The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker (Щелкунчик, Shchelkunchik) Op. 71, is a fairy tale-ballet in two acts, three scenes, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, composed in 1891–92. Alexandre Dumas père's adaptation of the story by E.T.A. Hoffmann was set to music by Tchaikovsky (written by Marius Petipa and commissioned by the director of the Imperial Theatres Ivan Vsevolozhsky in 1891). In Western countries, this ballet has become perhaps the most popular ballet performed, primarily around Christmas time. The Nutcracker is based on the story The Nutcracker and the King of Mice.

The composer made a selection of eight of the more popular numbers from the ballet before the ballet's December 1892 premiere, 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. The suite became instantly popular; the complete ballet did not achieve its great popularity until around the mid-1960s.

Among other things, the score of The Nutcracker 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 (premiered 1891). Although well-known in The Nutcracker as the featured solo instrument in the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" from Act II, it is employed elsewhere in the same act.


Scored for:woodwinds:
2 piccolos
3 flutes
2 oboes
english horn
2 clarinets (B-flat, A)
bass clarinet (B-flat, A)
2 bassoonsBrass:
4 horns (F)
2 trumpets (B-flat, A)
3 trombones
side drum
bass drum
toy instruments (rattle, trumpet, drums, cuckoo, quail, cymbals) Other:
celesta (or piano)
2 harps
SA chorus
violins I
violins II
double basses.


Composition history

Tchaikovsky himself was less satisfied with this than his last ballet. Though he accepted the commission from Ivan Vsevolozhsky, he did not particularly want to write it (though he did write to a friend while composing the ballet: "I am daily becoming more and more attuned to my task.")

While composing the music for the ballet, 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 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 Grand adage from the Grand pas de deux of the second act.

Performance history

St. Petersburg Premiere
The first performance of the ballet was held as a double premiere together with Tchaikovsky's last opera Iolanta on 18 December, 1892, at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. Who exactly choreographed the first production has been debated. Although Lev Ivanov, Second Balletmaster to the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres is often credited, contemporary accounts credit Marius Petipa, Premier Maître de Ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres. The ballet 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.

In other countries
The ballet was first performed outside Russia in Budapest (Royal Opera House) in 1927 with choreography of Ede Brada. First performance was in England in 1934. Its first United States performance was in 1944, by the San Francisco Ballet, staged by its artistic director Willam Christensen. New York City Ballet first performed George Balanchine's Nutcracker in 1954.


Note: The two lists of characters below are derived from the score (see reprint of Soviet ed.: Peter Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker: a ballet in two acts. For piano solo. Op. 71. Melville, N.Y.: Belwin Mills Publ. Corp., [n.d.], p. 4). Productions of the ballet vary in their fidelity to this assignment of roles.

Characters (translated from Russian preliminaries of the Soviet ed.)

  • President Silberhaus
  • His wife
  • Their children:
    • Clara [Marie] ("Клара [Мари]" in the score)
    • Fritz
  • Marianna, the President's niece
  • Councilor Drosselmeyer, Godfather of Clara and Fritz
  • Nutcracker
  • Sugar Plum Fairy, sovereign of sweets
  • Prince Koklyush [Orgeat]
  • Major-domo
  • Harlequin
  • Aunt Milli
  • Soldier
  • Columbine
  • Mama Gigogne [Mother Ginger]
  • Mouse King
  • Relatives, guests, people in costume, children, servants, mice, dolls, hares, toys, soldiers, gnomes, snowflakes, fairies, sweets, pastries, sweetmeats, moors, pages, princesses, retinues, buffoons, shepherdesses, flowers, etc.

