Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Your Daily Dose of Christmas

There's little doubt that the work of classical music most closely and obviously associated with Christmas is Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker. I've long loved the music of this glorious score, and one of my fondest memories of my musical performing life -- now long over -- is our yearly Christmas concerts with the college symphony, at which we always played the Suite that Tchaikovksy edited down from the complete ballet. This is one of a relatively few pieces of music that is so strongly associated in my mind with a certain time and place that when I hear it, I am transported back to there and then. I close my eyes and envision Dr. Janice Wade, conducting away, and yelling at us at the very end of the "Waltz of the Flowers" when we would invariably try to ritardando in the last couple of bars, a ritardando that was not in the score. Oh well. You're not a real orchestral musician until you piss off your conductor.

(A ritardando is when the music slows down, either briefly or a gradual slowing to a new tempo. The last bars of the "Waltz of the Flowers" scream out instinctively for a ritard, and some conductors do indeed employ one on that basis -- the music seems to inherently call for it. Problem is, Tchaikovsky did not indicate one in the score, and just as many conductors, if not more, nowadays take the view that if the composer wants a given musical effect they will darned well write it, and if they didn't, then one is to ignore all the 'instinctive' stuff and just play the piece as written. Now, when I was a going concern as a musician, I tended to fall into the latter camp, with certain exceptions. A musical effect here and there that might not be written in the score is OK with me, but I had another conductor who would casually make wholesale cuts in pieces we were playing, a practice which infuriated me then and still bugs me now. Take liberties with the tempi, if you must, but damned well play all the notes the composer wrote!)

Here, then, are the composite parts of the Nutcracker suite. (These are not all taken from the same production of the ballet. It's a mix-and-match.) Incidentally, another reason I loved playing this piece is that it has a lot of neat stuff for the trumpets to do. Many musicians judge a work on the basis of how it treats their particular instrument, so the Nutcracker suite was A-OK in my book. But from my trumpet playing perspective, an all-Mozart program? Fuhgeddaboudit!

OK, enough of that. The music:

"Miniature Overture":


Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy:

Trepak (Russian Dance)

Arabian Dance:

Chinese Dance:

Dance of the Reed Flutes:

The Waltz of the Flowers:

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

One can also tick off choral directors by ritard-ing when they're ain't no ritard.