Monday, February 27, 2012

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake (1876)

Peter Tchaikovsky remains Russia’s greatest composer. He was born on May 7, 1840 and died on November 6, 1893 at the age of 53.

Music written by Tchaikovsky was first played at a public concert in September 1865. Ten years later he started to write music for a ballet called Swan Lake.

The ballet is about a very good princess named Odette. She is under the spell of a very bad wizard. During the day she looks just like a swan. Only at night does she become a human being again.

This very bad spell, however, can be broken. If a man promises to love her forever, and keeps that promise, then she will stop changing into a swan. If he breaks his promise, however, she will stay a swan forever.

One day a prince named Siegfried is in the forest. He sees Odette change from a swan into a person. She is very beautiful. The two dance all night together. By morning they are madly in love. Siegfried promises to love her forever and invites her to a very big dance at the castle. At this dance he will choose a woman to marry. He wants to choose her.

At the very big dance, the bad wizard tricks Siegfried into thinking that a different woman is Odette. Thinking this other woman is Odette, Siegfried chooses her to love forever and to marry.

The broken promise to Odette means that she must stay a swan forever. Siegfried finds her in the forest and asks her to forgive him. She does. The two decide they cannot live without each other. Together they drown themselves in a lake. This sacrifice of love breaks the very bad wizard’s spell. Lots of swans become human again. Odette and Siegfried love each other forever in Heaven.

Tchaikovsky finished writing the music for Swan Lake in 1876. The ballet was first performed at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow on February 20, 1877.

All who wrote about the first performance thought it was very bad. They had nothing good to say about the music, orchestra, dancers, or sets. Happily, Swan Lake continued to be performed in Moscow and other European capitals by important dancers. Today, 140 years after those initial bad reviews, Swan Lake continues to be performed around the world.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.