I've somehow avoided this one
in the pastperhaps because the tale is so well known.
I am certain you are all familiar
with the story: how E.T.A. Hoffman set about to write a charming
little Christmas fairy tale for children back in 1816, and how
in 1891 Tchaikovsky was so moved by this wonderful story that
he turned it into a ballet, and how that ballet remained one
of his favorites and has been a staple of the Christmas season
I am certain we all know that
Well, it's all wrong...
First of all, E.T.A. Hoffman
(the "A" stands for "Amadeus" by the way,
his original name was Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmanhe changed
the "Wilhelm" to "Amadeus" in honor of Mozart)
was not exactly writing the feel good children's story of the
year. His original tale, "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King",
was dark and full of betrayal, violence, death and bad things
in general. The happy ending (the original tale was NOT a dream)
seems almost to have been tacked on at the behest of a nervous
It was actually not until 1845 that the version we all know and
love came into being, when Alexandre Dumas, author of "The
Three Musketeers" and so many other classics, wrote a revised
version, which he originally called "The Story of a Hazelnut-Cracker".
This version was decidedly more child friendly, and it is this
that was adapted in 1891.
Oh, but Tchaikovsky wanted
nothing to do with it! He had to be dragged to the task, and
only reluctantly agreed to write the thing if they would also
allow him to write and be paid for a one act opera he was far
more eager to be working on. As it was, he would always claim
to have never really liked "Nutcracker", though of
course it has, irony of ironies, become his most famous composition
The Nutcracker Ballet did not
even become an instant Christmas classic! The Russian critics
panned it at the time, although an abbreviated "Nutcracker
Suite" did soon enjoy wide popularity. The actual ballet
was not even performed outside of Russia until 1934, and was
not performed in the United States until 1944.
And it was still ten more years
until, in 1954, George Balanchine produced the New York City
Ballet version that, especially when televised a few years later,
took the country by a storm, so that of course you cannot now
even pretend to muddle through Christmas without stumbling on
several different versions of this immortal classic...
And while this is one of Mom's
favorite Christmas traditions, I have another reason for warming
to the topic this year. Hoffman's protagonist was a young girl
Dumas wisely changed her name
to the one we all know:
Merry Christmas to All!