The following more detailed, and somewhat different, 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 role]
  • Hare-Drummers
  • Soldiers [of the Nutcracker]
  • Mouse King
  • Gnomes, with torches
  • Snowflakes

  • Sugar Plum Fairy
  • Clara
  • Prince
  • 12 Pages
  • [Eminent members of the court]
  • [Performer(s) for Spanish dance]
  • [Performer(s) for Arab dance]
  • [Performer(s) Chinese dance]
  • [Performer(s) Russian dance]
  • [Performers for dance of the reed-flutes (= Fr. "mirlitons"; Russ. = "пастушки," shepherdesses)]
  • Mother Gigogne
  • Buffoons (= Fr. polichinelles)
  • Flowers
  • Prince Orgeat [Koklyush]


The story has been published in many book versions including colourful children-friendly versions. The plot revolves around a German girl named Clara Stahlbaum or Clara Silverhaus. In some Nutcracker productions, Clara is called Marie. (In Hoffmann's tale, the girl's name actually is Marie or Maria, while Clara - or "Klärchen" - is the name of one of her dolls.)

Act I
The work opens with a brief “Miniature Overture”, which also opens the Suite. The music sets the fairy mood by using upper registers of the orchestra exclusively. The curtain opens to reveal the Stahlbaums' house, where a Christmas Eve party is under way. Clara, her little brother Fritz, and their mother and father are celebrating with friends and family, when the mysterious godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, enters. He quickly produces a large bag of gifts for all the children. All are very happy, except for Clara, who has yet to be presented a gift. Herr Drosselmeyer then produces three life-size dolls, which each take a turn to dance. When the dances are done, Clara approaches Herr Drosselmeyer asking for her gift. It would seem that he is out of presents, and Clara runs to her mother in a fit of tears and disappointment.

Drosselmeyer then produces a toy Nutcracker, in the traditional shape of a soldier in full parade uniform. Clara is overjoyed, but her brother Fritz is jealous, and breaks the Nutcracker.

The party ends and the Stahlbaum family go to bed. While everybody is sleeping, Herr Drosselmeyer repairs the Nutcracker. Then Clara wakes up and sees her window open. When the clock strikes midnight, Clara hears the sound of mice. She wakes up and tries to run away, but the mice stop her. Alternatively, perhaps Clara is still in a dream: the Christmas tree suddenly begins to grow to enormous size, filling the room. The Nutcracker comes to life, he and his band of soldiers rise to defend Clara, and the Mouse King leads his mice into battle. Here Tchaikovsky continues the miniature effect of the Overture, setting the battle music predominantly in the orchestra's upper registers.

A conflict ensues, and when Clara helps the Nutcracker by holding the Mouse King by the tail or throwing her shoe at the Mouse King, the Nutcracker seizes his opportunity and stabs him. The mouse dies. The mice retreat, taking their dead leader with them. The Nutcracker is then transformed into a prince. (In Hoffmann's original story, and in the Royal Ballet's 1985 and 2001 versions, the Prince is actually Drosselmeyer's nephew, who had been turned into a Nutcracker by the Mouse King, and all the events following the Christmas party have been arranged by Drosselmeyer in order to break the spell.)

Clara and the Prince travel to a world where dancing Snowflakes greet them and fairies and queens dance, welcoming Clara and the Prince into their world. The score conveys the wondrous images by introducing a wordless children’s chorus. The curtain falls on Act I.

Act II

Clara and the Prince arrive at the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Sugar Plum Fairy and the people of the Land of Sweets dance for Clara and the Prince in the dances of Dew Drop Fairy, the Spanish dancers (sometimes Chocolate), the Chinese dancers (sometimes Tea), the Arabian dancers (sometimes Coffee), the Russian dancers (sometimes Candy Canes--their dance is called the Trepak), Mother Ginger and her Polichinelles (sometimes Bonbons, Taffy Clowns, or Court Buffoons in Baryshnikov's production), the Reed Flutes (sometimes Marzipan shepherds or Mirlitons), the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the Waltz of the Flowers. The dances in the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy are not always performed in this order.

