The Sleeping Beauty
Ballet in a prologue and 3 acts, Op. 66 (1888–89).
Tchaikovsky's original score contains an Introduction and 30 individual numbers as listed below. The titles of numbers in French (italic type) and Russian (Cyrillic) are taken from the published score, with English translations added in bold type.
The story opens in the court of King Florestan XIV, in the seventeenth century.
Prologue. In the Royal castle, celebrations are in progress for the christening of the infant Princess Aurora. As the guests arrive they are shown to their places by the Master of Ceremonies, Catalabutte. The King and the Queen enter and prepare to receive the six fairy godmothers. The fairies arrive with their pages, who dance with the royal maids of honour. The fairies each come forward in turn with their gifts, arranging them around the cradle and accompanying them with promises that the Princess shall grow up beautiful, talented, and kind-hearted. As the Lilac Fairy approaches the cradle, the wicked fairy Carabosse arrives, in a carriage drawn by rats. She is furious at not having been invited to be a godmother, and pronounces a curse on the baby: one day Aurora will prick her finger on a spindle and fall into an everlasting sleep. Then the Lilac Fairy, who was about to bestow her own gift, intervenes. She does not have the power to overturn Carabosse’s curse, but she mitigates it by saying that the princess shall be awoken after a hundred years by the kiss of young Prince. The enraged Carabosse drives off in her carriage.
Act I. In the gardens of the Royal Castle, visitors are gathered to celebrate Aurora’s twentieth birthday. Among the villagers Catalabutte notices some old women threading spindles, which has been strictly forbidden since the day of Carabosse’s curse. He confiscates the spindles and threatens the culprits with death. The King arrives with his Queen, accompanied by four princes, suitors of Princess Aurora. The princes’ intercession saves the old women from death, and the rejoicing resumes. The four princes approach the King and Queen as suitors for Aurora’s hand. When Aurora enters, they are presented to her. She dances with the four princes in turn, accepting from each the rose he offers her. First the maids of honour, then the pages, and finally Aurora herself dance again. She sees an old woman who offers her a spindle. Delighted with it, she dances, waving it in the air. Suddenly she pricks her finger. She dances ever faster, but abruptly falls to the ground. The old woman reveals herself to be Carabosse and, threatened by the princes, she vanishes in a cloud of smoke. Then the Lilac Fairy appears and orders that Aurora be carried into the castle. She must sleep for a hundred years, and the whole court with her. As a mist rises, the peoples grow still, and trees and bushes swiftly grow to completely hide the castle.
Act II. One hundred years has passed. Young Prince Desiré is out hunting with his retinue, and they pause at a clearing in the forest (Scene 1), where they dance and play games. During the festivities the Prince remains aloof and uninterested in the girls’ attention. His tutor Galifron leads the dancers to their places for more formal dances. The ladies propose a farandole in which the peasants accompanying the hunt may join. The hunt is resumed by all except the Prince, who remains behind, overtaken by a pensive mood. Suddenly, the Lilac Fairy appears before him, and recounts the story of the Sleeping Beauty, conjuring up a vision of her. The vision of Aurora dances with the Prince, and then by herself, before finally vanishing. Entranced and overwhelmed by the vision of Aurora, the Prince begs to be led to her. The Lilac Fairy and Prince Desiré travel in her boat through an enchanted wood to the castle, where all is eerily quiet. The fairy guides the Prince to the castle (Scene 2), and to Aurora’s bedside. He gazes at the Princess and then, recognizing her as the Sleeping Beauty from his vision, he kisses her. The spell is broken. Aurora awakens and, seeing the Prince of whom she has dreamed, she takes him in her arms. Light floods the castle, the forest vanishes, and the King, Queen and courtiers awaken.
Act III. Catalabutte leads in the nobles and courtiers to greet the King and Queen for the wedding celebrations of Aurora and Desiré. The Silver, Gold, Sapphire and Diamond Fairies arrive, followed by guest characters from fairy-tales: Puss in Boots and the White Cat; Cinderella and Prince Fortuné; the Blue Bird and Princess Florine; Red Riding-Hood and the Wolf; Hop o'my Thumb, his brothers and the Ogre. Then Princess Aurora and Prince Desiré dance together. Roman, Persian, Indian, American, and Turkish guests dance a sarabande. All who have taken part in the entertainment parade around the floor. Finally, the Lilac Fairy appears to bless the marriage, and in true fairy-tale tradition, all live happily ever after.
