Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Waltz of the Flowers
Tchaikovsky’s iconic Waltz of the Flowers is a piece of orchestral music that features in the second act of his ever-loved festive ballet The Nutcracker. The ballet was premiered at Christmastime in 1892, and has since been one of the most popular ballets in the world. It is based on E. T. A Hoffmann’s 1816 fairy tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, which tells the story of a young girl who adventures into the ‘Land of Sweets’ on Christmas Eve.
The young girl, named Clara, is gifted a magical nutcracker in the costume of a soldier for Christmas. Clara comes to the aid of the nutcracker in his explosive battle with the army of mice. For her help she is rewarded with a prince who takes her into his kingdom of sweet and other scrummy delights. As a time honoured tradition each set of guests must dance for the prince, which no doubt comprises some of Tchaikovsky’s most evocative and colourful music.
The lightheartedness of this ballet comes across in Tchaikovsky’s playful music. He told his fellow musicians that “It’s awfully fun to write a march for tin soldiers, and a waltz for flowers!” During this time Tchaikovsky was experiencing some emotional turmoil after the death of his sister. Whilst at sea, Tchaikovsky penned much of the music for The Nutcracker, and often struggled for inspiration. He famously used his fear of mice to create the dynamic music for the army of mice and the battle. He used the love he had for his sister to create the iconic melodies from Waltz of the Flowers.
It’s not only Waltz of the Flowers that has become one of the most well-known works from The Nutcracker, but also Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and it’s iconic Overture have both reaped the successes of this well-loved ballet.
Waltz of the Flowers is the final dance of the ballet where all the Sugar Plum Fairy’s sweets celebrate Clara and the prince. However, the piece does not immediately start with a celebratory feel, and this is built up throughout the duration of the work to make the climaxes even more effective for the listener. Opening with a duo of oboes that play a flavour of the main melody to come, this sets the scene for magical harp cadenza. The mystical qualities that are often associated with the harp make it a top choice for a work like this. The glissandos played by the harp lead into its top register, before it all trickles back down into the first theme of the waltz.
Led by the french horns and clarinets, this first theme acts as a call and response section before the orchestra begin to unify. Underneath the melody are the strings, whose repetitive ‘oom-pah’ figures highlight the 3/4 waltz atmosphere. The whirling clarinet figure is then developed and creates the gateway for the strings to play out their iconic theme. The luscious deep texture here from the strings is complemented by the upper winds playing decorative interludes.
The horns repeat their opening theme but this time both a solo flute and clarinet play an intertwining melody. The main string theme is then presented again which leads into an oboe solo. The triangle plays an important part here as it not only keeps time, but also adds a mystical effect to the timbre of the music. The delicate taps of the glockenspiel and triangle keep the magical atmosphere going throughout sections of the work.
The cello section play their theme, however this only heard once in the whole piece, unlike all the other themes. The deep timbre of the cellos playing in complete unison makes the melody rich and intense, which further helps to propel the music into the next section of the waltz. The strings and winds come back together to repeat the opening motif of the dance. Again this is led primarily by the oboes, horns and clarinets.
The main string theme is played one final time before the final climax of the piece where the upper brass finally make their much-anticipated entry. The timpani roll leads into a brass fanfare based around the horn theme which is supported by tremolos from the strings. This soon dies off and the strings build the music back up, this time with more drive in the pace. The trumpets and trombones play an important part here as they signify the full development of the music and incidentally the dance.
The final climax sees the whole orchestra come together in a celebratory fashion to finish the work off in classic Tchaikovsky style. The excitement leading up to the end of the dance is infectious, with all instruments dancing along with the dancers. Tchaikovsky keeps the magic alive for the duration of this week – no wonder it has remained one of his most-loved works.