The Sleeping BeautyWaltz was the first collaboration of Marius Petipa and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Although Tchaikovsky’s first ballet Swan Lake had not been the success he had hoped for, it did not end his composition of ballets. In 1886, during rehearsals for his opera The Enchantress, he was commissioned by the Director of the Imperial Theatres, Ivan Vsevolozhsky about a possible ballet adaptation of the story Undine. Despite the failure of Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky did not hesitate to accept the commission. However, by 1888, the idea of composing Undine was abandoned and Vsevolozhsky was more in favour of a ballet with a French subject. Eventually, he set his sights on the Charles Perrault fairy tale La Belle au bois dormant (Sleeping Beauty) as the story for which Tchaikovsky would compose the music, an idea with which Tchaikovsky was fully on board.
The fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty is one of the most classic of stories that has been widely known for centuries. The earliest known version is found in the prose romance Perceforest, which was written between 1330 and 1344, though it also appears in the myth of the Norse goddess Brunhilde. The story was first written as a fairy tale entitled Sun, Moon and Talia by the Italian writer Giambattista Basile and was published in 1634 in his collection Il Pentamerone. Basile’s variant was later retold and published by Charles Perrault in 1697 under the title Sleeping Beauty and it was again retold by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 under the title Little Briar Rose.
The fairy tale was first adapted into a ballet by Ferdinand Hérold and Jean-Louis Aumer and was staged at the Paris Opéra on the 27th April 1829, with Lisa Noblet as the Princess Iseult and Marie Taglioni appearing in one scene as a naiad. Aumer and Hérold’s Sleeping Beauty was later staged in London on the 13th February 1833 at Drury Lane, with Pauline Duvernay as the Princess.
(When I woke up this morning, I did not know any of this!)
Song number 36 from the Big Book of Classical Music is an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony “Pathetique.” Fun Fact: It is another song written right before the composer left this mortal coil.
According to Britannica.com, Pathétique Symphony, or Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74, the final composition by Peter Tchaikovsky. Called the “Passionate Symphony” by the composer, it was mistranslated into French after his death, earning the title by which it became henceforth known, Pathétique (meaning “evoking pity”). The symphony premiered on October 28, 1893, according to the modern calendar, though at the time Russia still used the old form, by which the date was October 16. It was the composer’s last work; nine days later, he was dead, and observers have long debated whether the often gloomy nature of the work reflected Tchaikovsky’s own emotional state at the time.
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 is forever associated with the tragedy of his sudden death. In the last year of his life, 1893, the composer began work on a new symphony. Sketches dated from as early as February, but progress was slow. Concert tours to France and England and the awarding of a doctorate of music from Cambridge cut into the time available for composition. Thus, though Tchaikovsky could compose quickly when the muse was with him, it was not until the end of August that he was able to complete the new work. Its premiere, with the composer himself on the podium, was given in St. Petersburg two months later, on October 28.
Nine days later, on November 6, the composer was dead. His family blamed cholera, but physician’s statements were contradictory and friends were skeptical. Cholera, they insisted, was a disease of the poor, almost unheard of amongst the upper classes. Surely Tchaikovsky would have known how to prevent exposure. In addition, as the composer’s friend and colleague Rimsky-Korsakov commented in his own memoirs, the highly-contagious nature of cholera would have precluded the open-casket ceremony that actually occurred. Why, Rimsky asks, were mourners allowed to kiss the departed goodbye? On that question, Tchaikovsky’s family remained determinedly silent.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath and imagine yourself in a cozy house on a cliff overlooking the Sea. As the sun starts to set, you sit down at the piano and begin to play. Birds start to show up and soon they are singing along.