The Tchaikovsky Handbook, vol. 1 (2002), p. 111–112
The ballet was composed, with significant interruptions, during the period from October 1888 to 26 May/7 June 1889 at Frolovskoye, except for a number of scenes sketched during travels abroad and at Tiflis. Orchestrated at Frolovskoye in the period from 30 May/11 June to 16/28 August 1889.
"The subject of the ballet that I am writing was devised by the Director of the theatre, Vsevolozhsky himself. It is based on Perrault’s well-known fairy tale La belle au bois dormant. The subject is extremely likeable and poetic", Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck on 8/20 January 1889 .
Ivan Vsevolozhsky, in a letter of 13/25 May 1888 proposed The Sleeping Beauty to Tchaikovsky as the subject for a ballet. "I am planning to write a libretto on La belle au bois dormant after Perrault’s fairy tale. I would like a mise en scène in the style of Louis XIV, which would be a musical fantasia written in the spirit of Lully, Bach, Rameau, etc. If this idea appeals to you, then why not undertake to write the music? In the last act there would have to be quadrilles for all Perrault’s fairy-tale characters—these should include Puss-in-Boots, Hop o' My Thumb, Cinderella, Bluebeard, etc." . The composer’s reply to this letter has not been preserved.
On 20 July/1 August 1888, the director of the Theatrical School, I. I. Riumin, sent the libretto of the ballet to Tchaikovsky. In his accompanying letter he wrote: "Would you be so kind as to examine it and report to Ivan Aleksandrovich [Vsevolozhsky], or to me, whether you are inclined to write the music for a ballet on this theme. If you should find it possible to carry out the wish of Mr Director, your music will ensure the success of the intended ballet" .
There was no reply to this letter. It is possible that the letter was received while the composer was absorbed in his work on the Symphony No. 5, the overture to Hamlet, and in orchestrating the Overture-Fantasia by Herman Laroche, and that he simply did not have the time to respond, or he did not notice it among the vast correspondence he received.
In any event, Tchaikovsky did respond to a second request from Ivan Vsevolozhsky in a letter of 9/21 August 1888 . Tchaikovsky replied that the subject interested him greatly, but he had not received the libretto . And only in a letter to Vsevolozhsky of 22 August/3 September 1888 from Moscow did the composer report, "I hasten to inform you that the manuscript of The Sleeping Beauty finally reached me, just as I was taking my seat in the railway carriage in order to travel to Moscow and Kiev. I have only had a few hours to take in the scenario, but I wanted to say to you now that I find it charming, and I am delighted beyond words. This is absolutely suited to me, and there is nothing I desire more than to write the music for this scenario. The scenes for this charming fairy tale could not have been improved upon, and if you are the author then permit me to express to you my warm congratulations. I am travelling to Kiev, returning around 2 September [O.S.], and on 12th of the same month I will be in Petersburg. I look forward to seeing you, and would be grateful if you could arrange for me to meet with M. Petipa, in order to work out details in relation to the music in your scenario" . Emphasising in the same letter that in view of its scale the composition of the ballet could only be finished for the 1889/90 season, Tchaikovsky added: "The idea of this work gladdens me... from today I shall think only about the ballet". "I have received the libretto of the ballet. It is excellent", the composer wrote the same day to Modest Tchaikovsky .
Could Ivan Vsevolozhsky be considered the author of the libretto? Evidently, as in other similar situations, he initiated the subject, and subsequently had a hand in its development. It is also certain that he involved Marius Petipa, since in the archive of the latter there is a manuscript dated 3/15 July 1888, with a list of characters in the ballet, and descriptions of the numbers in every scene .
