The Nutcracker (suite)

Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky compiled his Suite from the ballet "The Nutcracker" (Сюита из бадета «Щелкунчик»), Op. 71a (TH 35 ; ČW 32), popularly known as The Nutcracker Suite, in January and February 1892. It was the only one of his three ballet suites to have been compiled an published during the composer's lifetime.


The Suite is scored for an orchestra consisting of 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets (in A, B-flat), bass clarinet (in B-flat), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in A), 3 trombones, tuba + 3 timpani, tambourine, triangle, cymbals, glockenspiel + celesta (or piano) + harp, violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.

Movements and Duration

The Suite consists of eight numbers, grouped in three movements:

  1. Ouverture miniature. Allegro giusto (B-flat major, 182 bars).
    Corresponding to the Overture from the ballet.
  2. Danses caractéristiques:
    1. Marche. Tempo di marcia viva (G major, 88 bars).
      March (Act I, No. 2) from the ballet.
    2. Danse de la Fée Dragée. Andante non troppo (E minor, 52 bars).
      Variation 2 from the Pas de deux (Act II, No. 14) in the ballet, omitting the coda, usually known in English as Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy.
    3. Danse russe. Trépak. Tempo di trépak, molto vivace (G major, 84 bars).
      Russian Dance (Trepak) in the ballet (Act II, No. 12d).
    4. Danse arabe. Allegro (G minor, 102 bars).
      Coffee (Arab Dance) in the ballet (Act II, No. 12b).
    5. Danse chinoise. Allegro moderato (B-flat major, 32 bars).
      Tea (Chinese Dance) in the ballet (Act II, No. 12c).
    6. Danse des mirlitons. Allegro (D major, 77 bars).
      Dance of the Reed-Flutes in the ballet (Act II, No. 12e).
  3. Valse des fleurs. Tempo di valse (D major, 353 bars).
    Waltz of the Flowers in the ballet (Act II, No. 13).

A complete performance of the Suite last around 20 to 25 minutes.


The Suite from the ballet The Nutcracker was compiled as a substitute for the symphonic ballad The Voyevoda on the programme of a Russian Musical Society concert in Saint Petersburg scheduled for 29 February/12 March 1892, at which Tchaikovsky was due to conduct his own works. Having destroyed the score of the ballad The Voyevoda following its premiere in November 1891, Tchaikovsky suggested replacing a suite of numbers from his new ballet The Nutcracker, which he was preparing to orchestrate [1].

Among the surviving rough sketches of the ballet, and also among notes on the manuscripts and other documents, are a number of variants of titles of the Suite. Originally Tchaikovsky intended to call it 'Suite from the ballet "The Fir Tree" (Сюита из балета «Елка») [2], or Suite from the ballet "The Christmas Tree" (Сюита из балета «Рождественская елка») [3], suggesting that the title of the ballet had not yet been settled upon [4].

The earliest lists of numbers for the Suite also contained Chocolate (Spanish Dance) and Final Waltz. The second movement — Danses caractéristiques — was to be called In the Kingdom of Sweets and Toys (В царстве лакомств и игруншек). The Danse des mirlitons was originally Reed Pipes (Свирелки), and the Danse de la Fée Dragée was to have been The Sweet Fairy (Фея конфект).

Tchaikovsky had begun orchestrating the numbers in the Suite by 28 January/9 February 1892 [5]. By 31 January/12 February 1892 the first number of the Suite was ready [6]. According to the author's note on the manuscript score, the orchestration was completed on 8/20 February, at Maydanovo.


The Suite was performed a week later than intended, at the ninth symphony concert of the Saint Petersburg branch of the Russian Musical Society on 7/19 March 1892, with Tchaikovsky conducting. The Suite quickly became a popular favourite, and other notable early performances included:

  • Moscow, 1st Electrical Exhibition concert, 4/16 July 1892, conducted by Vojtěch Hlaváč
  • Chicago, Auditorium, 10/22 October 1892, conducted by Theodore Thomas
  • Brussels, 2/14 January 1893, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Odessa, 1st RMS symphony concert, 16/28 January 1893, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Odessa, Rishelyevskaya School charity concert, 21 January 1893/2 February, conducted by Tchaikovsky (2 unspecified movements only)
  • Odessa, 3rd RMS symphony concert, 24 January/5 February 1893, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Moscow, special RMS symphony concert, 14/28 February 1893, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Moscow, 1st Imperial Theatres symphony concert, 7/19 March 1893, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Amsterdam, Concertgebouw, matinee concert, 4/16 April 1893, conducted by Willem Kes
  • London, Queen's Hall, 5/17 October 1896, conducted by Henry Wood.


On 9/21 March the composer wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson: "The suite from the ballet was successful. I don't think it would hurt to print it" [7]. The full score of the suite was issued by Jurgenson in May 1892, and the orchestral parts the following month.

The score of the Suite was not published separately from the ballet in Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works.


At the request of the Russian Musical Society, Tchaikovsky donated the manuscript full score of the Suite to the library of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, and it carries the inscriptions: "To the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, as a souvenir of the concert on 7 March 1892. P. Tchaikovsky" [8].

For many years the full score was believed to have been lost, until it was discovered by chance by the conductor Yevgeny Zablotsky among some unrelated papers in 1946. It is now preserved in the Klin House-Museum Archive (a1, No. 46), and consists of pages extracted from the full score of the ballet.


See: Discography

Related Works

See The Nutcracker.

External Links

Notes and References

  1. See Letter 4604 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 25 January/6 February 1892.
  2. See the sketchbook for the ballet — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  3. See the title page of the manuscript full score of the Suite.
  4. See Letter 4634 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 6/18 March 1892.
  5. See Letter 4606 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 28 January/9 February 1892.
  6. See Letter 4610 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 31 January/12 February 1892.
  7. See Letter 4641 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 9/21 March 1892.
  8. See also Letter 4643 to Pyotr Jurgenson. 14/26 March 1892.