The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker
Ballets by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Swan Lake (1876)
Sleeping Beauty (1889)
The Nutcracker (1892)
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The Nutcracker (Russian: Щелкунчик, Shchelkunchik) is a two-act ballet, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The libretto is adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann's story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King". It was given its première at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on Friday, December 18th, 1892, on a double-bill with Tchaikovsky's opera, Iolanta.[1]

Although the original production was not a success, the twenty-minute suite that Tchaikovsky extracted from the ballet was. However, the complete Nutcracker has enjoyed enormous popularity since the mid-20th century and is now performed by countless ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season, especially in the U.S.[2] Tchaikovsky's score has become one of his most famous compositions, in particular the pieces featured in the suite.[3] Among other things, the score is noted for its use of the celesta, an instrument that the composer had already employed in his much lesser known symphonic ballad The Voyevoda. Although known primarily as the featured solo instrument in the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" from Act II of The Nutcracker, it is also employed elsewhere in the same act.[4]



(left to right) Stanislava Belinskaya as Clara, Lydia Rubtsova as Marianna and Vassily Stukolkin as Fritz, in the original production of The Nutcracker. Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, 1892


After the success of The Sleeping Beauty in 1890, Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the director of the Imperial Theatres, commissioned Tchaikovsky to compose a double-bill program featuring both an opera and a ballet. The opera would be Iolanta. For the ballet, Tchaikovsky would again join forces with Marius Petipa, with whom he had collaborated on The Sleeping Beauty. The material Petipa chose was an adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann's story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by Alexandre Dumas père called The Tale of the Nutcracker.[1] The plot of Hoffmann's story (and Dumas' adaptation) was greatly simplified for the two-act ballet. Hoffmann's tale contains a long flashback story within its main plot entitled The Tale of the Hard Nut, which explains how the Prince was turned into the Nutcracker. This had to be excised for the ballet.[5]

Petipa gave Tchaikovsky extremely detailed instructions for the composition of each number, down to the tempo and number of bars.[1] The composer did not appreciate having to work under such constraints and found himself reluctant to work on the ballet.[6] The completion of the work was interrupted for a short time when Tchaikovsky visited the United States for twenty five days to conduct concerts for the opening of Carnegie Hall[7] and composed part of it in France.[6]

St. Petersburg première

The first performance of the ballet was held as a double première together with Tchaikovsky's last opera, Iolanta, on 18 December [O.S. 6 December] 1892, at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. Although the libretto was by Marius Petipa, who exactly choreographed the first production has been debated. Petipa began work on the choreography in August 1892; however, illness removed him from its completion and his assistant of seven years, Lev Ivanov, was brought in. Although Ivanov is often credited as the choreographer, some contemporary accounts credit Petipa. The performance was conducted by Riccardo Drigo, with Antoinetta Dell-Era as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Pavel Gerdt as Prince Coqueluche, Stanislava Belinskaya as Clara, Sergei Legat as the Nutcracker-Prince, and Timofei Stukolkin as Drosselmeyer. The children's roles, unlike many later productions, were performed by real children rather than adults (with Belinskaya as Clara, and Vassily Stukolkin as Fritz), students of Imperial Ballet School of St. Petersburg.

The first performance of The Nutcracker was not deemed a success.[8] The reaction to the dancers themselves was ambivalent. While some critics praised Dell-Era her pointe work as the Sugar Plum Fairy (she allegedly received five curtain-calls),[2] one critic called her "corpulent" and "podgy."[1] Olga Preobajenskaya as the Columbine doll was panned by one critic as "completely insipid" and praised as "charming" by another.[2] One audience member described the choreography of the battle scene as confusing: "One cannot understand anything. Disorderly pushing about from corner to corner and running backwards and forwards – quite amateurish."[2]

The libretto was criticized for being "lopsided"[2] and for not being faithful to the Hoffmann tale.[1] Much of the criticism focused on the featuring of children so prominently in the ballet,[9] and many bemoaned the fact that the ballerina did not dance until the Grand Pas de Deux near the end of the second act (which did not occur until nearly midnight during the program).[2] Some found the transition between the mundane world of the first scene and the fantasy world of the second act too abrupt.[1] Reception was better for Tchaikovsky's score. Critics called it "astonishingly rich in inspiration" and "from beginning to end, beautiful, melodious, original, and characteristic."[2] But even this was not unanimous as some critics found the party scene "ponderous" and the Grand Pas de Deux "insipid."[9]

Subsequent productions

In 1919, choreographer Alexander Gorsky staged a production which eliminated the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier and gave their dances to Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, who were played by adults instead of children. His was the first production to do so. An abridged version of the ballet was first performed outside Russia in Budapest (Royal Opera House) in 1927, with choreography by Ede Brada.[10] In 1934, choreographer Vasili Vainonen staged a version of the work that addressed many of the criticisms of the original 1892 production by casting adult dancers in the roles of Clara and the Prince, as Gorsky had. The Vainonen version influenced several later productions.[1]

The first complete performance outside Russia took place in England in 1934,[8] staged by Nicholas Sergeyev after Petipa's original choreography. Annual performances of the ballet have been staged there since 1952.[11] Another abridged version of the ballet, performed by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, was staged in New York City in 1940 by Alexandra Fedorova (not to be confused with the university teacher with the same name) – again, after Petipa's version.[8] The ballet's first complete United States performance was on 24 December 1944, by the San Francisco Ballet, staged by its artistic director Willam Christensen.[8] The New York City Ballet gave its first annual performance of George Balanchine's staging of The Nutcracker in 1954.[8] Beginning in the 1960's, the tradition of performing the complete ballet at Christmas eventually spread to the rest of the United States.

