The genius of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score

By all accounts, Tchaikovsky struggled to compose The Nutcracker. It wasn’t his idea of an effective ballet scenario, and he was unimpressed with the choreographer Marius Petipa’s prettified storyline. Mid-composition, he learned of the death of his younger sister Alexandra. ‘Even more than yesterday, I feel absolutely incapable of depicting the Kingdom of Sweets in music,’ he wrote. But inspiration can be counterintuitive. On a good day, Tchaikovsky could write as fluently as any Victorian serial novelist, churning out forgettable piano pieces (as he put it) ‘like batches of pancakes’. Projects like The Nutcracker put him through purgatory but the result, with hindsight, was nothing less than the sound of