Tchaikovsky’s Ballets

By Roland John Wiley

Exploring the original Russian productions of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker

Tchaikovsky’s Ballets combines a detailed and thorough analysis of the music of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and Nutcracker with descriptions of the first productions of these works in Imperial Russia. A background chapter on the ballet audience, the collaboration of composer and balletmaster, and Moscow of the 1860’s leads into an account of the first production of Swan Lake in 1877. A discussion of theater reforms initiated by the Director of the Imperial Theaters prepares the reader for a study of the still-famous 1890 St. Petersburg production of Sleeping Beauty. Wiley then explains how the Nutcracker, produced just two years after Sleeping Beauty, was seen in a much less favorable light than it is now. Separate chapters are devoted to the music of each ballet and translations of published libretti, choreographer’s instructions to the composer, and the balletmaster’s plans for Sleeping Beauty and the Nutcracker are reproduced in appendices.

“Wiley has dug deep into the Russian archives, scrutinizing not only books and contemporary newspapers, but every manuscript source he could uncover….Yet Wiley has not given us a dull, austere treatise; there is plenty of humanity and local color in his descriptions of the ballet audience in nineteenth-century Russia…we should be grateful that he has brought us that much closer to an understanding of these three extraordinary highlights of our dance heritage.”  – Dance Research Journal

“An authoritative, important, useful book on dance, based on primary source materials, meticulously researched, and intelligently presented….Tchaikovsky’s Ballets inevitably forces us to reassess our views…and Tchaikovsky must be recognized as the virtual creator of modern ballet.” – New Criterion

Oxford University Press, 1985, republished 1997. Hardcover and paperback available, 442 pages.