When I was four years old, my mother enrolled me in ballet school. It was one of those things she had always wanted to try but, as a working class child growing up in Detroit, it was a luxury her family could not afford. As a result, I was exposed to not only the classical world of ballet and the rigors of training, but also to the most beautiful music in the world. I danced parts in both Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake (music by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky) and, of course, every December, The Nutcracker. While I have grown to love and appreciate all of Tchaikovsky’s music, The Nutcracker holds a very special place in my heart.
I know it is ubiquitous during the holidays and it is tirelessly performed by both large –to my deep dismay, there is no live orchestra during this performance!–and small dance companies, but I take my holiday music very seriously; it’s one of my personal holiday traditions.
The Nutcracker ballet premiered in Russia in 1892, to disappointing reviews however, in America, the music was highly praised and with good reason. With its clever nuances, dramatic melodies, building tension sequences, and ornamental highlights of different instruments (the flute being my particular favorite), my own dream is to see a major symphony orchestra perform this entire masterpiece–not highlights!–without the ballet (how about it, Pittsburgh Symphony?). It has as much drama and excitement as watching the actual ballet performance, sometimes even more. I’m not a music critic or even a professional musician, but the music of this ballet entrances me. It can be quiet and relaxing and it can be exciting and loud.
The library has many ways for you to enjoy The Nutcracker on compact disc or streaming, book, or DVD. My personal favorites are the recording with Anton Dorati and the London Symphony Orchestra and the 1977 made-for-television ballet starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland, but there are more versions than you can count of both the recording and the ballet. If you’re a musician, there is also the score and, if you want to read the story, we have that too.
who, from Thanksgiving until Epiphany, blissfully listens to The Nutcracker on repeat