On the 18th December 1892, Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker received its première performance at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. Although his score received generally positive reviews, reactions towards the ballet itself were generally unenthusiastic.
Tchaikovsky wrote The Nutcracker as a commission for Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the director of the Imperial Theatres, following the success of his previous ballet The Sleeping Beauty. The story chosen by the choreographer Marius Petipa was an adaption of the 1816 story by German author E.T.A. Hoffmann called The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. It’s known that Tchaikovsky wasn’t particularly keen on writing the ballet, but accepted the commission anyway.
Composed in the Romantic style, the ballet features a number of now widely recognised pieces of music. One of the most famous is the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy which was specifically written to make use of a new instrument Tchaikovsky had discovered in France called the celesta. He also incorporated toy instruments into the Christmas party scene.
Following the negative responses to the première of the ballet, Tchaikovsky chose to extract eight pieces of music to form The Nutcracker Suite which could be performed in a formal concert setting. Standing apart from the ballet, the suite garnered hugely enthusiastic reviews and became a popular feature in concert performances. Although the ballet itself continued to be performed on occasion, it wasn’t until the New York City Ballet performed George Balanchine’s staging of it that it began to garner wider popularity, particularly in America. Performances of The Nutcracker are now said to generate 40% of ticket revenues for American ballet companies.