After the festivities, Clara wakes up under the Christmas tree with the Nutcracker toy in her arms and the curtain closes. (In Balanchine's version, however, she is never shown waking up; instead, after all the dances in the Kingdom of Sweets have concluded, she rides off with the Nutcracker/Prince on a Santa Claus-like flying sleigh, complete with reindeer, and the curtain falls. This gives the impression that the "dream" actually happens in reality, as in Hoffmann's original story. The 1985 Royal Ballet version seems to imply the same thing, since at the end, Drosselmeyer's nephew, who had really been transformed into a nutcracker, reappears in human form at the toymaker's shop.)

New choreography

Willam Christensen

It was not until 1944 that the first complete production in the U.S. took place, performed by the San Francisco Ballet, and choreographed by Willam Christensen. The company was the first in the U.S. to make the ballet an annual tradition, and for many years, the only company in the United States performing the complete ballet.

George Balanchine

In 1954 George Balanchine followed in Christensen's footsteps by choreographing and premiering his New York City Ballet version. Balanchine's Nutcracker has since been staged in New York every year, performed live on television twice - although its first television edition, on the TV anthology Seven Lively Arts, was severely abridged - and made into a poorly received full-length feature film in 1993, starring Macaulay Culkin in his only screen ballet role. The stage success of the Balanchine version contributed greatly to making productions of The Nutcracker annual Christmas season traditions all over the world - a phenomenon that did not really come to flower until the late 1960s. In Balanchine's version, the roles of Clara (here called Marie) and the Nutcracker are danced by children, and so their dances are choreographed to not be as difficult as the ones performed by the adults.

Mikhail Baryshnikov

The popularity of the Balanchine Nutcracker could be said to have been seriously challenged, however, by the highly acclaimed American Ballet Theatre version choreographed by and starring Mikhail Baryshnikov, which premiered in 1976 at the Kennedy Center, was re-staged for television and first telecast by CBS with limited commercial interruption in 1977, and is now a TV holiday classic.

Baryshnikov omits the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince Orgeat, and gives their dances to Clara and the Nutcracker/Prince; so that in his version, the two do not merely sit out most of the entire second act as they do in other productions (notably Balanchine's). In addition, although the Mother Ginger and her Clowns music is heard, we never see Mother Ginger herself, only four court clowns who perform the dance.

In Baryshnikov's version, contrary to what is often written, it is not Clara's brother Fritz who breaks the Nutcracker, but an unnamed drunken guest at the Christmas party who is trying to make the toy "grow" to life-size. He is last seen tipsily leaving with the other guests.

The stage version of this production originally starred Baryshnikov, Marianna Tcherkassky as Clara, and Alexander Minz as Drosselmeyer, However, for the TV version the role of Clara went to Gelsey Kirkland, and it is Kirkland, not Tcherkassky, who has been widely seen in this production of the ballet. Clara is considered one of Gelsey Kirkland's most memorable roles.

Except for Tcherkassky, the rest of the cast of this production also appeared in it on television. The television version was not a live performance of the ballet, but a special presentation shot on videotape in a TV studio (with no studio audience) in Toronto, Canada.

The Baryshnikov Nutcracker has since become both the most popular television version of the work and the bestselling videocassette and DVD version of the ballet. It usually outsells not only every other video version of The Nutcracker, including the 1993 film of Balanchine's version, but every other ballet video as well. It is still telecast annually on some PBS stations. In 2004, it was re-mastered and reissued on DVD with a markedly improved visual image showing far greater detail and more vivid colors than before, as well as sound that, if not present-day state-of-the-art, was far better than its original 1977 audio. It is only one of two versions of the ballet to have been nominated for Emmys - the other was Mark Morris's intentionally exaggerated and satirical take on the ballet, The Hard Nut, telecast on PBS in 1992. (Seven Lively Arts did win an Emmy for Best New Program of 1957, so one could say that The Nutcracker was included in that win, although the award itself did not specifically say so.)

Years later, Alessandra Ferri danced the role of Clara in a stage revival of Baryshnikov's production.