Since Gorsky, Vainonen and Balanchine's productions, many other choreographers have made their own versions. Some institute the changes made by Gorsky and Vainonen while others, like Balanchine, utilize the original libretto. Some notable productions include those by Rudolf Nureyev for the Royal Ballet, Yuri Grigorovich for the Bolshoi Ballet, Mikhail Baryshnikov for the American Ballet Theatre, and Peter Wright for the Royal Ballet and the Birmingham Royal Ballet. In recent years, revisionist productions, including those by Mark Morris, Matthew Bourne, and Mikhail Chemiakin have appeared; these depart radically from both the original 1892 libretto and Vainonen's revival, while Maurice Bejart's version completely discards the original plot and characters. In addition to annual live stagings of the work, many productions have also been televised and / or released on home video.[2]


Olga Preobrazhenskaya as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Nikolai Legat as Prince Coqueluche in the Grand pas de deux in an early production of The Nutcracker. Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, c. 1900

The following extrapolation of the characters (in order of appearance) is drawn from an examination of the stage directions in the score (Soviet ed., where they are printed in the original French with added Russian translation in editorial footnotes):

Act I

  • President
  • His wife
  • Invitees
  • Children, including
    • Clara and Fritz [children of the President]
  • Parents dressed as "incroyables"
  • Councilor Drosselmeyer
  • Dolls [spring-activated]:
    • Harlequin and Columbine, appearing out of a cabbage [1st gift]
    • Soldier, appearing out of a pie or tart [2nd gift]
  • Nutcracker [3rd gift, at first a normal-sized toy, then full-sized and "speaking", then a Prince]
  • Owl [on clock, changing into Drosselmeyer]
  • Mice
  • Sentinel [speaking rôle]
  • Hare-Drummers
  • Soldiers [of the Nutcracker]
  • Mouse King
  • Snowflakes
  • Angels
  • Angels
  • Sugar Plum Fairy
  • Clara
  • Prince
  • 12 Pages
  • Eminent members of the court
  • Spanish Hot Chocolate Performers
  • Arabian Coffee Performers
  • Chinese Tea Performers
  • Russian Candy Cane Performers
  • Danish Marzipan Shepherdess Performers
  • Mother Gigogne
  • Buffoons (= Fr. polichinelles)
  • Dewdrop
  • Flowers
  • Sugar Plum Fairy
  • Her Cavalier


Below is a synopsis based on the original 1892 libretto by Marius Petipa. The story varies from production to production, though most follow the basic outline. The names of the characters also vary. In the original E.T.A. Hoffmann story, the young heroine is called Marie Stahlbaum and Clara (Klärchen) is the name of her doll. In the adaptation by Dumas on which Petipa based his libretto, her name is Marie Silberhaus.[5]

Konstantin Ivanov's original sketch for the set of The Nutcracker (1892)

Act I

Scene 1: The Silberhaus Home

It is Christmas Eve at the house of Herr and Frau Silberhaus and their children. Family and friends have gathered in the parlor to decorate the beautiful Christmas tree in preparation for the night's festivities. Once the tree is finished, the younger children are sent for; among them are Clara, the Silberhaus' daughter, and her brother Fritz. The children stand in awe of the tree sparkling with candles and decorations.

The festivities begin. A march is played on the piano. Presents are given out to the children. Suddenly, as the owl-topped clock strikes eight, a mysterious figure enters the room. It is Herr Drosselmeyer, a local councilman and Clara and Fritz's godfather. He is also a talented toymaker who has brought with him gifts for the children, including four lifelike dolls—a Harlequin and Columbine, and a Vivandière and Soldier—who dance to the delight of all. Herr Silberhaus has the precious dolls put away for safekeeping.

Clara and Fritz are sad to see the dolls taken away, but Herr Drosselmeyer has yet another toy for them: a wooden nutcracker carved in the shape of a little man, used for cracking hazelnuts. The other children ignore it, but Clara immediately takes a liking to it. Fritz, however, tries to use the nutcracker to crack a walnut (too large and hard for its wooden jaw) and inadvertently breaks it. Clara is heartbroken.

Clara takes the wounded toy to her doll's bed, lulling it to sleep. The boys interrupt with their toy trumpets and horns. Herr and Frau Silberhaus announce it is time to finish off the evening with a traditional Grandfather dance. After the dance, the guests depart, and the children are sent off to bed.

