This year’s advent calendar is dedicated to the Fairy Tales. At this time of the year, it is and has been a tradition to tell tales of fairies, trolls and a magical world that made us dream since our childhood. Some of these wonderful stories have been an inspiration for musical works such as operas and ballets. I have searched and found some old 78-records in our collection with some of these compositions. The works that inspired these works are Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty in the Forest, The Beauty and the Beast, The Nutcracker, Hansel and Gretel, The Snow Lady, The Sandman. Those who inspired these works are the Brothers Grimm, Alexander Afanasyev, Charles Perrault, Asbørnsen and Moe, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Giambattista Bassile, and Gabrielle-Suzane Barbot de Villeneuve. Many of these stories are inspired by ancient Greek and Roman tales, as for example Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Apuleis’s The Golden Arse.
In 1740, Madame De Villeneuve wrote The Beauty and the Beast which quickly became very popular. Some years later, in 1756, Jeanne-Marie Leprince of Beaumont wrote another version, a little more “moral” than the first in which the Beauty sleept together with the Beast every night.
Zemir et Azor, an opera-comique of André-Ernest Modeste Grétry (1741-1813), was premiered in Paris on 9 November 1771. The work was so successful that in 1776 it was performed in London and in New York in 1787. The opera is inspired by Beauty and the Beast but set in exotic Persia. The aria La fauvette of Act 3 is an aria of great virtuosity, among the composer’s most famous ones.
The other work we present in the calendar is Les entretiens de la Belle en la Bête from Ma Mère L’Oye by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). The work, originally for two pianos, was composed between 1910 and 1911. In the same period, Ravel orchestrated it as a five-piece suite. In 1912, he made the work into a suite de ballet that was premiered in Paris at the Théâtre des Arts on 29 January. The Pavane de la Belle aux Bois dormant (The Sleeping Beauty of the Forest’s Pavane), also in the Advent calendar, is from the same work.
While there are thousands of variations of the tale Cinderella, the version that more than any other has survived to our days are those of Giambattista Basile published in his book Lo Cunto de li cunti of 1634, those of Charles Perrault published in Paris (1697) with the title Histoires ou Contes du temps passé, avec des Moralitez and those of the collection of tales by the Grimm brothers’ from 1812.
The composer Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) composed La Cenerentola, a drama gioccoso in two acts. The opera had its world premiere at the Valle Theatre in Rome in 1817 when Rossini was only 25 years old. Cinderella’s tale not only inspired Rossini but also many other composers, including Jean-Louis La Ruette , Nicolas Isouard, Jules Massenet, Johann Strauss II, Gustav Holst, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, and Sergei Prokofiev.
Hansel and Gretel are one of the most popular fairy tales of the Grimm brothers and was the inspiration of the most performed operas today. The music for the opera Hansel and Gretel was composed by the German composer Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921). The libretto was written by the composer’s sister, Adelheid Welte. The original idea was to compose some songs for Christmas with relating the tale. The opera was composed between 1891 and 1892 and premiered at Weimar’s Court Theatre (Hoftheater) on 23 December 1982 and conducted by the composer and conductor Richard Strauss. The original idea for a Christmas play came to fruition, and it is still a popular one today.
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and The Sandman are two stories by the German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann and are the inspiration of many of the most famous musical works.
Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Op. 71: The Nutcracker is one of the most celebrated ballets in the world. This two-act ballet was premiered in St Petersburg on 18 December 1892 at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre. Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov created the ballet’s choreography. The Nutcracker is usually part of the Christmas repertoire.
E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Sandman (Der Sandmann) was written in 1816 and inspired both tragic and comic musical works. Among the most famous are The Nuremberg Doll by the French composer Adam (1806-1856), Coppélia which is a ballet by Léo Delibes (1836-1891), the first act Olympia from the opera The Tales of Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880), and the opéra comique La Poupée by Edmond Audran (1840-1901) which was premiered at the Théâtre of Gaîete in Paris in 1896.
Like the Grimm brothers in Germany, and Alexander Affanasiev in Russia, also writers such as Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Engebretsen Moe compiled Norwegian folk and fairy tales, which are enormously popular in the Scandinavian countries. The Norske Folkeeventyr were published between 1841 and 1848. A small selection of them can be heard on our Advent calendar. The English composer Frederick Delius (1862-1934) was fascinated by the nature and culture of the Scandinavian countries. In the summer of 1887, Delius spent six weeks in Norway where he composed Eventyr, inspired by Asbjørnsen and Moe’s tales. In 1929, Delius wrote a programme note for a concert at which Thomas Beecham conducted Eventyr:
” Eventyr ” is not based on any particular story of Asbjørnsen; it is a résumé-impression of the book… [Asbjørnsen’s are] the old legends still quite alive with lonely peasants, hunters and mountaineers. These people have a naïve belief in the “Underjordiske” (the under-earthly ones), Trolls, Heinzelmännchen, hobgoblins, who either help the humans or, if provoked, become very revengeful. A boy alone in a forest would imagine he heard them trotting after him and get very frightened. At a wedding or Christmas meal a little dish of cream porridge is put on the loft for these under-earthly ones, or else they might be offended – they have been known to fetch girls away (even the bride of a wedding) in such cases and dance with them furiously till they fall down unconscious. A hunter’s luck would depend on their good or bad will. In the queer noises at night in lonely huts and woods you would imagine you heard the hordes of these mysterious beings galloping along in the distance.
The tale The Snow Maiden (Snegurouchka) is from the collection of Russian tales collected and published by Alexander Afanasyev (1826-1871) between 1855 and 1857. The Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) was inspired by this story to compose his opera Snegurouchka between 1880 and 1881; it was premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg on 29 January 1882. The stories of Afanasyev’s fairy tales were and are a source of inspiration for many Russian composers, including Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) with his celebrated ballet The Firebird.
I hope you’ll enjoy this selection of 78-records from our “Julekalender” 2020. We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Patricio Portell and The Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sound, Stavanger