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History of the Dance of the Reed-Flutes

History of the Dance of the Reed-Flutes

"The Dance of the Reed Flutes" is one of the eight original pieces in Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's 1892 "Nutcracker Suite." The famous song is also referred to as the "Dance of the Mirlitons" or "Marzipan." Today the tune appears in commercials and films as well as thousands of yearly productions of "The Nutcracker" ballet. Transformed from its original Romantic era music, it has seen many renditions over the years from jazz, to electronic and pop.


In 1891, Tchaikovsky was asked to write an accompaniment to E. T. A. Hoffman's 1816 tale, "The Nutcracker and the King of Mice." Reworking the tale, Lev Ivanov created the book and choreography that accompanied Tchaikovsky's original score. Tchaikovsky was reveling in his last hit and thought "The Nutcracker" "infinitely poorer than 'The Sleeping Beauty,' " (Geoff Kuenning, ficus-www.cs.ucla.edu). Dying on Nov. 6 1893, Tchaikovsky was never able to see the full impact of this now famous work.

Song Context

The original "Nutcracker Suite Op. 71a" was first presented Dec. 17, 1892 at the Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg and consisted of eight sections; "Overture", "Russian (Trepak) Dance", "Arabian (Coffee) Dance", "Chinese (Teacup) Dance", "The Waltz of the Flowers", "The Dance of the Reed Flutes (Mirlitons)", "The March" and "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy". The entire ballet was performed at a later date. These character dances introduce us to ambassadors from various lands, showcasing their cultures. Additionally, as George Balanchine said, "we now watch a series of dances by the creatures of the candy kingdom" (Balanchine and Mason, 1975).


"The Dance of the Reed Flutes" is one of the most recognizable pieces of music (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h94BdxnheeM). It is usually danced by a small group of 4 to 8 women, or by a trio of two women and one man. Costumes traditionally display either reed-flutes or fruit. Mirliton refers to a pear-shaped vegetable or its vine. "The Dance of the Reed Flutes" is sometimes renamed "Marzipan" or "Dance of the Shepardesses," reflecting the central fruit and natural world theme of the piece.


"The Nutcracker" itself has taken on many forms over the past century. Elements and characters of the story change and mesh together, time periods range from the classic holiday tale to modern day (1945 Spike Jones rendition) and animation (Disney's "Fantasia"). In other forms of the classic tale, the "Dance of the Reed Flutes" has taken on many personas. The Duke Ellington Orchestra turned it into "Toot Toot Tootsie Toot." Featured in a 1975 television commercial, "Dance of the Reed Flutes" accompanied Cadbury's Fruit & Nut chocolate bars. Disney's "Fantasia" shows "Dance of the Reed Flutes" accompanying the "Blossom" segment. The song has also been featured in a number of movies and shows such as "She's a Good Skate Charlie Brown" and "Center Stage."


The Russian Romantic era music of "The Nutcracker" was groundbreaking in its time, introducing the French instrument the celesta, to the classical stage. Tchaikovsky's ever present masterpiece will continue to morph giving us reed flutes, mirlitons, and marzipan for years to come.

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