During the night, after everyone else has gone to bed, Clara returns to the parlor to check on her beloved nutcracker. As she reaches the little bed, the clock strikes midnight and she looks up to see her Godfather Drosselmeyer perched atop the clock in place of the owl. Suddenly, mice begin to fill the room and the Christmas tree begins to grow to dizzying heights. The Nutcracker also grows to life-size. Clara finds herself in the midst of a battle between an army of gingerbread soldiers and the mice, led by the Mouse King. The mice begin to eat the gingerbread soldiers.

The Nutcracker appears to lead the gingerbread soldiers, who are joined by tin soldiers and dolls (who serve as doctors to carry away the wounded). As the Mouse King advances on the still-wounded Nutcracker, Clara throws her slipper at him, distracting him long enough for the Nutcracker to stab him.

Konstantin Ivanov's original sketch for the set of The Nutcracker, Act II (1892)

Scene 2: A Pine Forest

The mice retreat and the Nutcracker is transformed into a handsome Prince. He leads Clara through the moonlit night to a pine forest in which the snowflakes dance around them (the Waltz of the Snowflakes is the best known snow dance of many inspired by the Grand ballet of the snowflakes from Offenbach's Le voyage dans la lune, scene 15.[12])

Act II

Scene 1: The Land of Sweets (Confiturembourg)

Clara and the Prince travel in a nutshell boat pulled by dolphins to the beautiful Land of Sweets in Confiturembourg, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Prince's place until his return. The Prince recounts for the Sugar Plum Fairy how he had been saved by Clara from the Mouse King and had been transformed back into a Prince.

In honor of the young heroine, a celebration of sweets from around the world is produced: chocolate from Spain, coffee from Arabia, and tea from China all dance for their amusement; candy canes from Russia perform a Trepak; Danish marzipan shepherdesses perform on their flutes; Mother Gigogne has her Polichinelle children emerge from under her enormous skirt to dance; a string of beautiful flowers perform a waltz. To conclude the night, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier perform a Pas de Deux.

A final waltz is performed by all the sweets, after which Clara and the Prince are crowned rulers of Confiturembourg forever and are shown the riches of their kingdom domed with an enormous beehive.[1]

The music

From the Imperial Ballet's 1892 programme

Titles of all of the numbers listed here come from Marius Petipa's original scenario, as well as the original libretto and programs of the first production of 1892. All libretti and programs of works performed on the stages of the Imperial Theatres were titled in French, which was the official language of the Imperial Court, as well as the language from which balletic terminology is derived.

Act I

  • №01 Petite ouverture
  • №02 Scène: Une fête de Noël
  • №03 Marche et petit galop des enfants
  • №04 Danse des incroyables et merveilleuses
  • №05 Entrée de Drosselmeyer
  • №06 Danses des poupées mécaniques—
a. Arlequin et Columbine; Pas de deux
b. La Recruit et la vivandière
  • №07 Le Casse-Noisette (Polka et la berceuse)
  • №08 Danse "Grossvater"
  • №09 Grand scène fantastique
  • №10 La bataille de Casse-Noisette et du Roi des souris
  • №11 Le voyage
  • №12 Valse des flocons de neige

Act II

  • №13 Introduction; Scène de Confiturembürg
  • Grand divertissement—
№14 "Chocolat" (Danse espagnole)
№15 "Café" (Danse arabe)
№16 "Thé" (Danse chinois)
№17 Danse des Bouffons
№18 Danse des mirlitons
№19 La mère Gigogne et les polichinelles
№20 Grand ballabile
  • №21 Pas de deux—
a. Grand adage
b. Variation de Prince Coqueluche (M. Pavel Gerdt)
c. Variation de la Fée-Dragée (Mlle. Antoinetta Dell-Era)
d. Grand coda
  • №22 Coda générale
  • №23 Apothéose: Une ruche
Ivan Vsevolozhsky's original costume designs for Mother Gigogne and her Polichinelle children, 1892.

Soviet collected edition

Numbers given according to the piano score from the Soviet collected edition of the composer's works, as reprinted Melville, New York: Belwin Mills [n.d.], in English where possible, with explanations added here in square brackets. Tempo markings are noted below each number.[4]

Act One
Miniature Overture
Allegro giusto
Tableau I
No.1 Scene of decorating and lighting the Christmas tree
Allegro non troppoPiù moderatoAllegro vivace
No.2 March
Tempo di marcia viva
No.3 Little Gallop [of the children] and entry of the parents
No.4 Scene dansante [Drosselmeyer's arrival and distribution of presents]
AndantinoAllegro vivoAndantino sostenutoPiù andanteAllegro molto vivaceTempo di ValsePresto
No.5 Scene and Grandfather Dance
AndanteAndantinoModerato assaiAndanteL'istesso tempoTempo di Gross-VaterAllegro vivacissimo
No.6 Scene [Departure of the guests]
Allegro sempliceModerato con motoAllegro giustoPiù allegroModerato assai
No.7 Scene [the battle]
Allegro vivo
Tableau II
No.8 Scene [usually entitled either Journey Through the Snow or A Pine Forest in Winter]
No.9 Waltz of the Snowflakes
Tempo di Valse, ma con motoPresto
Act Two
Tableau III
No.10 Scene [Introduction]
No.11 Scene [Arrival of Clara and the Prince]
Andante con motoModeratoAllegro agitatoPoco più allegroTempo precedente
No.12 Divertissement
a. Chocolate (Spanish dance)
Allegro brillante
b. Coffee (Arabian dance)
c. Tea (Chinese dance)
Allegro moderato
d. Trepak (Russian Dance)
Tempo di trepak, molto vivace
e. Dance of the "Mirlitons" [also known as "Dance of the Reed-Flutes"]
f. Mother Gigogne and the clowns [also known as "Mother Ginger and her children" or "polichinelles"]
Allegro giucosoAndanteAllegro vivo
No.13 Waltz of the Flowers
Tempo di Valse
No.14 Pas de Deux:
a. Adagio (Sugar-Plum Fairy and her Cavalier)
Andante maestoso
b. Variation I (for the male dancer) Tarantella
Tempo di Tarantella
c. Variation II (for the female dancer) [Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy]
Andante ma non troppoPresto
d. Coda
Vivace assai
No.15 Final Waltz and Apotheosis
Tempo di ValseMolto meno


