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Learn about the piece:

Swan Lake Suite, op. 20a

Composed by

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky



2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion, harp, strings

I. Scène
II. Valse
III. Danse des cygnes
IV. Scène
V. Czardas: Danse hongroise
VI. Scène

Composed 1876. First performance 4 March 1877, Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow.

As a ballet, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, like Cantus Arcticus, is meant to conjure the graceful movements of birds. The story, though, delves into the depths of human nature, with the lovers, Prince Siegfried and the Swan Queen Odette, deceived by the evil Von Rothbart and his daughter Odile. The ending is quite grim, in fact, with just about everyone drowning in a lake of tears. This suite, however, is a little lighter in tone as it collects favorite moments from across the ballet—the iconic melody of the opening scene; the grand waltz; and the fluttering, prancing “Dance of the Swans.” The Hungarian czardas, originally one of several “national” dances that accompanied the eligible princesses paraded before Siegried, here provides a welcome contrast. This dance, along with supposedly Spanish, Neapolitan, and Polish dances, was typical of the exoticism that pervaded nineteenth century ballet and opera, which Stravinsky would later transform in his Nightingale. The appeal of Tchaikovsky’s colorful orchestration and carefully turned melodies has helped ensure that this particular bit of bird lore has remained among the well-known fairy tales.

- Katherine Baber

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