Mark Morris

In 1990, Mark Morris began work on his version of The Nutcracker, taking inspiration from the horror-comic artist Charles Burns. The art of Charles Burns is personal and deeply instilled with archetypal concepts of guilt, childhood, adolescent sexuality, and poignant, nostalgic portrayals of post-war America.

He enlisted a team of collaborators to create a world not unlike that of Burns’ world, where stories take comic book clichés and rearrange them into disturbing yet funny patterns.

Morris turned to Adrianne Lobel to create sets that would take Hoffmann’s tale out of the traditional German setting and into Burns’ graphic, black and white view of things. With these immense sets and scrims, lighting designer James F. Ingalls created a dark world within retro 1960s suburbia and costume designer Martin Pakledinaz created costumes that helped bring to life Burns’ world, described as being “at the juncture of fiction and memory, of cheap thrills and horror.” The last of 10 pieces Mark Morris created during his time as Director of Dance at the National Opera House of Belgium, the piece was his most ambitious work to date. He called it The Hard Nut.

The Hard Nut premiered on January 12, 1991 at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, just short of the 100th anniversary of the creation of Tchaikovsky’s classic score. Audiences found it a shocking but exhilarating version of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, its impact still felt year after year. Shortly after the premiere, MMDG returned to the United States, having finished their three-year residency at the Monnaie. But the Monnaie seemed the most fitting stage to film the production so the company returned six months later with film crew in hand for encore performances in Belgium’s national opera house that were made available on VHS and Laserdisc. A DVD release is scheduled in 2007.

Recent Russian versions

There have been notable Russian productions of the ballet in recent years, performed by the Bolshoi Ballet and the Kirov Ballet respectively. These have also been released on DVD.

The music

The music in Tchaikovsky's ballet is some of the composer's most popular. 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 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.

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.

Suites derived from this ballet became very popular on the concert stage. The composer himself extracted a suite of eight pieces from the ballet, but that authoritative move has not prevented later hands from arranging other selections and sequences of numbers. Eventually one of these ended up in Disney's Fantasia. In any case, The Nutcracker Suite should not be mistaken for the complete ballet.