3 flutes (2nd & 3rd doubling on piccolo), 2 oboes, an English horn, 2 clarinets in B-flat and A, a bass clarinet in B-flat and A, and 2 bassoons
4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in A and B-flat, 3 trombones (2 tenor, 1 bass), and a tuba
a celesta, timpani, a snare drum, cymbals, a bass drum, a triangle, a tambourine, castanets, a tam-tam, a glockenspiel, and "toy instruments" (a rattle, a trumpet, a drum, a cuckoo, a quail, cymbals, and a rifle)
SA chorus
2 harps, first and second violins, violas, violoncellos, and double basses

Tchaikovsky's sources and influences

Ivan Vsevolozhsky's original costume sketch for The Nutcracker (1892)

The Nutcracker is one of the composer's most popular compositions. The music belongs to the Romantic Period and contains some of his most memorable melodies, several of which are frequently used in television and film. (They are often heard in TV commercials shown during the Christmas season.) The Trepak, or Russian dance, is one of the most recognizable pieces in the ballet, along with the famous Waltz of the Flowers and March, as well as the ubiquitous Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The ballet contains surprisingly advanced harmonies and a wealth of melodic invention that is (to many) unsurpassed in ballet music. Nevertheless, the composer's reverence for Rococo and late 18th century music can be detected in passages such as the Overture, the "Entrée des parents", and "Tempo di Grossvater" in Act I.

Tchaikovsky is said to have argued with a friend who wagered that the composer could not write a melody based on the notes of the scale in an octave in sequence. Tchaikovsky asked if it mattered whether the notes were in ascending or descending order, and was assured it did not. This resulted in the Adagio from the Grand pas de deux, which, in the ballet, nearly always immediately follows the Waltz of the Flowers. A story is also told that Tchaikovsky's sister had died shortly before he began composition of the ballet, and that his sister's death influenced him to compose a melancholy, descending scale melody for the adagio of the Grand Pas de Deux.[13]

One novelty in Tchaikovsky's original score was the use of the celesta, a new instrument Tchaikovsky had discovered in Paris. He wanted it genuinely for the character of the Sugar Plum Fairy to characterize her because of its "heavenly sweet sound". It appears not only in her "Dance", but also in other passages in Act II. Tchaikovsky also uses toy instruments during the Christmas party scene. Tchaikovsky was proud of the celesta's effect, and wanted its music performed quickly for the public, before he could be "scooped." Everyone was enchanted.

Although the original ballet is only about 85 minutes long if performed without applause or an intermission, and therefore much shorter than either Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty, some modern staged performances have omitted or re-ordered some of the music, or inserted selections from elsewhere, thus adding to the confusion over the suites. In fact, most of the very famous versions of the ballet have had the order of the dances slightly re-arranged, if they have not actually altered the music. For instance, the 1954 George Balanchine New York City Ballet version adds to Tchaikovsky's score an entr'acte that the composer wrote for Act II of The Sleeping Beauty, but which is now seldom played in productions of that ballet. It is used as a transition between the departure of the guests and the battle with the mice. Nearly all of the CD and LP recordings of the complete ballet present Tchaikovsky's score exactly as he originally conceived it.

Tchaikovsky was less satisfied with The Nutcracker than with The Sleeping Beauty. (In the film Fantasia, commentator Deems Taylor observes that he "really detested" the score.) Tchaikovsky accepted the commission from Vsevolozhsky but did not particularly want to write the ballet[14] (though he did write to a friend while composing it: "I am daily becoming more and more attuned to my task").[citation needed]

