Outreach & EducationThe Nutcracker

It is Christmas Eve as we see the eccentric Herr Drosselmeyer putting the finishing touches on a special toy, a nutcracker doll in the form of a soldier, for his goddaughter, Clara. He arrives at her house and she is absolutely delighted with the gift, but unsure of his mysterious behavior. Clara falls asleep with her beloved nutcracker doll, but is frightened by the sounds of mice scurrying about. The figure of Drosselmeyer appears as if his magical powers were the controlling force of the fantasy to come. An enormous Mouse King appears and her nutcracker doll has become a soldier, battling the Mouse King.

Just at the point when all might be lost, good triumphs over evil. Clara saves the day by throwing her slipper at the Mouse, felling him in one blow and winning the battle. For this act of such devotion, Clara’s nutcracker is transformed into a handsome prince. He invites her to accompany him through a magical snow-covered forest to the Kingdom of Sweets.


Angels guide the couple on their way to the Kingdom of Sweets. Upon their arrival at the court, they are greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Clara and the Nutcracker Prince tell of their adventure and the battle with the Mouse King. In honor of Clara’s bravery, a grand divertissement of majestic entertainment is ordered. Dances from far-away countries will be performed: a chocolate dance from Spain, a coffee dance from Arabia, a tea dance from China, a traditional Russian dance, a dance of three sugar sticks played as flutes, Mother Ginger with her candy canes , a beautiful waltz of flowers, and a grand pas de deux with the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

As the whole court joins in a final waltz, the court begins to fade, despite Clara’s desire that they remain with her. Had this been a little girl’s fantasy or some magical reality created by the amazing Herr Drosselmeyer?

Cast of Characters in order of appearance:

Herr Drosselmeyer
Mouse King
Nutcracker Prince
Dance of the Snowflakes

Sugar Plum Fairy
Spanish Dance
Arabian Dance
Chinese Dance
Russian Dance
Dance of the Flutes
Mother Ginger
Candy Canes
Waltz of the Flowers
Grand Pas De Deux of Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier

About the Composer

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk, Russia, in 1840, the second son of Il’ya and Aleksandra Tchaikovsky. By the age of six, he could read not only Russian, but also French and German. After hearing a piece by Mozart played on a music box, he asked his parents for piano lessons. The piano upset his nerves, though. The music going through his mind kept him awake at night.

When Tchaikovsky was ten, his mother took him to St. Petersburg, to a school that would prepare him to study law. He was very attached to his mother and had a hard time saying good-bye to her. Tchaikovsky’s classmates described him as a good student who was well liked,though a bit absentminded. In 1854, Tchaikovsky’s mother died.

Tchaikovsky began writing music while in school. One of his first pieces is called "Anastasya Waltz" and was named after a favorite governess from his childhood. While attending law school, Tchaikovsky also took singing and piano lessons. It is surprising that his music teachers did not recognize his talent.

Tchaikovsky graduated from law school in 1859 and got a job with the government. He was evidently a good worker but had much more fun after work going to the opera, ballet, and theater. In 1860, the Russian Musical Society started offering music classes to the public, and Tchaikovsky was one of their first students. He kept working for a while, but in 1862, when he was denied a promotion, he quit his job and enrolled as a full-time student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. There he studied music theory, composition, flute, piano, and organ. When he graduated in 1865, he had learned everything he needed to be a good composer. Soon after his graduation from music school, he moved to Moscow to teach music theory at the Moscow Conservatory. This teaching position allowed Tchaikovsky to earn a living while he continued to compose music.

Money may have been one of the reasons why he married his friend Antonina Milyukova in 1877. He needed money, and she was going to receive an inheritance. Some people also say that Antonina threatened to kill herself if Tchaikovsky didn’t marry her. After only nine weeks of marriage, though, it was Tchaikovsky who tried to kill himself by diving into an icy river. He and Antonia never lived together again, although they never officially go a divorce.

As it turned out, Tchaikovsky didn’t need Antonina’s money. A very rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck, loved Tchaikovsky’s music and decided to send him a regular allowance. One condition for the allowance was that Tchaikovsky and von Meck would never meet each other. Instead, they wrote letters back and forth for fourteen years. They accidentally saw each other a few times but always turned and went the other way. For some reason, in 1890, they ended this relationship.

Tchaikovsky died in October of 1893. Some people believe he died from cholera after drinking unclean water. Others believe he poisoned himself because he thought he was going to be blackmailed. It is likely that no one will ever know for sure. The Nutcracker is one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous works. This ballet is performed thousands of times every winter holiday season. The engaging tunes from The Nutcracker have probably gotten more people interested in classical music and ballet than any other work.

Facts About Tchaikovsky

  • Tchaikovsky wrote his first ballet, Swan Lake, in 1875.
  • In 1891, Tchaikovsky conducted for the opening night of the concert season at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
  • Tchaikovsky is well known for his symphonic music, which includes six symphonies, the 1812 Overture, and the overture to Romeo and Juliet.