About this Piece
The waltz is, of course, proudly claimed by the Viennese as their own, and Johann Strauss is deservedly its King. But Tchaikovsky raised the waltz to a higher level of sophistication thanks to his symphonic training and his devotion to ballet. His waltzes are not a mere string of bewitching tunes designed for the ballroom, they are thoroughly theatrical, accompanying dancing and action in ballet or opera. His tunes are bewitching too, and if you find them too familiar, bend the ear towards all the countermelodies and decorative figures with which he decks them, a supporting craft of which he was the absolute master.
Russian ballet was one of the glories of 19th-century civilization. Musicians might give the credit for this to Tchaikovsky; dancers would more likely say it was Marius Petipa, the French dancer and choreographer, who should have the accolade. Petipa became premier danseur at the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg in 1847, a move which symbolically passed the leadership in ballet from the country which had led the world of ballet in the 18th century, and had named the steps and positions, to the country that would inherit the tradition and pass it eventually into the hands of Diaghilev and Stravinsky.
The Waltz of the Flowers comes from the second act of the evergreen ballet The Nutcracker, which was first seen at the Mariinsky Theater two years later. Petipa was again the choreographer. The spotlight falls first on the harp, with a generous cadenza, then on the four horns that introduce the main tune, and then on the strings, whose sweeping melody is one of the most endearing elements in an eternally endearing score.
- Hugh Macdonald