Concert excerpts and arrangements

  • Tchaikovsky: Suite from the ballet The Nutcracker – Tchaikovsky made a selection of eight of the numbers from the ballet before the ballet's December 1892 première, forming The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a, intended for concert performance. The suite was first performed, under the composer's direction, on 19 March 1892 at an assembly of the St. Petersburg branch of the Musical Society.[15] The suite became instantly popular (according to Men of Music "every number had to be repeated"),[16] but the complete ballet did not begin to achieve its great popularity until after the George Balanchine staging became a hit in New York City.[17] The suite became very popular on the concert stage, and was featured in Disney's Fantasia. The Nutcracker Suite should not be mistaken for the complete ballet. The outline below represents the selection and sequence of the Nutcracker Suite culled by the composer.
I. Miniature Overture
II. Danses caractéristiques
a. Marche
b. Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy [ending altered from ballet-version]
c. Russian Dance (Trepak)
d. Arabian Dance
e. Chinese Dance
f. Reed-Flutes
III. Waltz of the Flowers

Tchaikovsky also made a second suite, less well known and less frequently played, of some of the other numbers:

Act I, Tableau I: Nos. 4 & 5
Act II: Adagio from the Grand Pas de Deux
Act II: Introduction, Scene Dansante, and Spanish Dance
Act II: Final Waltz and Apotheosis

Some conductors, such as Robert Irving of the New York City Ballet, have made record albums of both Tchaikovsky suites from the ballet.[18] For many years, Irving conducted the New York City Ballet's annual production of The Nutcracker, including the U.S. 1958 telecast.

  • Grainger: Paraphrase on Tchaikovsky’s Flower Waltz, for solo piano – The Paraphrase on Tchaikovsky’s Flower Waltz is a successful piano arrangement from one of the movements from The Nutcracker by the pianist and composer Percy Grainger.
  • Pletnev: Concert suite from The Nutcracker, for solo piano – The pianist and conductor Mikhail Pletnev adapted some of the music into a virtuosic concert suite for piano solo:
a. March
b. Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy
c. Tarantella
d. Intermezzo
e. Russian Trepak
f. China Dance
g. Andante

Selected discography

Many recordings have been made since 1909 of the Nutcracker Suite, which made its initial appearance on disc that year in what is now historically considered the first record album.[19] But it was not until the LP album was developed that recordings of the complete ballet began to be made. Because of the ballet's approximate hour and a half length when performed without intermission, applause, or interpolated numbers, it fit very comfortably onto two LPs. Most CD recordings take up two discs, often with fillers because the ballet runs for between 80 to 90 minutes if performed without an intermission. An exception is the 81-minute 1998 Valery Gergiev recording on the Philips Classics label that fit onto one CD because of Gergiev's somewhat faster tempos.

  • 1954, the year in which the Balanchine version of the ballet was first staged, was also the year that the first complete recording – in mono sound – appeared on Mercury Records. It was performed by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Antal Doráti. Dorati later re-recorded the complete ballet in stereo, with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1962 for Mercury and with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1975 for Philips Classics. Some have hailed the 1975 recording as the finest ever made of the complete ballet.[20] It also is faithful to the score in employing a boys choir in the Waltz of the Snowflakes. Many other recordings use an adult or mixed choir.
  • In 1956, the conductor Artur Rodziński and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra made a complete recording of the ballet on stereo master tapes for Westminster Records, but because stereo was not possible on the LP format in 1956, the ballet was issued in stereo on magnetic tape, and only a mono LP set was issued. (Recently, the Rodzinski performance was issued in stereo on CD.) Rodzinski had previously made a 78-RPM mono recording of the Nutcracker Suite for Columbia Masterworks in 1946, a recording which was reissued in 1948 as part of Columbia's first collection of classical LP's.[21]

And with the advent of the stereo LP coinciding with the growing popularity of the complete ballet, many other complete recordings of it have been made over the last 35 years. Notable conductors who have done so include Maurice Abravanel, André Previn, Valery Gergiev, Mariss Jansons, Seiji Ozawa, Richard Bonynge, Semyon Bychkov, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, and most recently, Simon Rattle.[22]

  • The soundtrack of the 1977 television production with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland, featuring the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Schermerhorn, was issued in stereo on a CBS Masterworks 2 LP-set, but it has not appeared on CD. (The 78-minute soundtrack would today fit quite easily onto one CD.) The LP soundtrack recording was, for a time, the only stereo version of the Baryshnikov Nutcracker available, since the show was originally telecast only in mono, and it was not until recently that it began to be telecast with stereo sound. The sound portion of the DVD is also in stereo.
  • The first complete recording of the ballet in digital stereo was issued in 1985, on a two-CD RCA set featuring Leonard Slatkin conducting the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. This album originally had no "filler", but it has recently been re-issued on a multi-CD set containing complete recordings of Tchaikovsky's two other ballets, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty.

There have been two major theatrical film versions of the ballet, made within seven years of each other, and both were given soundtrack albums.

