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Drosselmeyer's musical symbolism

I believe that Drosselmeyer has a deeper meaning in The Nutcracker, than just an eccentric old man. Can he and the music that depicts him be, perhaps an extension of the composer's fears and anxieties? The separation motif throughout the ballet is obvious. Can anybody expound on this subject?

Carlos Danaan

Actually the music of No. 4 of the ballet is a little bit strange and fearsome. There are deep tone colours, esp. in clarinets and horns with sordino (“chiuso”). Also in no 6 of the ballet—the huge climax symbolising the growing tree sounds greatly and sinisterly at the same time.

This shows, that Tchaikovsky was really a master of sounds and spirits. And he makes the fears of the children hearable and sensible. The vibes of Drosselmeyer are requirements of the libretto and following the requests of Petipa and Vsevolozhskii.

Evidently there is no deeper meaning than the programmatic demands.

Nevertheless you could immerse oneself in speculation about the deepness of the Drosselmeyer music. As you know from the work description at Tchaikovsky was not enthusiastic about the sujet of the Nutcracker. In the late work of Tchaikovsky the Nutcracker is the only opus which deals intensively with children and childhood issues. Tchaikovsky’s own happy childhood was terribly brought to an end, when his beloved mother early died of cholera. So Tchaikovsky possible had an ambivalent feeling to “childhood” in general and his own childhood especially. This ambivalence perhaps is reflected at some parts of the Nutcracker, especially at Drosselmeyer who is drastically the opposite of a child and the only old figure in the ballet. Besides of that, during the composition of the Nutcracker his beloved sister Sasha was ill and died (but after the composition of No. 4 !). In general Tchaikovsky was well-balanced in his soul after the crises in the eighteen nineties, but sometimes he claimed hair loss and the loss of a tooth—like an old man.

It's known that Tchaikovsky in his programmatic music himslef identified more with female figueres before the crisis of 1877 (Katja in "Groza", Julia in "Romeo and Juliett", "Francesca da Rimini"). After 1877 more male figueres are interesting like Manfred ("Manfred-Symphony"), "Hamlet "and "Voevoda". So Drosselmeyer also offers an identification pattern for himself.

But it’s just a speculation.

I recommend you to busy yourself with the rather unknown 2nd Suite, Op. 53, composed ca. 8 years before Nutcracker. The 2nd movement, “reves d’un enfant” could be interesting for you to discover parallels to the Nutcracker.

Rüdiger Herpich

Further to the discussion on this subject held by Carlos Denaan and Rudiger Herpich (last updated on 03 July 2009), I would like to find out whether this name Drosselmeyster comes from the original fairy-tale by E.T.A. Hoffmann, or was coined by the librettists.

I would be grateful if someone can advise me on that.

A. Geidelberg

My understanding is that Drosselmeyer (or "Droßelmeier") was named in Hofmann's original short story Nußknacker und Mausekönig (1816). There's a summary on Wikipedia at:

Brett Langston


The ballet "The Nutcracker(nut……cobnut rather than walnut)" by P.I.(Pyotr Ilyich) was based on "Histoire d'un casse-noisette" by Alexandre Dumas(pere), a revision of E.T.A.Hoffmann's "Nussknacker und Mausekoenig".

E.T.A.Hoffmann, born in Koenigsberg, known by Euler's seven bridges mathematical "topo"logy, was a jurist as same as P.I. His colleague's daughter named " Marie" was dead at young age.

Drosselmeyer is the godfather for Fritz and Marie. German word "Drossel" or "drosseln" means "throttle"(choke), also bird "thrush". "throat" is the same source with them. Therefore in No.4 of "The Nutcracker" when Drosselmeyer aarrives at Marie's house, P.I. used modern Dorian mode and horns with "+"(chiuso).

In autumn 1783 Mozart composed a symphony at Linz, then he did not know his first son's death of SIDS at summer in Vienna. The main theme in fourth movement of the Linz Symphony……do---^fa--_mi_re(_♯do^re_♯do^re), meanwhile the main theme in the overture of "The Nutcracker"……do- ^fa- _mi_re-(^la-_so-_do-^fa-_mi-_re-_do-^mi---_re-).

Ich hoffe, dass ich Ihnen helfen kann.

Best Regards.

Kamomeno Iwao

I agree with Kamomono Iwao that German dictionaries suggest a number of interpretations for the word "drossel". It can indeed be a small bird, a large tree, a part of the animal anatomy (trachea), or a choke (throttle, narrowing).

Incidentally "drosel" was transliterated into the P. Tchaikovsky's native Russian as "дроссель". It is used exclusively as a technical tern in electrical engineering. And describes an inductive reactance, a wound component (coil), used to suppress higher frequency harmonics or an AC component in DC bus-bar circuits of rectifier filters.

In the old days of thermionic valves (vacuum tubes), a drossel (choke) was a standard component in every home electronic gear (radio & TV receives, tape recorders, LP players, audio power amplifiers, jukeboxes etc.).

I am trying to find out however, whether E. Hoffmann assigned any special, perhaps philosophical, significance to his character when he coined the name Droselmeyer. According to one of the German dictionary, "meyer" can be interpreted as a "light source". Therefore the meaning of "drosselmeyer " appears to me as enigmatic.

I am ready to accept however that for a German-speaking person the meaning of "drosselmeyer" can be plain and obvious. And I would appreciate any comments from someone who knows better.

A. Geidelberg

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