Although the original ballet is only about 85 minutes long, and therefore much shorter than 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 example, in The Nutcracker: a Fantasy on Ice, a television adaptation for ice skating from 1983 starring Dorothy Hamill and Robin Cousins and telecast on HBO, Tchaikovsky's score underwent not only reordering, but also insertion of music from his other ballets and also of music from Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov's Caucasian Sketches.
  • The 1954 George Balanchine New York City Ballet version, broadcast on TV in heavily abridged form in 1957 by CBS, restaged by the network in more complete form in 1958, and filmed with Macaulay Culkin in the title role for movie theatres in 1993, adds to Tchaikovsky's score an entr'acte that the composer wrote for Act II of "The Sleeping Beauty". It is used as a transition between the departure of the guests and the battle with the mice. During this transition, Clara's mother appears in the living room and throws a blanket over the girl, who has crept downstairs and fallen asleep on the sofa; then Drosselmeyer appears, repairs the Nutcracker, and binds the jaw with a handkerchief. In addition, the "Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy" is moved from near the end of Act II to near the beginning of the second act, just after the Sugar Plum Fairy makes her first appearance. To help the musical transition, the tarantella that comes before the dance is also cut.
  • In 1964, on New Year's Eve, ABC-TV telecast a one-hour abridgement of choreographer Lew Christensen's version created for the San Francisco Ballet (the choreographer was one of Willam Christensen's brothers).
  • A filmed German-American co-production, first telecast in the United States by CBS in 1965, hosted and narrated by Eddie Albert, and choreographed by Kurt Jacob, featured a largely German, but still international cast made up from several companies, including Edward Villella, Patricia McBride and Melissa Hayden from the New York City Ballet. It aired on CBS annually between 1965 and 1968, and then was withdrawn from American network television. Famed German dancer Harald Kreutzberg appeared (in what was probably his last role) in the dual roles of Drosselmeyer and the Snow King (though in one listing, Drosselmeyer has been re-christened Uncle Alex Hoffman — presumably a reference to E.T.A. Hoffmann, who wrote the original tale). This production cut the ballet down to a one-act version lasting slightly less than an hour, and drastically re-ordered all the dances, even to the point of altering the storyline (instead of defeating the Mouse King, who does not even appear in this production, Clara and the Nutcracker must now journey to the Castle of the Sugar Plum Fairy, where the Fairy will wave her wand and turn the Nutcracker back into a Prince). This production inserted some music from Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty, as two bluebirds were brought in as characters to dance the Bluebird Pas de Deux from that work.
  • Rudolf Nureyev's 1967 version for the Royal Ballet, in which he dances both the roles of Drosselmeyer and the Prince, but not the Nutcracker, changes the order of some of the musical numbers, repeating the music of the "mice attack" and the departure of the guests at the end, and omitting the Final Waltz and Apotheosis which normally conclude the ballet. It was videotaped in 1968.
  • In Baryshnikov's American Ballet Theatre version, all of the original Tchaikovsky score is used, but the order of the divertissement numbers in Act II (the section of the ballet with the least plot) is changed, and the "Arabian Dance" had to be omitted in the television version in order to bring the program in at 90 minutes (counting the three commercial breaks). Drosselmeyer makes his appearance at the Christmas party earlier, just before the Marche, and the music normally used for his entrance is here used as scoring for the puppet show. Baryshnikov also turned the Adagio from the "Pas de Deux" into a dance for Clara and the Nutcracker/Prince rather than one for the Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince Orgeat, making it the emotional climax by shifting it to immediately before the "Final Waltz and Apotheosis" which closes the ballet.
  • Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker, staged in 1983 and filmed for movie theatres in 1986 (as Nutcracker: The Motion Picture) features sets and costumes by Maurice Sendak. It adds a duet from Tchaikovsky's opera The Queen of Spades that is heard during the Christmas party sequence. In addition, the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is placed very early in the second act, rather than its traditional place toward the end, and is danced by the dream Clara. This one also omits the Sugar Plum Fairy herself. It should be noted that this version tries to be truer to E. T. A. Hoffmann’s original story, complete with its darker aspects and a second act with more context and flavor, although much of that flavor comes from the imaginations of Sendak and choreographer Kent Stowell, rather than from the actual Hoffmann story.
  • In the Royal Ballet, London's 1985 version, telecast on A&E, Tchaikovsky's score is used and the original order of the dances is not changed at all, but the Mother Ginger dance is omitted. This version was re-staged with some of the same dancers taking different roles, as well as with new dancers, in 2001. In the 2001 version, Alina Cojocaru danced the role of Clara, a role danced in 1985 by Julie Rose. Anthony Dowell, who had danced the Sugar Plum Fairy's Cavalier in 1985, danced the role of Drosselmeyer in the 2001 version, telecast by PBS.
  • Another ice skating version, 1994's Nutcracker on Ice, starring Oksana Baiul as Clara and Victor Petrenko as Drosselmeyer, was originally telecast on NBC, and is now shown on several cable stations. It was also condensed to slightly less than an hour, radically altering and compressing both the music and the storyline.
  • Still another one-hour ice skating version, also called Nutcracker on Ice, was staged on television in 1995, starring Peggy Fleming as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Nicole Bobek as Clara, and Todd Eldredge as the Nutcracker.
  • And yet another version of Nutcracker on Ice, this one starring Tai Babilonia as Clara and Randy Gardner as the Nutcracker/ Prince, was released straight-to-video in 1998, appearing on DVD in 2007.

However, nearly all of the CD and LP recordings of the complete ballet present Tchaikovsky's score exactly as he originally conceived it.


(Numbers given according to the piano score from the Soviet collected edition of the composer's works, as reprinted Melville, NY: Belwin Mills [n.d.], in English where possible, with explanations added here in square brackets).