  • The first theatrical film adaptation, made in 1986, is of the Pacific Northwest Ballet version, and was conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. The music is played in this production by the London Symphony Orchestra.
  • The second film adaptation was a 1993 color film of the New York City Ballet version, titled George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, with David Zinman conducting the New York City Ballet Orchestra. The director was Emile Ardolino, who had won the Emmy, Obie, and Academy Awards for filming dance, and was to die of AIDS later that year. Principal dancers included the Balanchine muse Darci Kistler, who danced the Sugar Plum Fairy, Heather Watts, Damian Woetzel, and Kyra Nichols. Two well-known actors also took part: Macaulay Culkin appeared as the Nutcracker/Prince, and Kevin Kline served as offscreen narrator. The soundtrack album of this film features the interpolated number from The Sleeping Beauty that Balanchine used in the production, and the music is heard in the order that it appears in the film, not in the order that it appears in the original ballet.[23]

Notable albums of excerpts from the ballet, rather than just the usual Nutcracker Suite, were recorded by Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra for Columbia Masterworks, and Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for RCA Victor. Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra, as well as Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra have also recorded albums of extended excerpts. Neither Ormandy, Reiner, nor Fiedler ever recorded a complete version of the ballet; however, Kunzel's album of excerpts runs 73 minutes, containing more than two-thirds of the music.

  • In 2007, Josh Perschbacher recorded an organ transcription of the Nutcracker Suite.

Contemporary arrangements

  • In 1960, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn composed jazz interpretations of pieces from Tchaikovsky's score, recorded and released on LP as The Nutcracker Suite.[24] In 1999, this suite was supplemented with additional arrangements from the score by David Berger for The Harlem Nutcracker, a production of the ballet by Donald Byrd set during the Harlem Renaissance.[25]
  • On the other end of the scale is the humorous Spike Jones version released in December 1945 and again in 1971 as part of the long play record Spike Jones is Murdering the Classics, one of the rare comedic pop records to be issued on the prestigious RCA Red Seal label.
  • The Disco Biscuits, a trance-fusion jam band from Philadelphia, have performed "Waltz of the Flowers" and "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies" on multiple occasions.
  • The Shirim Klezmer Orchestra released a klezmer version, titled "Klezmer Nutcracker," in 1998 on the Newport label. The album became the basis for a December, 2008, production by Ellen Kushner, titled "The Klezmer Nutcracker" and staged on Broadway in New York City.[26]
  • In 2008 a progressive metal / instrumental rock version of The Nutcracker Suite was released by Christmas at the Devil's House. It includes Overture, March, Sugar Plum Fairy, Russian, Chinese, Arabian, Reed-Flutes, and Waltz of the Flowers.
  • In 2009, Pet Shop Boys used a melody from the Nutcracker Suite for their track "All Over the World", taken from their album Yes.

In popular culture

For a comprehensive list of stage, film and television adaptations of The Nutcracker, see: List of productions of The Nutcracker


  • The 1940 Disney animated film Fantasia features a segment using The Nutcracker Suite. This version was also included both as part of the 3-LP soundtrack album of Fantasia (since released as a 2-CD set), and as a single LP, with Dance of the Hours, another Fantasia segment, on the reverse side.[27][28]
  • The Spirit of Christmas, a 1950 stop-motion made-for-TV featurette in color narrated by Alexander Scourby, utilizes the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, and this sequence also includes music from The Nutcracker.
  • A 1951 thirty-minute short, Santa and the Fairy Snow Queen, issued on DVD by Something Weird Video, features several dances from The Nutcracker.[29]
  • A 1954 16mm short subject of The Little Match Girl features a dream sequence in which music from The Nutcracker is played.
  • In 1990, A hand animated movie was made by Lacewood Productions, but produced by Warner Bros. It starred the voices of Megan Follows, Keifer Sutherland, Phyllis Diller, and Peter O'Toole.
  • In 2001 Barbie starred as Clara in a digitally animated film entitled Barbie in the Nutcracker with the voice of Tim Curry as the Mouse King.
  • In 2010, a 3D movie version of the story, The Nutcracker in 3D, was given a limited release. The film stars Elle Fanning, Nathan Lane as Albert Einstein (known as Uncle Albert in the film), Frances de la Tour, John Turturro as the Rat King, and Charlie Rowe as the Prince. The film became a failure at the box office and was widely panned by critics for turning Tchaikovsky's music into songs with forgettable lyrics, for turning the mice into Nazi-like characters, and for having horrid 3D effects. It currently stands with a 0% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and an "overwhelming dislike" 18 out of 100 score on Metacritic.


