Pyotr Tchaikovsky Scène from Swan Lake (Op.20, No.10)
Bridget Mermikides returns to the work of the Russian great, Tchaikovsky, to arrange and transcribe this famous theme from the equally famous ballet, Swan Lake.
This issue marks a return to the music of the phenomenal Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), whose Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy I arranged back in GT192. Tchaikovsky had an incredible talent for composing widely accessible, technically astonishing and perfectly judged evocative themes for orchestral works and the ballet. In fact, his ballet works have a life beyond their functional origins, and include among them the most loved and recognisable melodies in ‘classical’ music.
In this article, I’ve arranged the stunning theme Act 2 No.10 from the ballet Swan Lake composed from 1875-76. The ballet – adapted from Russian folk tales – enacts the story of Princess Odette (who takes the lead ballerina role) who has been transformed to a swan by a sorcerer, with a deeply tragic romantic conclusion. The opening of Act 2 depicts the other protagonist, Siegfried, hunting for swan in a moonlit forest clearing, and finding Odette – whose true identity as a beautiful young girl trapped in the vision of a swan is revealed to him. Tchaikovsky’s accompanying music (Act 2, No.10 Scéne – Lake in the Moonlight (Moderato), also known simply as Scène) is both romantic and dramatic, perfectly capturing a swan-like elegance, a dark sorcery and a deep love doomed to tragedy.
This theme is an evergreen favourite for classical music lovers and the general public, and is often played as an orchestral work in its own right. You have also doubtless heard it in numerous films and TV shows, such as the moving last scene of Billy Elliot (although the performance starts with Act II, for reasons of artistic licence!) As always, reducing an orchestral work down to six strings and two hands is a challenge, but Tchaikovsky’s melodic writing is so powerful that it translates very well.
I’ve transposed the original key of B Minor down a 5th to E Minor, to utilise the range and open strings of the guitar more idiomatically, and captured the orchestral gestures as best as possible with arpeggios (and from bar 48, the use of the tremolo technique) to mimic the tremolando used by the orchestral bowed strings.
As ever, take your time to get the various techniques under your fingers, referring to the tab captions for the trickier sections.
You’ll want to have a technical fluency when coming to perform this, as the piece requires a fluid and expressive control of tempo for it to sound its best.
I’ve transposed the original key of Bm down a 5th to Em to utilise the range and open strings of the guitar.
Tchaikovsky: one of the all-time great composers