Tchaikovsky did not start work on the ballet during August or September 1888, since he was occupied with the completion of other works. In answer to a question by Vladimir Pogozhev , asking whether he was working well on the music of his new ballet, Tchaikovsky replied on 1/13 October: "Concerning the ballet I will say to you that the subject itself greatly delights me, and I will work on it with great pleasure. I emphasise the will work, because I have still not written a single note. Before taking up composition it is necessary for me to enter into discussions with the ballet master. I was going to be in Petersburg during September, but this is not now the case, my having been delayed by the completion of two large compositions which are urgently required . I am planning to remain in the village until the end of October. Around 1/13 November I shall be in Petersburg for a sufficient period of time to have the opportunity of discussing with the balletmaster, how, when and what is required. In any case, in view of my forthcoming travels I could submit the full score of the ballet to the directors no earlier than the beginning of next season, i.e. a whole year away. Although you evidently understood the music to the ballet was already taking shape, I fear that Ivan Aleksandrovich does not consider me capable of writing this music even during the course of the present season. I trust that through your good offices, Vladimir Petrovich, you will be careful to report all this to him" .
It is not possible to accurately establish when work began on the ballet. On the cover of the September 1888 issue of the journal Russian Herald (Русский вестник) belonging to Tchaikovsky are notes of themes for the fairies’ variations in the Prologue, which were developed into sketches during October (apparently between 11th and 22nd). From the author’s notes in the copybook containing the sketches, it is clear that during October Tchaikovsky worked on the ballet for ten days in total . These sketches include: the entrance of the fairies and waltz of pages and girls (No. 2 in the piano score), the fairies’ variations (No. 3) and the start of the finale of the Prologue, where the Lilac Fairy approaches Aurora’s Cradle.
On 30 October/11 November, Tchaikovsky left for Saint Petersburg, where on 6/18 November his meeting with Ivan Vsevolozhsky and Marius Petipa took place , at which time the balletmaster supplied Tchaikovsky with a detailed scheme for the Prologue .
Soon after this Tchaikovsky left for Prague; further meetings with Vsevolozhsky and Petipa took place in Saint Petersburg only between 12/24 December and 25 December/6 January . On 18/30 December, Marius Petipa gave Tchaikovsky the detailed plan for Acts I and II . On 26 December/7 January Tchaikovsky returned to Frolovskoye, and for some days The Sleeping Beauty was at the centre of his creative imagination. Almost daily entries in his diary, accounts in his letters, and the form of his sketches reveal an extraordinarily intensive creative process. Before his departure from Frolovskoye three weeks later, on 19/31 January 1889, the composer had finished the Prologue and written the whole of Acts I and II, as well as the Introduction to the ballet. His progress on the work can be established with some accuracy by comparing the dates on the sketches with the dates from his diary. Up to 1/13 January he worked on the end of the Prologue, starting from the appearance of the fairy Carabosse (end of No. 4), then the knitting scene (No. 5) and Waltz (No. 6) from Act I. On 1/13 January he noted in his diary: "I don’t recall a more timely encounter [with the New Year]. Worked all morning" (Aurora’s entrance, No. 7):
On 2/14 January: "The day passed as always, when I’m absorbed in my work. Wrote the big Adagio in the second act , which was hard work!!!" (Adagio for Aurora and the four princes, Act I, No. 8). On 4/16 January the composer worked on the Finale to Act I (according to the author’s notes on the sketches). On 5/17 January he recorded in his diary: "Worked generally well today. Finished the second act. Played it through (it lasts half an hour)" .
It is apparent from the sketches that the composer left Act I without its conclusion, which was written later.
On the evening of 6/18 January, Tchaikovsky left for Moscow. After returning from Moscow on 8/20 January, the composer wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "I have recently been working with such perseverance and application, that I have already written two whole acts of the ballet. I have been to Moscow for two days on Musical Society business, and I’m now once again ready for work" .
The sketches indicate that Tchaikovsky resumed composition of the ballet from the second scene of Act II. On 10/22 January he noted in his diary: "Work went well. Wrote the whole entr’acte to the Sleep scene without effort" (No. 19). On 11/23 January he noted: "Worked just as well today as previously. A great deal done. Finished the 2nd scene of the 2nd act [No. 19]. After this fashioned the Entr’acte with the violin solo [No. 18], and then even the first scene of Act II" (Nos. 16–17). On 14/26 January he recorded in his diary: "Worked ever so assiduously. Hopeful of finishing the first four scenes before my departure" . On 17/29 January the author noted in his sketchbooks: "Finished everything I intended to do before my departure, i.e. the first four scenes of the ballet!". On 6/18 January, the appointed day for his meeting with Marius Petipa, Tchaikovsky had written to Ivan Vsevolozhsky, "I hope to fulfil my promise, i.e. at the beginning of the season (not later than 15 August) [O.S.] to deliver the Violin répétiteur to Petipa, and by November, the entire musical score" .
