Opening on a romantic note, each section of Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3 swells with ardor, culminating in a radiant, majestic finale.
Balanchine’s first setting of music from Tschaikovsky’s third suite for orchestra was created in 1947, when Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre) commissioned him to choreograph the theme and variations that constitute the score’s final movement. Named simply Theme and Variations, the work is a riveting display of classical technique that has become a staple of the ballet repertory.
In 1970, for New York City Ballet, Balanchine decided to choreograph Tschaikovsky’s entire suite, incorporating Theme and Variations as the ballet’s fourth and final movement with only minor revisions. The scenery and costumes were designed by Nicolas Benois, son of Alexandre Benois, the designer of many early ballets commissioned by Diaghilev, with the first three movements danced in a softly lit ballroom, which transforms for the grandeur of the ballet’s final movement.
Tschaikovsky composed his Suite No. 3 in G Major, Op. 55, in 1884, and it was first conducted by Hans von Bülow in St. Petersburg in January 1885. From April 16 to May 23, 1884, Tschaikovsky’s journals are filled with entries detailing the birth of a composition he seems to have intended as a “symphony” but which ended as a “suite.”
The mood of the introductory sections, as in much of the composer’s music, is melodic with an edge of somber irony that almost mocks the excessively Romantic energy of the dances it projects. Unlike many of Tschaikovsky’s works intended, or later used, for dances, we read that the premiere of Suite No. 3 “electrified” the Petersburg public. Swan Lake (1877) had been considered “too symphonic” at its premiere in Moscow, while all that the Tsar could think of saying to the composer of the wonderful partition of The Sleeping Beauty (1890) was “very nice.”
View a slideshow of images from Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3 >