When the Beatles met the sugar plum fairy

When I was still a little child, my acquaintance with the world of classical ballet (and I suspect not just mine) was made through The NutcrackerIt was love at first sight (and hearing), as the delightful music of Tchaikovsky coupled with a most extraordinary set of characters such as the Mouse King, the Nutcracker Prince with his soldiers, and of course the Sugar Plum Fairy.

One of Tchaikovsky’s most celebrated works, the immense popularity of The Nutcracker owes much to a tradition that started in 1954, when the New York City Ballet first performed the ballet choreographed by George Balanchine. The company has since performed the ballet every year during the Christmas season with great success, paving the way for a growing number of performances across the world by several ballet companies in the years that followed.

‘Best of Balanchine’, performed by the Dutch National Ballet in the Amsterdam Music Theater

In 1965, the British orchestral composer Arthur Wilkinson made a very special arrangement of music by The Beatles, blending some of their well-known tunes with movements from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. The result of this peculiar musical marriage was called the Beatle Cracker Suite.

A musical allusion to Tchaikovsky’s popular ballet can also be found  in the film Magical Mystery Tour. It was the Beatles’ producer George Martin who, seeing that the opening strain of All My Loving is almost identical to the melody from Nutcracker’s Pas de deux but turned upside down, decided to arrange the song à la Tchaikovsky for the film’s background music.

The most intriguing manifestation of the unique relationship between the Russian master and the British pop stars was perhaps one not made through notes. It would be, however, captured on record through the soft, rather lazy and yet mysterious-sounding voice of Lennon, as he was whispering “sugar-plum-fairy, sugar-plum-fairy” into the microphone during the intro of the epic A Day in the Life (as can be heard in the Love version of the song).

It appears the little fairy’s dance had taken her all the way from Russia’s imposing music theaters to the Abbey Road Studios in London amidst the swinging sixties. What an honor indeed to have been summoned by The Beatles on such a special day in their life. No doubt Tchaikovsky would not have minded her leaving home!

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