Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840–93)
The Nutcracker, Op. 71 (1891–92)
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840–93) used dramatic vocalization in the form of an offstage wordless chorus to signify the supernatural in the “Waltz of the Snowflakes,” the act 1 finale from his ballet The Nutcracker (1892).
Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker, act 1 finale, mm. 117–32
A footnote in the score at the beginning of the Waltz states the following, “Choeur invisible de 24 voix de femmes ou d’enfants sur la scène.” [“Invisible chorus of 24 women or children on the stage.”]1 Not only does Tchaikovsky specify that the chorus is to be on the stage (presumably behind a curtain), but he also takes the trouble to mention that it should be “invisible.” This direction adds a level of mysticism to these disembodied voices, making them highly dramatic.
Tchaikovsky divided act 1 of his ballet into two separate sections. The first takes place in the large, well-furnished parlor of Town Council President Silberhaus’s and Frau Silberhaus’s residence. Following the battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King at the end of the first section, a great forest deep in snow and ice materializes as the Silberhaus parlor disappears. This magical transformation leads from the world of reality to that of fantasy. The lyrical, G-major, diatonic chorus provides the audience with a supernatural signifier, allowing for such a change of dramatic location.
(Nauman 2009, 193–94)
|Act 1 finale, “Waltz of the Snowflakes” (excerpt)|
|Act 1 finale, “Waltz of the Snowflakes”|
American Ballet Theatre
National Philharmonic Orchestra
Kenneth Schermerhorn, conductor
Originally produced for broadcast in the US by CBS on December 16, 1977
1 Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker, in Works, vol. 13, pt. a (Moscow: Gos. muzykalnoe izd-vo, 1955), 246.