted at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in December 1892. About the second of the ballet-scores commissioned there could be no doubts at all. The Sleeping Beauty, based on the Perrault fairy-tale La belle au bois dormant, had a libretto in which Marius Petipa had a hand, together with Ivan Vsevolozhsky, Director of the Russian Imperial Theatres. The score was written in 1888 and 1889 and staged at the Mariinsky Theatre in January 1890 at an alleged cost of 80,000 roubles. Choreography was by Petipa, who was largely responsible for the achievements of Russian ballet in the second half of the nineteenth century, with costumes by Vsevolozhsky and sets designed by a number of artists. The Italian dancer Carlotta Brianza danced Aurore, with Pavel Gerdt as her prince. Cecchetti, second ballet-master and later ballet-master for Dyagilev’s company, danced Carabosse and the Blue Bird, and Petipa’s daughter Maria the Lilac Fairy. The Tsar, who attended the dress rehearsal, found the work very charming, damning it with faint praise and treating the composer with distant hauteur. The Sleeping Beauty, with its splendidly choreographed variations and superb music, was subsequently to be regarded as the greatest achievement of Russian ballet in the nineteenth century.
The Introduction  provides an orchestral illustration of the contrasting characters of the wicked Carabosse and the Lilac Fairy. In the Prologue King Florestan XXIV is celebrating the christening of his first child, Princess Aurore. To the sound of a march he enters, followed by his courtiers . The six Good Fairies come to the christening, bringing their own magic gifts . Each Fairy offers her own present to the child . Candide the Upright is followed by the amiable Coulante, Fleur de Farine, pure as wheaten flour . The third fairy is Fée aux Miettes, the Bread-crumb Fairy , the fourth the Singing Canary Fairy , the fifth the impetuous Violente  and the last and best of all the Lilac Fairy . They dance . Carabosse, the Wicked Fairy, has not been invited, and appears to express her displeasure. The Master of Ceremonies Catalabutte takes the blame for this omission, but Carabosse will not be pacified: the princess shall prick her finger and sleep for ever. Carabosse dances, with her attendants and her rats. The Lilac Fairy modifies the curse of Carabosse: the princess will sleep a hundred years and be woken by the kiss of a young prince. Carabosse storms out in anger.
The first act, the Spell, opens in the palace gardens, where the people celebrate the fifteenth birthday of Princess Aurore. Catalabutte notices some women knitting and in anger orders their imprisonment, since knitting-needles have been forbidden near the palace by royal decree. The King and Queen appear and when they learn what has happened are even angrier: the women should be put to death. The King is mollified by the entreaties of the four princes, who have come to seek the hand of the Princess in marriage. To the sound of the Sleeping Beauty Waltz the company celebrates the occasion . The four princes now ask to see Princess Aurore. The Princess appears and dances the Rose Adagio, receiving a dark red rose from each of the princes . Her maids of honour and pages dance, followed by the Princess, who dances a variation accompanied by the solo violin. She sees an old woman in the crowd with a strange present for her, a spindle, decorated with ribbons. She seizes it, fascinated . Princess Aurore pricks her finger on the spindle. The music recalls the curse of Carabosse, as Aurore dances wildly, before falling to the ground. The King, Queen and courtiers are distraught, and at this moment Carabosse reveals herself: the spindle is her gift to the Princess and now her curse is fulfilled. The Lilac Fairy makes an opportune appearance to modify the spell through her own magic. She has the Princess carried into the palace, while palace and gardens are transformed, the former turned to stone and the latter overgrown with wild roses and brush-wood .
By the time of the second act a hundred years have passed away. Prince Désiré accompanied by his tutor Gallison and a group of friends, is hunting and has come upon the enchanted forest . The party plays blindman’s buff to pass the time. Various groups in the hunting-party dance, led by the Duchesses, followed by Baronesses, Countesses and Marchionesses. The whole party joins in a Farandole, an old French dance. The party moves on, leaving Prince Désiré alone. The Lilac Fairy now appears and tells him of Princess Aurore and her fate. By magic she conjures up a vision of the Princess, who rises from her bed and starts to dance. Désiré and Aurore dance together. The Princess dances her own variation and then disappears. The Prince begs the Lilac Fairy to lead him to the Princess. They now make their way through the enchanted forest . A romance for solo violin provides an entr’acte for the change of scene.
The music depicts the stillness of the scene, with the sleeping forest and palace &. The Prince and the Lilac Fairy bring life to the place again. He approaches the sleeping Princess and wakens her with a kiss. The Princess, King, Queen and courtiers now come to life again and celebrate the breaking of the spell .
In the third act the King and Queen enter in procession with the Prince and Princess . The wedding guests and the good fairies enter to the sound of a Polacca . Four fairies bring new blessings for the couple . The Gold Fairy dances a waltz. The Silver Fairy, accompanied by the silvery sound of a glockenspiel, dances a polka . The Sapphire Fairy adds a Slavonic dance, followed by the Diamond Fairy . Characters from Perrault’s other fairy-tales enter. Puss-in- Boots woos the White Cat in true feline manner. Other fairytale characters appear . Cinderella and Prince Fortuné dance a waltz , followed by an Andantino from the Blue Bird and Princess Florine, before all four dance together . Now Little Red Riding-Hood dances with the Wolf, after which Cinderella and her Prince re-appear. A dance from the region of Berry introduces little Hop-o’-my-Thumb, his brothers and the Ogre. Princess Aurore and Prince Désiré now dance a Grand Pas de Deux, both characterized in their own variations and united in love. The French courtly setting is stressed in a traditional Sarabande. A final rondo brings the wedding celebration to a triumphant conclusion. A traditional French melody, Vive Henri Quatre, is used to accompany the closing Apothéose, solemn assurance that the couple lived happily ever after .
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