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ClassicsOnline Home » TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I.: Nutcracker (The) (Highlights) (Slovak Radio Symphony, Lenard)
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
The music of Tchaikovsky, in spite of the reservations of
contemporaries at home and abroad, must seem to us both essentially Russian and
essentially and firm I y in the West European tradition. In Vienna the critic Eduard
Hanslick was able to complain of the "trivial Gossack cheer" of the finale of
the Violin Concerto, but in Russia Tchaikovsky never went far enough to please the
self-appointed leader of musical nationalists, Balakirev. While by no means a miniaturist,
he nevertheless excelled in his mastery of the smaller forms necessary in ballet, writing
music that displayed his remarkable gifts of melody and skill in orchestration.
Tchaikovsky was born in 1840, the son of a chief inspector of
mines in Government service in Votkinsk and educated at first at home by a beloved
governess and later at the St. Petersburg School of Jurisprudence, in preparation for a
career in the Ministry of Justice. This he was to abandon in 1863, when he entered the
newly established St. Petersburg Conservatory, the first of its kind in Russia. Three
years later he joined the staff of the new Conservatory in Moscow, directed by Nikolay
Rubinstein, brother of the composer and pianist Anton Rubinstein, who had founded its
counterpart in St. Petersburg.
Tchaikovsky, abnormally sensitive and diffident, and tormented
by his own homosexuality that seemed to isolate him from the society of the time. had
already made a considerable impression as a composer, when an unwise, face-saving marriage
in 1877 brought complete nervous collapse and immediate separation from his new wife. In
1878 he was able to resign from the Conservatory, thanks to the assistance of a rich
widow, Nadezhda von Meck, whom he was never to meet but who offered him both financial and
moral support. After the St. Petersburg performance of his Sixth Symphony, Tchaikovsky
died, it is thought by his own hand, compelled to this step by a court of honour of his
fellows from the School of Jurisprudence, after threats of exposure and scandal resulting
from a liaison with a young nobleman. His death was widely mourned both in Russia and
abroad, where his music had won considerable favour.
Tchaikovsky's ballet The
Nutcracker was first performed in St. Petersburg in 1890, damned with the
faintest of praise by the Tsar, who remarked that it was "very nice". The
composer himself expressed dissatisfaction with his music for The Nutcracker, a subject
proposed by Marius Petipa and the Imperial Theatre Directorate in 1891 and first performed
at the Maryinsky in December, 1892, again to a cool reception. The music itself, however,
had already proved popular enough in a suite arranged by Tchaikovsky for a concert earlier
in the year.
The story of the ballet is drawn from E.T.A. Hoffmann's tale, Der Nussknacker und der Mäuserkönig. Set in the
eighteenth century, initially in the house of the President of one of the German states of
the period, the ballet opens with a children's Christmas party, at which Drosselmeyer, a
slightly sinister adult, brings presents, a doll for Clara, the daughter of the house, and
a toy soldier for Franz, her brother. When the children are told not to open their
presents, Drosselmeyer quietens them by giving the two a pair of nutcrackers, promptly
broken by Franz who tries to crack the biggest nut he can find.
At night Clara creeps down to see her broken Nutcracker, and is
alarmed at the open warfare that breaks out between the Mouse-king and his army and the
Gingerbread soldiers by the Christmas tree. With a well-aimed shoe, she routs the enemy,
and is invited by the Nutcracker, now transformed into a handsome prince, to visit the
Kingdom of Sweets, an opportunity for welcome by the Snow-King and Snow-Queen and a series
of character dances, including the famous Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy, with its then
novel use of the celesta, and dances celebrating Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee, China
tea, the Russian trepak, and the old woman who lived in a shoe.
Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the
oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929. The orchestra's first
conductor was Frantiek Dyk and over the past sixty years it has worked under the
direction of several prominent Czech and Slovak conductors. The orchestra has made many
recordings for the Naxas label ranging from the ballet music of Tchaikovsky to more modern
works by composers such as Copland, Britten and Prokofiev. For Marco Polo the orchestra
has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Rubinstein and other late romantic composers and
film music of Honegger, Bliss, Ibert and Khachaturian.
Ondrej Lenard was born in 1942 and had his early training in
Bratislava, where, at the age of 17, he entered the Academy of Music and Drama, to study
under Ludovit Rajter. His graduation concert in 1964 was given with the Slovak
Philharmonic Orchestra and during his two years of military service he conducted the Army
Orchestral Ensemble, later renewing an earlier connection with the Slovak National Opera,
where he has continued to direct performances.
Lenard's work with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in
Bratislava began in 1970 and in 1977 he was appointed Principal Conductor. At the same
time he has travelled widely abroad in Europe, the Americas, the Soviet Union and
elsewhere as a guest conductor, and during his two years, from 1984 to 1986, as General
Music Director of the Slovak National Opera recorded for Opus operas by Puccini, Gounod,
Suchon and Bellini.
For Naxos Lenard has recorded symphonies and ballet music by
Tchaikovsky and works by Glazunov, Johann Strauss II, Verdi and Rimsky-Korsakov. For Marco
Polo he has recorded Havergal Brian's colossal Gothic
symphony to great critical acclaim in the international music press.
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