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Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Il’yich - The Sleeping Beauty: Suite, Op. 66a

The Sleeping Beauty: Suite, Op. 66a
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
b. Kamsko-Votkinsk, Russia / May 7, 1840; d. St. Petersburg, Russia / November 6, 1893

Tchaikovsky’s highly developed gifts in rhythm, drama and colorful orchestration made him a natural ballet composer. Swan Lake (1877), The Sleeping Beauty (1890) and The Nutcracker (1892) occupy the summit of nineteenth-century theatrical dance music. Although The Sleeping Beauty is performed in its entirety less often than the other two, many authorities, including fellow Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who was also a master of ballet music, feel it is the finest of the three in purely musical terms.

It was commissioned by Ivan Vsevolozhsky, director of the Imperial Theatres in St. Petersburg. He selected the scenario, about a princess awakened from a magic spell by the first kiss of true love, from French author Charles Perrault’s well known seventeenth--century books of fairy tales. “I want to stage it in the style of Louis XIV, allowing the musical fantasy to run high and melodies to be written in the spirit of Lully, Bach, Rameau and such-like,” he wrote to Tchaikovsky.

With renowned choreographer Marius Petipa’s precisely detailed requirements in hand, Tchaikovsky set joyfully to work. The première at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on January 15, 1890, was met with an indifferent reaction by public and press (mirroring that of Tsar Alexander III, who damned it with faint praise after attending a rehearsal). Everyone found the music too cool and sophisticated, too “French,” for their taste. Naturally the ultra-sensitive Tchaikovsky was crushed. The tide of opinion shifted quickly, and within a year The Sleeping Beauty had become extremely popular. Impresario Sergei Diaghilev’s ultra-sumptuous 1921 London production proved a financial disaster, but it laid the cornerstone of the ballet’s lofty and enduring reputation in the west.

The concert suite from the ballet opens with the Introduction, portraying first the evil fairy Carabosse, then Princess Aurora’s virtuous guardian, the Lilac Fairy. In the regal Adagio: Pas d’action, a group of princes present themselves as suitors for the hand of Princess Aurora. Pas de caractère (Puss in Boots and the White Cat) profiles two whimsical fairy tale characters. The gracious Panorama shows the Lilac Fairy leading Aurora’s true love, Prince Désiré, through the forest to where Aurora lies in the enchanted sleep in which Carabosse placed her. The familiar Waltz is danced by the Princesses’ courtiers in celebration of her birthday.

Program Notes by Don Anderson © 2018

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