TCHAIKOVSKY Dance Of The Reed Pipes
This month Bridget Mermikides tackles one of the most famous pieces by perhaps the greatest of all Russian composers, the incomparable Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky.
Even if the name’s not familiar you’ll definitely recognise the theme to TV’s The Apprentice. Bridget arranges and transcribes it here.
Pyotr tchaikovsky’s tort ured life feels somewhat at odd s with the almost child-like innocence in his wor ks
Tchaikovsky had an extraordinary knack of writing pieces that were at once completely accessible, theatrically apt and technically brilliant. This skill explains his enduring international appeal to concert, opera and ballet audiences, and musicians alike. Despite being plagued by personal issues, critical reception, self-doubt and depression throughout his life (which may well have contributed to his suicide aged 53), he was remarkably prolific producing music for 11 operas, three ballets and six symphonies among a large body of works for a wide variety of instrumentation. Many of his works are immediately recognisable internationally and are so perfectly crafted to a particular mood or scene that they are used extensively in TV, film and other media. Tchaikovsky’s apparently tortured life feels somewhat at odds with the almost child-like magical innocence in his works. This child-like wonder is no more evident than in his The Nutcracker ballet (1892) – with much of the music adapted to an orchestral work Nutcracker Suite Op.71a. Despite mixed reviews at its premiere, The Nutcracker is now a hugely popular ballet and concert work.
The ballet tells the tale of a Christmas gift to a child (the protagonist, Clara) of a wooden nutcracker which comes to life and transports her to a magical kingdom, the Land of Sweets. Here she is greeted by a procession of treats from around the world. Among these magical scenes including chocolate, coffee, tea and candy canes is marzipan which includes a Danse des Mirlitons where the flutes of the orchestra are featured. Incidentally, a Mirliton is a kazoo-like instrument – but also a French pastry resembling its shape. The English translation of Dance Of The Reed Pipes loses this clever double meaning, and is confusing given there are no reed pipes, either on stage or in the music.
As ever, translating this large orchestration down to solo guitar is a technical challenge and involves some judicious omissions, but I’ve maintained the original key of D major with drop D tuning and the power of its brilliant melodic and harmonic writing. Furthermore, key features such as the jaunty bassline figure (bars 1-2), melody harmonising in 6ths (bar 3) and arpeggiated gestures (bar 4) are very idiomatic. Still there are technical challenges involving stamina, coordinating the melody and accompaniment; plus there are some tricky position shifts to negotiate. The tab captions will guide you through these various challenges so be patient and you will be rewarded with a really beautiful and muchloved melody in your repertoire.
NEXT MONTH Bridget arranges Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Rachmaninov
Pyotr Tchaikovsky, one of the all-time great composers