As you have come to know – we really love the Holiday Season. Maybe not as much as Buddy does, but we’re pretty close. Who else would create a reader inspired, custom map of The Best Christmas Light Displays in Fresno / Clovis 2023? Have you added your favorite house displays to the map yet?
Speaking of which, as you tour some of these fabulous neighborhoods and the incredible displays some people have come up with you’ll have seen more than a few Nutcrackers. When we say Nutcracker, there’s the physical item and then there’s the Ballet. We’re going to look at both.
Nestled within the forested hills of Seiffen, near the border of Germany and Czechia, stands a modest single-story building. It was within these walls, during the early 1870s, that Wilhelm Füchtner, crafted the inaugural nutcracker—an act that laid the cornerstone for a beloved global Christmas symbol.
Cool FACT: They still do today! The very same family.
Seiffen was a mining town and the Füchtners were not miners, they were carpenters. During the summer they built wooden homes for the miners, but during the cold winters they resorted to building small toys.
Here’s where it gets weird. The Füchtner nutcrackers, all decked out in their army gear and looking like they ain’t got time for smiles, come straight outta the rough-and-tumble world of the Industrial Revolution. At the time, the rich folks were living it up while everyone else was stuck slaving away in terrible conditions. It was a hard life and there was considerable tension between the workers and the ruling class.
Nutcrackers depicting authority figures began appearing in the mid-19th century, during the German Industrial Revolution, as a way to make fun of the ruling class and upend the system by having them “work” for the lower class, cracking nuts. Nutcrackers were a protest sign!
The Nutcracker Ballet
If you don’t know we’re not going to spoil the story but we’ll say it’s a story of a little girl, a toy that comes to life, a Mouse King, a Sugar Plum Fairy, and your typical Disney style storyline of danger and suspense, finishing with a “happily ever after”. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is one of those melodic ear worms we all know. Tchaikovsky’s score has become one of his most famous compositions. Something we could all be happy about, right?
But the original story is much deeper and darker. In the original, not only is little girl wracked with fear for most of the story, but she’s also uber frustrated that her parents refuse to believe anything she says. So much so that at the very end, she opts to live out the rest of her days ruling over the land of sweets with her nutcracker-turned-human. Parent tip: Listen to your kids.
You know the music
Even if you’ve never been to see the Nutcracker Ballet, you already know the music. Many of the numbers Tchaikovsky wrote for it have been used in modern day things – like in the movie Home Alone.
Did you know that according to his brother, Modeste Tchaikovsky, “the subject of The Nutcracker did not much please him.” He complained in a letter about “the prospect of urgent, wearisome work” and the “agonizing effort” it took to do it, characterizing his output so far as “colorless, dry, hasty, and wretched.”
Once it was written, about nine months before the ballet was scheduled to premiere—Tchaikovsky conducted a concert in St. Petersburg for the Russian Musical Society where he debuted eight pieces of Nutcracker music, including a truncated overture, “March” (of the toy soldiers), “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” “Russian Dance,” “Arabian Dance,” “Chinese Dance,” “Dance of the Reed Flutes,” and “Waltz of the Flowers.” The audience was so enamored with this selection, now known as The Nutcracker Suite, that they demanded encores of somewhere between five and all eight of the numbers, depending on your source. Winning!
In mid-December 1892, The Nutcracker premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg to varied reviews. Some hated it, some loved it. Most everyone thought that there were way too many children in the show and the battle scene was utterly incoherent. Described it as “disorderly pushing about from corner to corner and running backwards and forwards—quite senseless and amateurish.” In fact, a number of the toy soldiers weren’t dancers at all, but students from a military academy.
For the Sugar Plum Fairy’s solo, the Chhoreographer wanted Tchaikovsky to evoke “drops of water shooting out of fountains.” Tchaikovsky managed to create that enchanting effect using the celesta, a percussion instrument resembling an upright piano. This instrument, patented in 1886 by Parisian craftsman Auguste Mustel, remained relatively obscure during that period. Concerned that another composer might steal the spotlight by using it before him, Tchaikovsky went to great lengths to keep the celesta under wraps before The Nutcracker made its grand debut.
You’ve heard the Celesta before.
Once again, we’re going to surprise you with something you already know. Do you like Harry Potter? That’s the celesta!
Or maybe you are a classic rock lover. You like the Rolling Stones but now all you can hear is the distinctive sound of that celesta!
The Nutcracker comes to the USA
In December 1944, the San Francisco Ballet presented the inaugural U.S. performance of The Nutcracker, marking its debut in the country. However, when it comes to truly elevating The Nutcracker’s prominence across the United States, credit predominantly falls upon George Balanchine. As the co-founder and artistic director of the New York City Ballet, Balanchine played a pivotal role in solidifying The Nutcracker’s place on the American cultural landscape.
Balanchine, a Russian expat who himself had danced roles in the Mariinsky Theatre’s Nutcracker, debuted his version of the ballet in 1954, and it quickly became a holiday family favorite. The choreography and staging was so influential across the country that it’s still performed by ballet companies across the country today!
Since the late 1960s, The Nutcracker has been danced by countless ballet companies, especially in North America. Major American ballet companies generate around 40% of their annual ticket revenues from performances of The Nutcracker.