  • Princess Tutu, an anime that uses elements from many ballets as both music and as part of the storyline, uses the music from The Nutcracker in many places throughout its run, including using an arranged version of the overture as the theme for the main character. Both the first and last episodes feature The Nutcracker as their 'theme', and one of the main characters is named Drosselmeyer.
  • In the tenth episode of Cowboy Bebop, a section of the Waltz of the Flowers plays at the end of the episode.
  • A 1996 episode of The Magic School Bus ("Holiday Special", Season 3, episode 39), Wanda is planning to see a performance of The Nutcracker. Some of the music for this episode was based on the score of the ballet.[30]
  • A House of Mouse special, Snowed in at the House of Mouse, included an animated short, starring Mickey Mouse as the Nutcracker, Minnie Mouse as Clara, Ludwig von Drake as a character based on Herr Drosselmeyer, Goofy as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Donald Duck as the "Duck-stroke-Mouse-stroke-King-type-person" (or the Mouse King), and portrayed a brief overview of the story, sarcastically narrated by John Cleese. The story ran with modern rock-style adaptations of Tchaikovsky's music.
  • A 2005 episode of The Simpsons called "Simpsons Christmas Stories" (Season 17, episode 9), features a montage in which are seen residents of Springfield on Christmas, singing to the tune of pieces from The Nutcracker Suite.[31]
  • A 2007 straight-to-video animated film, Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale, features, of course, the cartoon characters Tom and Jerry, and incorporates elements of the ballet, including some of Tchaikovsky's music, into the film. However, it uses a very different storyline. As in Fantasia, none of the actual characters in the ballet appear, including the Nutcracker himself.
  • The Wonder Pets on Nick Jr. includes a Christmas themed episode called "Save the Nutcracker", featuring the Nutcracker and Mouse King from the original ballet, as well as much of the music.
  • An episode of the PBS Kids series Super Why! features the Mouse King as a central character.
  • In an episode of Angelina Ballerina: The Next Steps, Angelina sees a performance of The Nutcracker.
  • The Animaniacs cartoon Nutcracker Slappy featured Slappy and Skippy trying to crack open a walnut in various ways only to find it was empty, all to the music of The Nutcracker.
  • A two part episode of the Care Bears cartoon series in the 1980s features the Care Bears as the main characters, with Beastley as the Rat King.
  • During the Christmas music speical of Beavis and Butt-head, one of the incidental bits of music they hear is the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy to which Beavis is impressed (saying it's kind of like a heavy metal song) and he even chants along to the tune.
  • In the 2009 MythBusters Demolition Derby Special, Adam and Jamie are testing the "Need for Speed" myth. As Adam and Jamie are preparing the bus for testing, Adam is aggressively preparing the bus to the sound of heavy metal, while Jamie is gently preparing the roll cage to the tune of “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies.”
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus, episode 25 (series 2, episode 12) entitled, "Spam." Within this episode is the "Hospital for Over-Actors" sketch, which includes several patients acting as the Mouse King.

Video games

In the game Bioshock, the main character Jack meets an insane musician named Sander Cohen who tasks Jack with killing and photographing four of Sander's ex-disciples. When the third photograph is given to Sander, in a fit of pique he unleashes waves of splicer enemies to attack Jack while playing "Waltz of the Flowers" from speakers in the area.

In the original Lemmings "Dance of the Reed Pipes" is used in several levels.

In the Baby Bowser levels of Yoshi's Story, a variation of the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy is used as the background music.

Children's recordings

There have been several recorded children's adaptations of the E.T.A. Hoffmann story – the basis for the ballet – using the Tchaikovsky music, some quite faithful, some not. One that was not was a version entitled The Nutcracker Suite for Children, narrated by Metropolitan Opera announcer Milton Cross, which used a two-piano arrangement of the music. It was released as a 78-RPM album set in the 1940's.[32] A later version, entitled The Nutcracker Suite, starred Denise Bryer and a full cast, was released in the 1960's on LP and made use of Tchaikovsky's music in the original orchestral arrangements. It was quite faithful to Hoffmann's story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, on which the ballet is based, even to the point of including the section in which Clara drives her arm through the plate glass and mentioning that Clara married the Nutcracker Prince at the end. It also included a less gruesome version of "The Tale of the Hard Nut", the tale-within-a-tale in Hoffmann's story. It was released as part of the Tale Spinners for Children series.[33]

Another children's LP, The Nutcracker Suite with Words, featured Captain Kangaroo's Bob Keeshan narrating the story, and sung versions of the different movements, with special lyrics.[34]


  • In 2009, Pulitzer Prize-winning dance critic Sarah Kaufman wrote a series of articles for The Washington Post criticizing the primacy of The Nutcracker in the American repertory for stunting the creative evolution of ballet in the United States:[35][36][37]

"That warm and welcoming veneer of domestic bliss in The Nutcracker gives the appearance that all is just plummy in the ballet world. But ballet is beset by serious ailments that threaten its future in this country... companies are so cautious in their programming that they have effectively reduced an art form to a rotation of over-roasted chestnuts that no one can justifiably croon about... The tyranny of The Nutcracker is emblematic of how dull and risk-averse American ballet has become. There were moments throughout the 20th century when ballet was brave. When it threw bold punches at its own conventions. First among these was the Ballets Russes period, when ballet – ballet – lassoed the avant-garde art movement and, with works such as Michel Fokine's fashionably sexy Scheherazade (1910) and Leonide Massine's Cubist-inspired Parade (1917), made world capitals sit up and take notice. Afraid of scandal? Not these free-thinkers; Vaslav Nijinsky's rough-hewn, aggressive Rite of Spring famously put Paris in an uproar in 1913... Where are this century's provocations? Has ballet become so entwined with its "Nutcracker" image, so fearfully wedded to unthreatening offerings, that it has forgotten how eye-opening and ultimately nourishing creative destruction can be?"[36]

Sarah Kaufman, dance critic for The Washington Post

  • In 2010, Alastair Macaulay, dance critic for The New York Times (who had previously taken Sarah Kaufman to task for her criticism of The Nutcracker[38]) began The Nutcracker Chronicles, a series of blog articles documenting his travels across the United States to see different productions of the ballet.[39]