Act One

Tableau I
No.1 Scene of decorating and lighting the Christmas tree
No.2 March
No.3 Little Gallop [of the children] and entry of the parents
No.4 Scene dansante [Drosselmeyer's arrival and distribution of presents]
No.5 Scene and dance of the Grandfather
No.6 Scene [Departure of the guests -- DAYTIME]
No.7 Scene [the battle]

Tableau II
No.8 Scene [a pine forest in winter]
No.9 Waltz of the Snowflakes

Act Two

Tableau III
No.10 Scene [Introduction]
No.11 Scene [Arrival of Clara and the Prince]
No.12 Divertissement
a. Chocolate (Spanish dance)
b. Coffee (Arabian dance)
c. Tea (Chinese dance)
d. Trepak (Russian Dance)
e. Dance of the Mirlitons [also known as "Dance of the Reed-Flutes," "Dance of the Shepherdesses," and "Marzipan"]
f. Mother Ginger and the clowns [or "Mother Ginger and her children"]
No.13 Waltz of the Flowers [featuring a female soloist "Dew Drop" in Balanchine's production]
No.14 Pas de Deux: Adagio (Sugar-Plum Fairy and a cavalier)
Variation I (for the male dancer) [Tarantella]
Variation II (for the female dancer) [Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy]
No.15 Final Waltz and Apotheosis

Concert excerpts and arrangements

Tchaikovsky: Suite from the ballet The Nutcracker

The suite derived and abridged from the ballet became more popular for a time than the ballet itself, partly due to its inclusion in Walt Disney's Fantasia. The outline below represents the selection and sequence of the Nutcracker Suite culled by the composer.

I. 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

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

Popular adaptations

Pop versions

In 1962 a novelty boogie piano arrangement of the "Marche", entitled "Nut Rocker", was a #1 single in the UK, and #21 in the USA. Credited to B. Bumble and the Stingers, it was produced by Kim Fowley and featured studio musicians Al Hazan (piano), Earl Palmer (drums), Tommy Tedesco (guitar) and Red Callender (bass). "Nut Rocker" has subsequently been covered by many others including The Shadows, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and the Dropkick Murphys. "Nut Rocker" is commonly connected to the NHL team the Boston Bruins. In 2004, The Invincible Czars (from Austin, Texas) arranged, recorded, and now annually perform the entire suite for rock band - guitar, bass, keyboard, drums, trumpet, saxophone, and violin - reinventing the music with the stylistic, rhythmic, and dynamic twists and turns that mark their original music.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra's first album, Christmas Eve and Other Stories, includes an instrumental piece entitled "A Mad Russian's Christmas," which is a rock version of music from The Nutcracker.

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.

Musical comedy version

During the Christmas season of 1961, ABC presented a musical special on television entitled The Enchanted Nutcracker. It starred Robert Goulet and Carol Lawrence, with child actress Linda Canby as Clara, and featured a script by Samuel and Bella Spewack, who had written the libretto for Kiss Me, Kate. The show, advertised as a "free adaptation" of The Nutcracker, was choreographed by Carol Haney. Information on this program is currently scant, so it is not clear how much of Tchaikovsky's music was used, but the story was still about a nutcracker who comes to life and takes a little girl to the Kingdom of Sweets. The Nutcracker was portrayed, not by a dancer, but by French actor Pierre Olaf, who also played a new character named Dr. Gombault. Patrick Adiarte, who had played Prince Chulalongkorn in the 1956 film The King and I, also played a Prince in The Enchanted Nutcracker, though clearly, the Nutcracker and the Prince were two entirely different characters in this version. The roles that Goulet and Lawrence played were also created especially for this adaptation. This television production was shown once and then fell into complete obscurity, never even being rerun on ABC-TV.

Animated versions

There have been several animated versions of the original story, but none can really be actually considered an animated version of the ballet itself. All of these invent characters that appear neither in the original E.T.A. Hoffmann story nor in the ballet.

