The holidays wouldn’t be complete without a spot of ballet, so we celebrate dance with the fifth treat in our special musical Advent Calendar.
If the measure of success is the ability to excel across symphonies, opera and ballet, then Tchaikovsky would have to rank as favourite for the greatest composer of all time. His ballet The Nutcracker is not just about Christmas, it practically is Christmas, with the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet staging it alongside each other in most years, and both always managing to sell out.
From the opening, which features no lower strings as if we are listening to a toy orchestra, to the renowned Nutcracker Suite, the technical accomplishment of the score is outweighed only by the sense of magic and wonder it evokes. With its enigmatic descending line (Tchaikovsky had reportedly wagered he could not write a melody based on a one-octave scale in sequence), it is easy to see that the Grand pas de deux was written by the same person who composed the ‘letter aria’ in Eugene Onegin, but the moment I simply cannot get enough of is the Final Waltz.
Act II is extremely formal in the sense that everything is perfectly structured. This is the point, however, when the mood totally lightens as the music suggests one final joyous, celebration before we are whisked back into our own world in the Apotheosis, changed just as much by what we have heard as seen.