SAN DIEGO — The Christmas season is over, greater than two months gone now. No one’s considering a lot in regards to the “Nutcracker.”
John Stubbs is.
The longtime San Diego violinist and orchestra conductor found an error not too long ago within the rating for the beloved ballet, an engraving mistake within the unique printing plates greater than 100 years in the past that altered in a delicate method how Tchaikovsky needed one passage of the music performed.
The composer wrote it for 2 flutes. The engraver gave him a flute and a piccolo.
“It added a shiny coloration the place Tchaikovsky didn’t imply to have a shiny coloration,” Stubbs mentioned.
Many individuals wouldn’t care and even discover. It’s just like the distinction between royal blue and navy, between milk chocolate and darkish chocolate, between pinot noir and cabernet.
And it lasts for perhaps 5 seconds, a blink of an eye fixed within the sensory feast that’s the “Nutcracker.”
However to the 68-year-old Stubbs, and to others of a like thoughts, it issues.
He’s been a violinist for greater than 40 years with the San Diego Symphony and has led the orchestra for the California Ballet’s performances of “Nutcracker” for 25 years. Alongside the best way, he’s adopted a philosophy that claims with regards to a chunk of music, it must be performed the best way the composer created it.
“Particularly for a piece that has survived centuries,” he mentioned. “Who am I to come back alongside and put my very own mark on it?”
This can be a topic of debate in classical-music circles (as it’s in lots of different artwork kinds). Some hew painstakingly to the unique compositions. Others add their very own colours.
Stubbs feels strongly sufficient about it that he had a tattoo placed on one arm about two years in the past. It echoes Arturo Toscanini, a revered conductor who led the New York Philharmonic, appeared with orchestras world wide, and gained a nationwide radio following by means of the NBC Symphony Orchestra, which he directed from 1937 to 1954.
Toscanini had a saying he shared along with his musicians, in Italian: “come e scritto.” That’s what Stubbs’ tattoo says.
“As it’s written.”
His third ballet
In early 1891, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write down music for a brand new ballet. It will be based mostly on a youngsters’s fairy story a couple of lady and a toy nutcracker who involves life on Christmas Eve.
The composer was already well-known for a lot of works, together with the “1812 Overture” and two different ballets, “Swan Lake” and “Sleeping Magnificence.” He spent a couple of 12 months on the brand new one, working whereas he sailed backwards and forwards to America for a tour that included the opening of Carnegie Corridor.
In March 1892, he debuted eight alternatives from the ballet in an orchestral suite. The total ballet premiered that December in St. Petersburg, in entrance of Emperor Alexander III and the imperial court docket, on a double-bill with “Iolanta,” a Tchaikovsky opera.
The response was blended.
Some critics praised the music, however others panned the ballerina who danced the function of the Sugar Plum Fairy. They dismissed the units and costumes as garish. In a newspaper interview a month later, Tchaikovsky mentioned, “The whole lot went off completely, however nonetheless it appeared to me that public didn’t prefer it. They have been bored.”
Ten months later, Tchaikovsky was lifeless, at age 53. The official reason behind dying (a lot debated within the years since) was cholera.
“He went to his grave considering ‘Nutcracker’ was largely a failure,” mentioned Betsy Schwarm, a Colorado-based music historian who has written about Tchaikovsky for Encyclopedia Britannica and is the writer of 9 books about classical music.
He was improper, however it took a while for the ballet to search out its legs — 42 years for its first full efficiency in London, and 52 earlier than its U.S. premiere, in San Francisco.
Now, in fact, it’s a vacation staple, a conventional a part of the Christmas season for a lot of households, and the one most-important income producer for a lot of dance corporations. There are dozens of performances yearly in San Diego County — or have been, till the novel coronavirus arrived final 12 months and decimated dwell leisure.
Stubbs was amongst these sidelined, however he put his down-time to make use of. In late 2019, whereas main the orchestra for the California Ballet’s performances of “Nutcracker,” one of many musicians had requested him whether or not she was taking part in a selected passage within the appropriate octave. She’d performed it decrease elsewhere.
That despatched Stubbs trying by means of archives for Tchaikovsky’s scores and notes. The octave, he discovered, was the proper one. However one thing else was off.
Hiding in plain sight
In Tchaikovsky’s day, there have been no computer systems, no software program packages like “Finale” that allow composers to enter their musical notations after which ship them off for publication as sheet music with the press of a mouse.
He wrote his items out longhand and took them to an engraver. The engraver etched the notations onto metallic plates. The plates have been inked, put right into a press, and copies have been printed on paper. That’s how his works acquired printed and distributed. Orchestras taking part in the “Nutcracker” right this moment use copies that date to these unique plates.
When Stubbs examined the rating extra intently, he zeroed in on a passage in what’s referred to as the Chinese language (or Tea) Dance, a part of the second act, when the lady and the nutcracker-turned-prince go to the Land of Sweets.
Within the rating, there’s a bit that has one flute taking part in a repeated ascending scale alone. That’s adopted by a bit through which a flute and piccolo play a repeated descending scale collectively.
Then the primary part is reprised, and that is the place one thing appeared odd to Stubbs: Within the first half, a flute and a piccolo play the ascending scale collectively. Within the second half, two flutes play it.
“Why,” he questioned, “does the colour change in the course of the reprise?”
With the assistance of a symphony colleague, he discovered scanned photos of Tchaikovsky’s unique rating on a Russian web site, they usually answered his query: The complete reprise part was imagined to be performed by two flutes. No piccolo.
“It’s been hiding in plain sight for greater than 100 years,” Stubbs mentioned.
He suspects the engraver made the error whereas copying the rating, and it didn’t get caught throughout proofreading. If Tchaikovsky observed, there’s no indication of it in his correspondence round that point, in response to Schwarm, the historian.
“After they have been on the brink of stage the ballet for the primary time, they have been having issues with the choreography,” she mentioned. “He may not have had an opportunity to have a look at the printing plates.”
Stubbs confirmed his discovery to students on the Tchaikovsky Analysis web site, who confirmed his findings and requested him to write down an article. It was not too long ago posted on the positioning.
Schwarm mentioned most individuals, except they’re listening for it, wouldn’t discover the change between what Tchaikovsky needed and what wound up within the ballet rating. “It’s a small distinction,” she mentioned. “The piccolo provides the brightness we’re all used to. Two flutes could be extra somber.”
Nonetheless, she added, “I do assume there’s quite a bit to be mentioned for enjoying it the best way the composer heard it in his head.”
Stubbs agrees, and — COVID-19 keen — he plans to appropriate his association for “Nutcracker” performances later this 12 months. He mentioned he’s shared his discovery with different conductors he is aware of, and he hopes they’ll make the change, too.
“It’s a quite simple repair,” he mentioned. “After which individuals can hear what Tchaikovsky supposed.”