Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Swan Lake | How does the most danced love story in history end?
The classic ballet par excellence, Swan Lake, by the magnificent Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, hides many things, from its conception to the end of the love story between Odette and Siegfried. We reveal all the secrets of the swans 🦢
Reading Time | 5 min
Listening Time | 4 min
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Video | Tchaikovsky Swan Lake (Final Scene)
- Trembol | How did Swan Lake come about?
- You can’t miss | Best parts of Swan Lake
- This is what it tells | Story behind Swan Lake
- Did you know? | Fun facts about Swan Lake
- Much more | Ballet dancers, movies…
- Technical Note about Swan Lake by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Trembol | How did Swan Lake come about?
When you are little, you hear a lot of classical music melodies in cartoons, movies, commercials, but you don’t know what work they belong to or who their author is, you just know if you like them or not.
In my case, I was always excited to hear this:
At that time, I didn’t know that this music was part of Swan Lake, and that it was played both in the final scene (the one in the video at the beginning), and in the second act, under the name ‘No 10 Scene: Moderato‘ (the one in the video I just showed you).
Gradually I discovered that the author was the most famous Russian composer in history, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and that it was a ballet that those in charge of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow had commissioned Tchaikovsky in 1875. Do you know how much they paid him? 800 rubles, less than $10 😲
It was the first ballet he composed, so he was inspired by another great of the time, Léo Delibes, author of Sylvia and Coppélia.
It premiered in 1877 with a not very worked choreography by Julius Reisinger, and a libretto that is speculated to have been based on a German tale called ‘The Stolen Veil‘, by Johann Karl August Musäus. Although other experts relate the story to that of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, known as King Swan, who died drowned in a lake.
The fact is that the premiere was a failure, and it would not be until almost 20 years later, in 1895, that it would be revived at the Mariinski Theater in St. Petersburg with a new choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. This time it triumphed.
Since then, it would continue to be performed with certain variations, so that in the 1940s it was already recognized as an essential ballet work. Today it is perhaps the most famous title in the world and the most prestigious dancers, such as Anna Pavlova and Rudolf Nureyev have performed it.
In my case, its music still makes my hair stand on end.
The director of the English National Ballet said about Swan Lake:
Interpretar el rol de Odette/Odile de “El Lago de los Cisnes” es como hacer de doctor Jeckill y Mr Hyde, con la complicación que sólo puede utilizar su cuerpo y el movimiento para matizar el cambio entre el inocente y puro cisne blanco y el maligno y erótico cisne negro.
Es el rol que cualquier bailarina quiere interpretar y el que más le permite poner a prueba sus aptitudes
Playing the role of Odette/Odile from “Swan Lake” is like playing Dr. Jeckill and Mr. Hyde, with the complication that she can only use her body and movement to nuance the change between the innocent and pure white swan and the evil and erotic black swan.
It is the role that any dancer wants to play and the one that most allows her to put her skills to the test.
🎵 Find out more great music stories.
You can’t miss ⭐️ The best of Swan Lake
1. Swan dance. It is as nice to see as it is to hear
2. The waltz in the second act is wonderful
3. The Scene, the most beautiful piece by Tchaikovsky
This is what it tells | The story of Swan Lake and its final
ACT I: A magnificent park before a palace
- Prince Siegfried is celebrating his 20th birthday with his friends in the palace gardens.
- His mother interrupts them, reminding him that the next day he will have to choose a wife at the royal ball.
- This saddens Siegfried 😭 who would like to marry for love. At that moment, they see a flock of swans flying and organize a hunting party.
ACT II: A lakeside clearing in a forest by the ruins of a chapel. A moonlit night.
- Siegfried gets separated from his friends and arrives at a lake, sees the swans 🦢 and takes aim at them, but then one of them turns into a beautiful woman, Odette.
- Odette, the swan queen, tells him that she and her friends are victims of the terrible spell of the evil sorcerer Rothbart.
- The spell will only be broken if someone who has never loved before swears to love Odette forever.
- If Rothbart dies before the spell is broken, it will never be undone.
- Siegfried and Odette fall in love 😍 but at dawn she transforms into a swan again and leaves.
ACT III: An opulent hall in the palace
- The next day the party is held in the palace 🥳 Siegfried does not want to dance with any girl, he only thinks of Odette.
- At that moment Rothbart, the sorcerer, arrives in disguise with his daughter Odile, transformed into Odette. They are identical except that Odile wears black instead of white.
- The prince thinks she is Odette and announces that he will marry her. Then Rothbart and Odile are shown for what they are and Siegfried realizes his terrible mistake, running in despair toward the lake ❄️
ACT IV (FINAL): By the lakeside
- Siegfried sees the real Odette and begs her forgiveness. Then Rothbart appears and they fight him ⚔️
What is the true ending of Swan Lake?
Well, it turns out that there are many different endings, to suit all tastes.
- In the 1877 original, Odette and the prince drown in the lake, that breaks the jinx, and they are left together as spirits 😇
- In a later version they defeat Rothbart and marry. Happy ending.
- In the staging by Rudolf Nureyev and several others, Siegfried dies.
- There is also a version with Siegfried and Rothbart dead and Odette as a swan.
You can see all Swan Lake endings here.
Did you know...?
Tchaikovsky admired the technique known as leitmotiv since he saw Adam’s ballet Giselle.
In this technique, a theme or melody is associated with certain characters. This is what he would do in Swan Lake.
The Italian composer, Riccardo Eugenio Drigo, revised Tchaikovsky’s score for Petipa and Ivanov’s 1895 production, which began the success of Swan Lake.
While in early performances the roles of Odile and Odette were played by two different dancers, over time it became common for a single dancer to play both roles.
Much more | Ballet dancers, movies…
There are many well-known ballerinas who have played the swan, among them: Maya Plisetskaya, Ulyana Lopatkina, Margot Fonteyn, Svetlana Zakharova or Polina Semionova.
Likewise we have to highlight 3 🩰:
- Anna Sobeshchanskaya: She was the first in 1877.
- Pierina Legnani: Pioneer in performing 32 fouettés (turn on a single supporting leg), which is already a classic in Swan Lake.
- Anna Pavlova: For her 4 minutes dancing a solo representing “The Dying Swan“. Although this piece is not part of Swan Lake, nor was it composed by Tchaikovsky.
Anna Sobeshchanskaya as Odette in the original production of Swan Lake (Moscow, 1877).
Swan Lake (Matthew Bourne)
Swan Lake is so popular that it has been made into books, video games, musicals, but most of all, movies 🎞️. The best known are:
- Black Swan: With Natalie Portman as the swan.
- The Swan Princess: Children’s movie.
Regarding ballet, the most controversial version is the one by Matthew Bourne in 1995 where all the dancers are men 👯♂️
Technical Note | Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Swan Lake
Tchaikovsky composed Swan Lake for a large orchestra. At the end of the 19th century it was typically composed by:
- 🎻 Strings: violins I and II; violas, violoncellos; double basses, harp
- 📯 Woodwinds: piccolo; 2 flutes; 2 oboes; 2 clarinets in B♭, A and C; 2 bassoonsd
- 🎺 Brass: 4 French horns in F; 2 cornets in A and B♭; 2 trumpets in F, D, and E; 3 trombones (2 tenor, 1 bass); tuba
- 🥁 Percussion: timpani; snare drum; cymbals; bass drum; triangle; tambourine; castanets; tam-tam; glockenspiel; chimes