The Nutcracker Suite for Children
Narrated by Milton Cross
Lucy Brown and Norma Dolin, Pianists
Musicraft Album 74
Total Time: 17:45
The Nutcracker, is a two-act ballet, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The libretto is adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”. It was given its première at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on Sunday, December 18, 1892, on a double-bill with Tchaikovsky’s opera, Iolanta.
Although the original production was not a success, the twenty-minute suite that Tchaikovsky extracted from the ballet was. However, the complete Nutcracker has enjoyed enormous popularity since the late 1960’s and is now performed by countless ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season, especially in the U.S. Tchaikovsky’s score has become one of his most famous compositions, in particular the pieces featured in the suite. Among other things, the score is noted for its use of the celesta, an instrument that the composer had already employed in his much lesser known symphonic ballad The Voyevoda.
Many recordings have been made since 1909 of the Nutcracker Suite, which made its initial appearance on disc that year in what is now historically considered the first record album. But it was not until the LP album was developed that recordings of the complete ballet began to be made. Because of the ballet’s approximate hour and a half length when performed without intermission, applause, or interpolated numbers, it fitted very comfortably onto two LPs. Most CD recordings take up two discs, often with fillers. An exception is the 81-minute 1998 Valery Gergiev recording on the Philips Classics label that fitted onto one CD because of Gergiev’s somewhat faster tempos.
There have been several recorded children’s adaptations of the E.T.A. Hoffmann story – the basis for the ballet – using the Tchaikovsky music, some quite faithful, some not. One that was not was a version entitled The Nutcracker Suite for Children, narrated by Metropolitan Opera announcer Milton Cross, which used a two-piano arrangement of the music. It was released as a 78-RPM album set in the 1940s. A later version, entitled The Nutcracker Suite, starred Denise Bryer and a full cast, was released in the 1960s on LP and made use of Tchaikovsky’s music in the original orchestral arrangements. It was quite faithful to Hoffmann’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, on which the ballet is based, even to the point of including the section in which Clara drives her arm through the plate glass and mentioning that Clara married the Nutcracker Prince at the end. It also included a less gruesome version of “The Tale of the Hard Nut”, the tale-within-a-tale in Hoffmann’s story. It was released as part of the Tale Spinners for Children series.
Another children’s LP, The Nutcracker Suite with Words, featured Captain Kangaroo’s Bob Keeshan narrating the story, and sung versions of the different movements, with special lyrics.