  • Selections from the Nutcracker Suite were heard in the 1940 Disney animation film Fantasia. In this film, the music from The Nutcracker is accompanied by dancing fairies, mushrooms and fish, among others and, as Deems Taylor mentions, the Nutcracker itself is nowhere in sight. As mentioned before, this suite should not be mistaken for the entire Nutcracker. The suite used is a slightly altered version of the Nutcracker Suite selected by the composer [see The Suite in this article]. This version omits the Overture and the Marche, and the remaining dances are reordered (Note: The accompanying animation is provided in parentheses):

1. Danses caractéristiques
a. Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy (Dew Fairies)
b. Chinese Dance (Chinese Mushrooms)
c. Reed-Flutes (Blossoms)
d. Arabian Dance (Goldfish)
e. Russian Dance (Thistles and Orchids)
2. Waltz of the Flowers (Frost Fairies & Snow Fairies)

  • In 1979, a stop-motion puppet version, entitled Nutcracker Fantasy, was released, using some of the Tchaikovsky music. This version featured the voices of Christopher Lee as Drosselmeyer, and Melissa Gilbert as Clara.
  • Care Bears: The Nutcracker was an 1988 animated television special based extremely loosely on the original ballet. It was made for video, and was first shown on TV on the Disney Channel.
  • In 1990, another animated version, The Nutcracker Prince, starring the voices of Kiefer Sutherland and Megan Follows, was released. This one also used Tchaikovsky's music, but was actually a straightforward full-length animated cartoon, not a ballet film.
  • The Jetlag Productions animation studio produced its own version of the story in 1994 entitled, simply "The Nutcracker". The animated adaptation used some of Tchaikovsky's compositions as well as some original melodies and songs.
  • In 1999, a comedy version entitled The Nuttiest Nutcracker became the first computer-animated film released straight to video. An example of the skewed tone that this version took may be inferred from the fact that Phyllis Diller provided the voice of an obese Sugar Plum Fairy. Some of Tchaikovsky's music was used.
  • Barbie in the Nutcracker is a direct-to-video version of the story starring, of course, Barbie the doll, released in 2001. It significantly alters the storyline.
  • 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.
  • 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, Professor 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) portrayed a brief overview of the story, narrated by John Cleese. The story ran with modern rock-style musical accompaniment.
  • In 2004, Argus International in Moscow produced an animated version of "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King", though it has a different tale to tell. The US version was released in 2005 and it features the voices of Leslie Nielsen as the Mouse King, Robert Hays as the mouse Squeak, Fred Willard as the mouse Bubble, and Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame) as the voice of Herr Drosselmeyer.
  • 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.

Jazz versions

In 1960, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn arranged their own adaptation of the Nutcracker Suite for the Duke Ellington Orchestra featuring the Overture, Toot Toot Tootsie Toot (Dance of the Reed-Flutes), Peanut Brittle Brigade (March), Sugar Rum Cherry (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy), the Entr'acte, The Volga Vouty (Russian Trepak), Chinoiserie (Chinese Tea), Dance of the Floreadores (Waltz of the Flowers), and Arabesque Cookie (Arabian Coffee). The suite is arranged for the traditional five saxophones (two alto, two tenor, one baritone), four trumpets, a small three trombone section, drums, piano and bass, with second alto doubling on clarinet, bamboo flute, both tenors doubling on clarinet, baritone doubling on bass clarinet, and first trumpet doubling on tambourine. The arrangement has been played by Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra side-by-side with the New York Philharmonic performing the respective original movements. In 1999, the arrangement was expanded to fit Donald Byrd's adaptation of The Nutcracker with modern choreography and themes revolving around an African-American family in Harlem, and an aged Clara's experience through the Civil Rights movement. David Berger composed, arranged, performed, and recorded expansions from Ellington and Strayhorn's suite to mesh with the modern ballet.