On 19/31 January, Tchaikovsky left for Saint Petersburg. On 22 January/3 February he had another meeting with Ivan Vsevolozhsky and Marius Petipa, during which the balletmaster gave the composer the detailed plan for the final, fifth scene . On 23 January/4 February, Tchaikovsky played through Act I of the ballet for the directors , and the following day he left for travels abroad. Several times during his journey he embarked on the composition of the fifth scene of the ballet. On 6/18 March in Hanover he noted in his diary: "Attempted to compose the ballet. Did a little, but poorly and without inspiration" . Judging by the sequence of the sketches, here he wrote the introduction and march for Act III (No. 21). Later, in the Mediterranean, on board the steamship Cambodge between Marseilles and Constantinople, Tchaikovsky composed the Polonaise for Act III of the ballet (No. 22) . After the Polonaise, the Act I finale "transformation of the garden into a forest" was completed, the sketches for which are marked: "Tiflis" . The composer travelled here from Constantinople to visit Anatoly Tchaikovsky, and remained here from mid/late April until early/mid May.
Despite unfavourable working conditions, about which Tchaikovsky reported in his letter to Modest Tchaikovsky of 15/27 April 1889, the ballet continued to progress . In Tiflis he made musical notes in his notebook, and sketches for some scenes in Act III: the variations for the jewel fairies (No. 23); Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat (No. 24); Little Red Riding Hood (No. 26) and Hop o' My Thumb (No. 27) . In a letter of 26 April/8 May to Marius Petipa, Tchaikovsky reported: "I have almost completed the sketches for the fifth scene of the ballet The Sleeping Beauty. Everything will be finished not later than 1st June" [O.S.] .
After visiting Saint Petersburg in May, where he again met with Ivan Vsevolozhsky and Marius Petipa , Tchaikovsky returned to Frolovskoye on 19/31 May and was again absorbed in work on the ballet. Notes in his diary indicate a surge of creativity. On 20 May/1 June, the sketches indicate that he began to compose the variations for Cinderella, Fortuné, the Blue Bird and Florine (Pas de quatre, No. 25). On 23 May/4 June he recorded in his diary: "Worked intensively and successfully (Pas de deux)" (No. 28—Aurora and Desiré). Sketches for the Sarabande (No. 29) then followed, and on 25 May/6 June he wrote in his diary: "Wrote the last number of the ballet: Mazurka" (No. 30). On 26 May/7 June he noted: "Finished the composition of the ballet, in spite of a headache and poor spirits" . In the manuscript sketches after the finale is the author’s note: "Finished the sketches 26 May 1889 [O.S.] at 8 o’clock in the evening. Praise God! In all I worked ten days during October, 3 weeks in January, and a week now. And so only about 40 days". In this note the composer did not take into account the time he spent on the sketches while abroad and in the Caucasus.
On 30 May/11 June 1889, Tchaikovsky set about the instrumentation of the ballet, on which he worked with great intensity, barely leaving Frolovskoye until 16/28 August. "I have already begun the instrumentation of the ballet, and spend all day at my desk", the composer wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky on 2/14 June . "I am immersed in work, i.e. the instrumentation of the ballet, which must be finished in September without fail", he reported in a letter to the Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich . On 5/17 June in his diary he recorded: "Worked well (end of Pas de Six)" .
On 13/25 June in his diary he noted: "In the evening, waltz orchestrated with pleasure" (No. 6) . On 15/27, 16/28 and 17/29 June, Tchaikovsky was occupied with adding the final markings to the Prologue. On 18/30 June he sent the manuscript of the Prologue to Saint Petersburg, promising to send the following act in ten days .
