Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: March of the Toy Soldiers
Tchaikovsky’s iconic March of the Toy Soldiers is a piece of orchestral music that features in the first act of his ever-loved festive ballet The Nutcracker. The ballet 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 fairytale 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.
March of the Toy Soldiers is the second piece heard in the first act of The Nutcracker. As the title suggests, the march depicts the dance of the toy soldiers, who dance around Clara’s room. Opening with a quaint trumpet fanfare, the strings answer with a bouncy quaver theme. The rest of the brass join the trumpets for the fanfare theme later on to boost the texture and the impact. Although militaristic in some respects, March of the Toy Soldiers is light and playful in character.
The main two themes then form to create a fast and vivacious third theme, which is led by the flutes. Now fully-realised, the opening theme is heard again with the full force of the orchestra now playing. The strings play a swirling figure underneath the fanfare now, which creates excitement and an air of magic to the music. March of the Toy Soldiers comes to its epic end after reprising the theme one last time before a cymbal crash finishes the piece.
Ⓒ Alex Burns