To start my first blog on specific ballet music, I wanted to start with who I believe to be the most acclaimed, most well-known and (IMHO) the greatest ballet composer to ever have put quaver to staff. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Tchaikovsky was the epitome of a tortured genius. I can’t say that he was a terribly happy chappie all of the time, and he certainly struggled greatly with life & love. He was born in 1840 in Vyatka, Russia to a family who’s head of household was a civil servant. He had a massive attachment to his mother and was quite a sickly child. He attended a really brutal school, went into the civil service, like his father and started music theory lessons when he was 19.
His first recognisable piece of music is the fantasy from Romeo & Juliet, which he wrote in 1869 and continued writing until 1893, when he died at the age of 53.
He wrote 3 ballets, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, 11 operas, 8 symphonies, 12 concertos, 5 orchestral suites, a raft of chamber pieces, incidental pieces, solo piano works and choral pieces.
The ballet music that he wrote has stood the test of time and, without a doubt, when you ask a layman to sing/hum a piece of music from the ballet, the likelihood is that they’ll go for either the finale of Swan Lake, or the music from The Sugarplum Fairy from The Nutcracker.
I have 4 or 5 different versions of the music from Swan Lake on my iTunes. My favourite, without a doubt, is the 1976 recording of The London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the great André Previn with the phenomenal violinist Ida Haendel as the soloist. Sublime to the core and you can really feel the dancers movement in the orchestra’s playing. There is a reason why this recording is seen as one of the greatest performances of its type.