Work: Swan Lake Suite, Op. 20a
About This Work
The overly-sensitive Tchaikovsky was not pleased with the initial reaction to his ballet Swan Lake. It would become immensely popular after his death, but an 1882 revival of it at the Bolshoi neither succeeded in bringing it into the repertory nor in
pleasing the composer. Later that same year, Tchaikovsky asked his publisher, Pyotr Ivanovich Jurgenson, for a copy of the score, intending to distill a suite from it and possibly to revise the entire work itself. For various reasons, neither ever happened.
The Op. 20a suite performed today typically consists of six numbers, the first and last containing the work's famous music associated with Odette and the swans. The second number is the carefree but spirited waltz from Act I, played in the ballet to accompany the "Arrival of the Guests."
The "Dance of the Swans" comes next, a memorable piece whose bubbly manner and brilliant writing for winds combine to make this short piece one of the more memorable numbers here. The next section, "Scene" (Pas d'action), is enchanting and mostly slow, featuring some delightful solo violin writing. The fifth number is the "Hungarian Dance" (Czardas), which becomes fast, rhythmic, and quite exotic in its latter half. As suggested above, however, it is the opening and closing movements that contain the most famous and probably the best music. The oboe introduces the fantasy-like theme -- one of the composer's most memorable -- accompanied by harp. In the finale, this music begins with an Allegro agitato marking, thus heightening the tension in preparation for the story's climactic events.
In another version of the Swan Lake Suite, the "Spanish Dance," "Neapolitan Dance," and "Mazurka" follow the "Hungarian Dance." All this ethnic-flavored music is colorful and effective, but may actually be better suited to the ballet than to the suite. Performances of the suite can range from 25 to 30 minutes, depending on which music is played.
-- Robert Cummings
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