On 2/14 July, Tchaikovsky wrote to the Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich: "I have already finished the instrumentation of the first two acts of my ballet (La Belle au bois dormant). The subject of the ballet is appealing to the highest degree, and I carry out this task with pleasure" . The author's date at the end of Act I of the full score is 3/15 July. Then Tchaikovsky began the orchestration of the third act, continuing this work through July, and on 25 July/6 August he completed Act III (date on the manuscript full score). Next, the composer set about the instrumentation of Act II. On 9/21 August, Tchaikovsky wrote to Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov: "The end of the ballet is drawing near. It proved to be huge, requiring a great deal of effort. At times I experienced terrible fatigue! But I think that on the whole, the music has come out successfully" . On 13/25 August in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck, with the ballet in mind, Tchaikovsky reported: "And so this labour draws near its end. For several days I will sigh deeply and experience that rare feeling of having brought a complex work to its conclusion... I lavished particular care on its instrumentation, and devised several completely new orchestral combinations, which I hope will be very beautiful and interesting" . On 16/28 August in a letter to Semyon Kruglikov, we read: "Congratulate me: Today I finished an enormous ballet score. These arms have raised an entire mountain" . On the same day the composer wrote on the manuscript full score: "End of 2nd act. 16th August 89 [O.S.]. Hurrah!". It is possible that after 16/28 August, Tchaikovsky introduced other corrections into his work, since in a letter to Yuliya Shpazhinskaya of 2/14 September 1889, he referred to 20 August/1 September as the date on which he wrote the "longed-for concluding chord of the last act" .
In October 1889, during the orchestral rehearsals of the ballet, the directors asked Tchaikovsky to write additional music for the scene of Cinderella and Fortuné (No. 26b). The scenario for this number, compiled by Marius Petipa from a synopsis by Riccardo Drigo, was sent to Tchaikovsky at Frolovskoye on 7/19 October . In all probability this number was written immediately on Tchaikovsky’s receipt of the scenario. On 17/29 October, Petipa wrote to Tchaikovsky, apparently with regard to this additional number: "The dance is a little long, and I beg you to permit me to make a small cut" .
On 27 December 1889/8 January 1890, Tchaikovsky received a telegram from Ivan Vsevolozhsky in which, after setting out the schedule for the final rehearsals and first production, went on: "Your presence is desirable all the more because your agreement will probably be required to dispense with Auer's solo: it slows down the action" . Tchaikovsky’s reaction to this suggestion is not documented, but the Entr’acte (No. 18) before the symphonic picture Sleep was not included in the performance .
On 25 July/6 August 1889, Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck: "My ballet will appear in print in November or December. The arrangement for piano is being made by Ziloti" . Even during his work on the orchestration, Tchaikovsky approached Aleksandr Ziloti with a request to make a two-hand arrangement of the ballet. "I am finding work terribly stressful and, probably as a result of old age, am tired in the extreme. I dread to think that, after writing this enormous full score, I still have to do the two-hand arrangement, which is required by the ballet master and Jurgenson, who hopes to have it in print by early autumn. And so, Sasha, I would be indescribably happy if you were to do the arrangement. Besides Taneyev and yourself there’s no one I can trust". Assuring Ziloti that he would not be offended if he declined the proposed work, Tchaikovsky wrote: "I am conscious of the fact that this is not a trivial task, and that nowhere else is music more essential than in ballet... I will wait until the 28th [O.S.], and if you say yes, then I will prepare you two acts" . Aleksandr Ziloti immediately agreed to carry out the request by the composer, who intended to send him the score of the Prologue. However, after receiving a letter from the theatre directorate, Tchaikovsky reported to Ziloti on 18/30 June that: "I was just preparing to send to you the score of the first act [i.e. Prologue], when I received a letter from Khristoforov, immediately requiring the full score so that it can be copied, the parts written out, and, chiefly, the compilation of the violin répétiteur, which Petipa needs as soon as possible... I must therefore send my manuscript to Khristoforov, and he, after all the copies have been taken, will return it. This notwithstanding, I urge you not to turn down the work on the arrangement. It’s just that it has to begin rather later". Further on, he suggests that the Prologue should be returned "in three weeks" .
