Friday, 21 September 2012

Swan Lake - Tchaikovsky

Although I've already written a post about one of Tchaikovsky's ballets, (Tchaikovsky's 'The Nutcracker') I love the music of Swan Lake so much that I thought I would make a post about it anyway. A couple of years ago, the public were blown away by Darren Aronofsky's dark ballet film: 'Black Swan'. Having heard endless hype about the film from friends and critics, I went to go and see it. I was confident that I would enjoy the movie, as I love Natalie Portman, and I love the music of Pyotr Tchaikovsky - what could possibly go wrong? Not only did I find that the film was poorly acted and frequently (although unintentionally) comical, but there were numerous plot holes and bonkers scenes throughout. Unfortunately - for me, 'Black Swan' murdered the music of Swan Lake by playing the same music cues again and again - almost as much as we had to watch Natalie Portman attempt her endless pirouettes.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
1840 - 1893
Moving away from the film, Tchaikovsky's music for the ballet 'Swan Lake' is some of the most beautiful and recognised Classical music in the world. The music for the ballet was composed between 1875 and 1876. The story was pieced together from various Russian folk-tales, and tells the story of Odette - a princess turned into a swan by an evil curse. Although there was some controversy over the composer of the original ballet, Tchaikovsky proved that he had written the first, named: 'The Lake of the Swans', that contained various themes found in the ballet. Although Tchaikovsky is usually the first name a person gives when asked to name a composer of ballets, at the time, ballets were only commissioned to composers considered to be ballet writing 'specialists'. Aspiring to be one of them, Tchaikovsky studied the works of other specialists. This enthusiasm stuck with him, and is clear from his eagerness to write the score for 'Swan Lake' (a score that only took him one year). Now, Tchaikovsky is the best of all the ballet composers that ever lived.

My favourite of all the musical extracts from the ballet is the main theme, played by an Oboe, accompanied by the rest of the orchestra. Although Tchaikovsky starts the solo with a rather tender and restrained tone, the opening tremolando in the strings suggests that something much darker is on the horizon, and predicts the theme to be taken over by the brass. When the theme finally reaches the strings, the melody becomes slightly more tragic and romantic, leading up to the climax of the piece at 2:32. This extract really does tell the story of the cursed princess, and - although tragically abused by the makers of 'Black Swan', it is still just as beautiful every time I hear it.

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