SleepB SB

Severance Hall
December 5 – Thursday at 7:30 p.m. 

December 6 – Friday at 11:00 a.m.* 
December 6 – Friday at 8:00 p.m. 
December 7 – Saturday at 8:00 p.m. 

Selections from Sleeping Beauty

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky  (1840-1893)
composed 1888-89; arranged into a suite by Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider

At a Glance
Tchaikovsky composed the ballet Spyáshchaya krasávitsa [“The Sleeping Beauty”] in 1888-89; it was first performed on January 15, 1890, at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater.

The selections from Sleeping Beauty presented at this weekend’s concerts were chosen by guest conductor Szeps-Znaider and run about 40 minutes in performance.  Tchaikovsky’s score calls for an orchestra of 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, english horn, 2 clarinets, 4 horns, 2 cornets, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (triangle, tambourine, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, tam-tam), glockenspiel, 2 harps, piano, and strings.

A variety of selections from Sleeping Beauty have been featured on Cleveland Orchestra concerts over the years.  The Waltz from Sleeping Beauty was most recently played at a Family Concert in February 2016, led by Brett Mitchell.  A suite of music was performed by Leonard Slatkin during the 1997 Blossom Festival, and Vladimir Ashkenazy twice conducted his own set of selections from the ballet score at Severance Hall subscription concerts in 2003 and again in 2006.

About the Music
Prince Charming and his Awakening Kiss have long achieved the status of myth in the Western World, where many generations were brought up on this enchanting story.  It was Charles Perrault who first put it to paper, published as “La Belle au bois dormant” in his Stories of Mother Goose of 1697.  The Brothers Grimm further popularized it as Dornröschen in the early 19th century.  Much more recently, Walt Disney (and others) have made or remade the story in animation, in the theater, and as a live-action film — while academics and whole new generations have analyzed and discussed the psychological, feminist, gender stereotypes, and archetypical implications of this enduring tale.

It was in 1888 that Marius Petipa, the French-born director of the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, decided to create a full-length ballet based on what in Russian was known as “Spyáshchaya krasávitsa.”  Under Petipa’s direction, St. Petersburg had become the second ballet capital of the world, after Paris.  In a sense, Russia even outdid Paris, due to the fact that the Imperial Theater was able to attract Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the country’s greatest living composer, who wrote two full-length scores for the company:  Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.  (Tchaikovsky’s first ballet, Swan Lake from 1877, was written for the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.)

The libretto or storyline for the Sleeping Beauty ballet was written — following the tellings of Perrault and the Grimms — by Ivan Vsevolozhsky, who was the director of the Imperial Theater and a longtime admirer of Tchaikovsky’s.  The ballet includes a prologue and three acts.  

Tchaikovsky worked closely with Petipa during the composition of the ballet, receiving (and mostly following) detailed instructions from the choreographer — as to the meter and style for each scene or dance, and often the number of measures for various dance components.   

Work on the score went rather swiftly.   Tchaikovsky recorded the progress he was making in his diary, and on the last page of his sketches, he noted:  “Finished the sketches 26 May 1889 in the evening at 8 o’clock. Praise God!  In all I worked 10 days in October, 3 weeks in January, and a week now!  And so in all about 40 days.”

It took the composer another ten weeks (from May 30 to August 16, 1889), to write out the full score from those sketches.  Rehearsals began on August 23 and, after four months of hard work in the dance studio, the premiere took place accompanied by a printed playbill dated January 3, 1890 (January 15 according to the Western calendar, not adopted in Russian until signed into law by Vladimir Lenin in early 1918).  

The Sleeping Beauty was billed as a ballet-féerie (“fairytale ballet”), and produced with lavish sets and luxurious costumes.  It was a great success, prompting the participants of this performance to collaborate again two years later, giving the world The Nutcracker.  Yet despite the universal popularity of that perennial Christmas favorite, it is Sleeping Beauty that the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians calls “the supreme example of 19th-century classical ballet.”  It was conceived very much as a Gesamtkunstwerk, to use the German word that Richard Wagner coined, meaning “total work of art,” for the synthesis of all the arts.  Certainly music, choreography, and scenery together form an indissoluble unity in Tchaikovsky’s ballet.  

All that said, in a concert performance such as this weekend’s selections of numbers from the score, as we concentrate on the music alone, we will still notice the dramatic nature of the score, sometimes enhanced by the choosing of numbers out of order but arranged for contrast, unity, and drama.  In addition to set dance pieces, there are a large number of “action” movements, in which the plot moves forward and is directly reflected by the music — adopting more complex symphonic forms and uses of harmony and orchestration to take the place of the missing words.   

—Peter Laki © 2019

Copyright © Musical Arts Association

Peter Laki is a musicologist and frequent lecturer on classical music.  He is a visiting associate professor at Bard College.

The Story

Sleeping Beauty

In the Prologue, the new-born Princess, whose name is Aurora, receives the blessings of six fairies and the curse of the seventh one — here called Carabosse — who wasn’t invited to the festivities.  Act I takes place on Aurora’s twentieth birthday, when she pricks her finger on a spindle handed to her by an old woman in disguise (Carabosse, of course).  The Lilac Fairy commutes what would otherwise be a death sentence to instead sleeping for a hundred years — and the entire kingdom goes to sleep along with the favorite daughter.  Act II, then, shows Prince Désiré’s journey to Aurora’s castle to awaken her, a hundred years later, and Act III the very elaborate wedding party.