It might be assumed that arrangements concerning the Prologue went according to plan, but eventually Aleksandr Ziloti found that he was working faster than the copyists at the Mariinsky Theatre. In a letter from Tchaikovsky of 23 July/4 August we read: "I am at a loss, since I could have sent you part of the third act long ago—this comprised one or two copybooks which only had to be marked up and sent off. But above all I wanted to finish the entire instrumentation of this act, before inserting the markings and sending everything away. Meanwhile for some reason everything happened in a rush, and I was alarmed by your telegram... All the acts will be completely ready and sent to you within three or four days at the latest. Tomorrow I am sending you just one notebook... This act is enormous. Then the remaining two (unfamiliar to you), which are somewhat shorter. They are some of my best work, and I am very glad that out of necessity you’ve started with the weakest. Did you receive the full score in Petersburg? I think everything will be finished by 15th August" [O.S.] . The remaining part of Act III was sent to Ziloti on 28 July/9 August .
On 17/29 August the composer wrote to Aleksandr Ziloti: "I’m sending you the 2nd act and introduction to the ballet! I cannot express how happy I am that it is finished. If you see any slips of the pen then please correct them. Could you please arrange the introduction to the second scene so that the pedal in the upper voice is on a separate system, or directly into four hands, since it will not work otherwise" .
The first production of the ballet took place on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg on 3/15 January 1890, conducted by Riccardo Drigo. The ballet was produced for the first time on the Moscow stage on 17/29 January 1899.
At the end of 1889, Aleksandr Ziloti’s arrangement for solo piano appeared in an edition by Pyotr Jurgenson. On 3/15 January 1890, Tchaikovsky wrote to Aleksey Suvorin: "As you see, the arrangement of the ballet for piano is already in print" . During February 1890 the same publishing house printed a simplified arrangement for solo piano by Eduard Langer.
There is some uncertainty regarding the publication of the full score. In the catalogue of Tchaikovsky’s works produced by Boris Jurgenson in 1898, the full score of The Sleeping Beauty is listed among the published compositions. The plate numbers, number of pages and price are also shown. However, neither the edition nor the plates have been found. The only corresponding plate number, shown in the records of the firm of P. Jurgenson as having been printed, relates to the Polonaise (No. 22). In 1890 the Hamburg music publisher Daniel Rahter submitted a request to the music department of the Saint Petersburg theatres to withdraw their copy of the score of the ballet. In a letter of 17/29 November 1890 to Nikolay Khristoforov, Tchaikovsky gave his consent to this request . Rahter produced the score by lithography, resulting in a very limited print run, which might not therefore be considered as publication in the traditional sense. In 1952 the full score of The Sleeping Beauty was published in vol. 12 of Tchaikovsky’s complete works.
On 26 January/7 February 1890, Tchaikovsky wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson from Florence: "Would it be possible to arrange the whole of The Sleeping Beauty for four hands? But only entrust such work... to real musicians" .
The arrangement was commissioned from eighteen-year-old Sergei Rachmaninoff.
During June 1891, Tchaikovsky dealt with the proofs of this arrangement, to be published by Pyotr Jurgenson . Tchaikovsky found that Sergei Rachmaninoff’s work was "absolutely lacking in courage, initiative and creativity!!!", and asked Aleksandr Ziloti to undertake "a thorough revision and correction of the ballet". Tchaikovsky continued, "I wanted the ballet to be arranged for four hands so that it might be rendered as seriously and skilfully as an arrangement of a symphony. Alas, this is impossible; what has been done cannot be undone; but at least it will be an improvement on what we have now" . Rachmaninoff’s arrangement appeared in print in October 1891.
Early in 1890, the composer considered creating a Suite from the music for the ballet.
Tchaikovsky's attitude towards his ballet was consistent; frequently he was enthusiastic towards his works, before becoming disappointed with them, but this was not the case with The Sleeping Beauty. "It seems to me", the composer wrote on 25 July/6 August 1889, while orchestrating the ballet, "that the music from this ballet will be amongst my best works. The subject is so poetical, it is so suited for music, that in composing it I was utterly absorbed, and wrote with a fervour and passion which always result in work of merit" .
After the ballet had been staged, his estimation was unchanged. "I admit that I love to work within a time limit, I love the excitement, the urgency. And this does not reflect at all on the quality of my works. The Sleeping Beauty may be the best of all my compositions, and yet I wrote it improbably quickly" .
Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 164–173
This page was last updated on 02 April 2013