May 18th – Swan Lake

Swan Lake is a ballet set to music by Russian composer Tchaikovsky in 1875-6. The ballet follows the sad story of Odette, a princess who has been turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer.

Consider what is required of music that is used for ballets, and see if you can spot these features as you listen:

  • The dancers need a clear beat so that they can keep in time with the music (and each other!).
  • There is no speech in a ballet – the story is told entirely through music and movement, so the emotions of the characters must be conveyed in the music.
  • Ballets often have a mixture of characters with different personalities, so the style of the music may change drastically depending on who is in the scene.

This video shows an orchestra playing the first two musical numbers in Swan Lake:

Scene (the swan theme) starts at 0:00. Can you hear the shivery tremolo strings? The oboe melody? Does the music help you to imagine swans swimming across a lake

Waltz starts at 3:05. What moods can you hear in this music? (The mood might not be the same all the way through – can you hear any moments of anger, joy, thoughtfulness, calm, excitement….?)

This article was written by alison