Well, well, well the 2011 Oscar nominations are in and if you haven’t checked them out you should (Oscar Nominations). There is a fantastic selection of films this year, one of which gives a huge shout out to a one of the great composers of all time, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovshy, 1840-1893. I’m sure you can guess the film I’m referring to, it stars a certain Natalie Portman, who is nominated for best Actress in a Leading Role. Yes, I’m talking about “Black Swan,” directed by Darren Aronofsky and nominated in five categories, including Directing. I know I should probably focus on the Music nominations, but it is rare a film involving such a great composer is presented to audiences, that I thought I would seize the opportunity.
Composing operas, ballets, symphonies, chamber music, and songs, Tchaikovsky was the leading Russian composer of the nineteenth century. After studying at the St. Petersburg Conservatory with Anton Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky had a wonderful career as a composer; he was one of a handful of composers able to make a living solely as a composer. Some of his great successes are his piano concertos, Violin Concerto, and his last three symphonies: No.4 in F minor; No.5 in E minor; and No.6 in B minor, the Pathétique.
While Tchaikovsky is known in the erudite music community for his different genres of music, I feel he is best known to a broader audience for this ballets, including The Nutcracker (1892), The Sleeping Beauty (1889), and Swan Lake (1876). Since I am making this blog post because of “Black Swan” I thought it appropriate to write about the ballet, which is presented in the film, Swan Lake.
Written between 1875 and 1876, Swan Lake is the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by the malicious sorcerer, von Rothbart. Price Siegfried, who ran away because he cannot marry for love, comes across Odette on a lake in the forest. Discovering the curse upon Odette, swan by day, transforming into a woman at night, Siegfried falls in love. Love, possessing the power to break the spell on Odette, von Rothbart disguises his own daughter Odile as a swan, identical to Odette in every way, but instead she wears black. While at a ball for the Siegfried he dances with Odile and confesses his love for her to the court, fooled into thinking she is Odette. Learning his mistake Siegfried runs to the lake where he finds Odette and is forgiven for his error. Unfortunately, Siegfried’s pledge to Odile cements the spell and it cannot be broken. In order for Siegfried and Odette to stay together they take their lives, jumping into the lake and drowning. As you can tell it is a very dramatic ballet.
The original production of Swan Lake was in four acts and was choreographed by Julius Reisinger. The premiere was held on February 20, 1877 at the Bolshoi Thertre in Moscow with the title The Lake of the Swans. The portion of the ballet in this post is the Pas de deux with Siegfried and Odile, the black swan (this is the part when von Rothbart fools Siegfried and Siegrfied presents Odile to the court as the one he loves).