In 2001, another jazz version appeared on television, this one entitled The Swinging Nutcracker.

Another one, using the Ellington-Strayhorn jazz arrangement of the score, and entitled Nutcracker Sweeties, very recently (2006) appeared on cable television, and is available on DVD. It sets the ballet in the United States during the 1940s, and all of the dances, except for the last two, which he actually sees, are visualized by a World War II soldier on leave roaming the streets of New York in a rented car and listening to the jazz arrangement, which is being broadcast over the radio. The choreography is by David Bintley, and the work is performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

A variation of The Nutcracker is performed in the Broadway musical Thoroughly Modern Millie. During a scene in a speakeasy, "The Nuttycracker Suite" is played. It features jazz versions of the famous dances within The Nutcracker, especially the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Upcoming Film

A feature-length variation on the tale set in 1920's Vienna, Nutcracker: The Untold Story, featuring John Turturro as the Mouse King, Elle Fanning as Mary (rather than Clara) and Nathan Lane as a new character, Uncle Albert, is scheduled to be released during the holiday season of 2009. It is currently (2008) in post-production. The film is written and directed by Andrei Konchalovsky.


A humorous adaptation of "The Dance of the Reed Flutes" was used in a 1975 television commercial for "Cadbury's Fruit and Nut" chocolate bars by the Birmingham UK -based chocolate manufacturer Cadbury. The commercial was voiced by writer and television personality Frank Muir and first line of the ditty was "Everyone's a Fruit and Nut case".


Many recordings have been made since the early twentieth century of the Nutcracker Suite, but it was not until the LP album was developed that recordings of the complete ballet began to be made. Because the ballet's approximate hour and a half length, it fit very comfortably onto two LPs. Most CD recordings take up two discs, often with fillers due to the under ninety-minute length of the ballet. An unusual exception is the Valery Gergiev recording, which runs for 81 minutes, and thus fit onto one CD.

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 Dorati, who years later went on to record it complete twice more with other orchestras, on Mercury Records in 1962 and on Philips Records in 1975 respectively. These later recordings were both made in stereo. Some have hailed the 1975 recording, featuring the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, as the finest ever made of the complete ballet. 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 Rodzinski 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.)

In 1958, the first stereo LP of the complete ballet, with Ernest Ansermet conducting the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, appeared on Decca Records in the UK and London Records in the U.S.. And with the advent of the stereo era coinciding with the growing popularity of the complete ballet, many other complete recordings of it have been made over the last 30 years. Notable conductors who have done so include Maurice Abravanel, Andre Previn, Valery Gergiev, Mariss Jansons, Seiji Ozawa, Richard Bonynge, Semyon Bychkov and Gennadi Rozhdestvensky.

The soundtrack of the 1977 Baryshnikov television production, 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 album 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 first complete recording of the ballet in digital stereo was issued in 1985, on a 2-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.

The two major theatrical film versions of the ballet, Nutcracker: The Motion Picture, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, and George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, conducted by David Zinman, have each had soundtrack recordings as well.

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.

Conductors who have recorded only the Nutcracker Suite include such luminaries as Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, Leopold Stokowski, Mstislav Rostropovich, Herbert von Karajan, Sir Georg Solti, Sir Neville Marriner and James Levine, among many others.

Josh Perschbacher's 2007 organ arrangement and recording included only the Overture, Marche, Dance Sugar Plum Fairy, Russian Dance, Arabian Dance, Chinese Dance, Dance of the Mirlitons, and Waltz of the Flowers. This more closely resembles the selections in Walt Disney's Fantasia (see animated versions above)



External links

  • George Balanchine Foundation website
  • Nutcracker History
  • mp3 audio files of The Nutcracker created using the Garritan Personal Orchestra are located at:
  • mp3 streaming of The Nutcracker created using Notion Software are located at:
  • mp3 audio files of The Nutracker arranged and recorded for organ are located near the bottom of page:

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