Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

The Sugar Plum Fairy’s Celesta

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‘Tis the season for Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, and one of the most well-known pieces from that work is the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

So how do you get that magical tinkling sound?  The celesta.

The celesta is a keyboard instrument that produces its sound through the striking of metal plates with little hammers connected to the keys, in the same way that pianos strike strings.

Here is a video from the Colorado Springs Philharmonic introducing the celesta.

If you are interested in a more in-depth treatment of the mechanics and the manufacturing of celestas, see this video from Schiedmayer Celesta GmbH.

Would you like to see The Nutcracker in its entirety?  You can!  EuroArts presents it on YouTube (with minimal commercial interruption).  You can find the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy at time stamp 1:29:00.  If you would like to see a purely orchestral version, you can see The Nutcracker performed by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (with the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy at 1:22:00).

But the celesta doesn’t go back in the storage room after the Christmas season!  It is used in a number of other works, namely Mahler’s Symphony No. 6Symphony No. 8, and Das Lied von der Erde, as well as several symphonies by Shostakovich.  A wonderful use of the celesta can be found in Gustav Holst’s The Planets in the mystical final movement Neptune.

It can also be found in Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite, and many operas.

Listen, and I think you’ll be surprised how often you’ll find the celesta adding that extra bit of magic to the music around you!

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