"ACT I of “The Nutcracker” ends with snow falling and snowflakes dancing. Yet The Nutcracker is now seasonal entertainment even in parts of America where snow seldom falls: Hawaii, the California coast, Florida. Over the last 70 years this ballet – conceived in the Old World – has become an American institution. Its amalgam of children, parents, toys, a Christmas tree, snow, sweets and Tchaikovsky’s astounding score is integral to the season of good will that runs from Thanksgiving to New Year... I am a European who lives in America, and I never saw any Nutcracker until I was 21. Since then I’ve seen it many times. The importance of this ballet to America has become a phenomenon that surely says as much about this country as it does about this work of art. So this year I’m running a Nutcracker marathon: taking in as many different American productions as I can reasonably manage in November and December, from coast to coast (more than 20, if all goes well). America is a country I’m still discovering; let The Nutcracker be part of my research."[40]

Alastair Macauley, dance critic for The New York Times


See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Anderson, J. (1958). The Nutcracker Ballet, New York: Mayflower Books.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Fisher, J. (2003). Nutcracker Nation: How an Old World Ballet Became a Christmas Tradition in the New World, New Haven: Yale University Press.
  3. ^ Morin, A. (2001). The Third Ear Essential Listening Companion to Classical Music, Backbeat Books.
  4. ^ a b Tchaikovsky, P. (2004). 'The Nutcracker: Complete Score, Dover Publications.
  5. ^ a b Hoffmann, E.T.A., Dumas, A., Neugroschel, J. (2007). Nutcracker and Mouse King and the Tale of the Nutcracker, New York: Penguin.
  6. ^ a b "Tchaikovsky". Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  7. ^ Rosenberg, Donald (2009-11-22). "Tchaikovsky's 'Nutcracker' a rite of winter thanks to its glorious music and enchanting dances". (Cleveland). Retrieved 2010-11-04. 
  8. ^ a b c d e "Nutcracker History". Retrieved 2008-12-18. 
  9. ^ a b Wiley, Roland John. (1991). Tchaikovsky's Ballets: Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  10. ^ "Ballet Talk [Powered by Invision Power Board]". 2008-11-26. Retrieved 2009-01-07. [unreliable source?]
  11. ^ Craine, Debra (2007-12-08). "Christmas cracker". The Times (London). 
  12. ^ Victoria & Albert Museum Diaghilev exhibition, January 2010
  13. ^ "Nutcracker Nation: How an Old World ... – Google Books". Google Books. Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  14. ^ Tchaikovsky By David Brown W. W. Norton & Company, 1992 page 332
  15. ^ Alexander Poznansky, Tchaikovsky: The Quest for the Inner Man, p. 544
  16. ^ "Full text of "Men Of Music Their Lives Times And Achievements"". Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  17. ^ "The Nutcracker Profile: The History of The Nutcracker". 11 June 2010. Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  18. ^ "Tchaikovsky / Robert Irving, NYC Ballet Orchestra, 1959: Nutcracker, Suites 1 & 2, Complete – Videos Peru – Peru Videos". Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  19. ^ "Recording Technology History". Retrieved 2008-12-18. 
  20. ^ "Nutcracker". Retrieved 2008-12-18. [dead link]
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Tchaikovsky: the Nutcracker: Sir Simon Rattle, Tchaikovsky, Berliner Philharmoniker: Music". Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  23. ^
  24. ^ "A Duke Ellington Panorama". Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  25. ^ "The Harlem Nutcracker". Susan Kuklin. Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Disney (All) The Nutcracker Suite/Dance Of The Hours – Sealed USA LP RECORD (284287)". 21 April 2004. Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  28. ^ "Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Suite Also Ponchielli's Dance Of The Hours Philadelphia Orchestra Leopold Stokowski Conducting: Leopold Stokowski: Music". 9 September 2009. Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ "The Simpsons: Simpsons Christmas Stories Episode Summary on". Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  32. ^ "Week 50". Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  33. ^ "Tale Spinners for Children". 14 May 2008. Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  34. ^ Ronnie Falcao, LM MS. "The Nutcracker Suite with Words". Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  35. ^ Kaufman, Sarah (2009-09-13). "Here Come Those Sugar Plums and Chestnuts". The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.). Retrieved 2010-11-26. 
  36. ^ a b Kaufman, Sarah (2009-11-22). "Breaking pointe: 'The Nutcracker' takes more than it gives to world of ballet". The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.). Retrieved 2010-11-26. 
  37. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (2009-12-14). "Sugar Plum Overdose: The Case Against ‘The Nutcracker’". The Washington Post (New York City). Retrieved 2010-11-26. 
  38. ^ Macauley, Alastair (2010-11-16). "A ‘Nutcracker’ Lover Explains Himself". The New York Times (New York City). Retrieved 2010-11-20. 
  39. ^ Macauley, Alastair (2010-11-10). "The ‘Nutcracker’ Chronicles: The Marathon Begins". The New York Times (New York City). Retrieved 2010-11-15. 
  40. ^ Macauley, Alastair (2010-11-10). "The Sugarplum Diet". The New York Times (New York City). Retrieved 2010-11-15. 

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