A Comparison of Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

1. Introduction

Instrumental music has always been an important part of the Western musical tradition. Two of the most popular and well-known pieces of instrumental music are Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67. Both pieces are staples of the classical repertoire and are among the most frequently performed and recorded works of their respective composers.

In order to compare the two pieces, several aspects should be analyzed, which include instrumentation, form, harmony, tempo, meter, texture, style period, meaning, and orientation. By looking at these various elements, we can get a better understanding of how these two pieces of music are similar and how they differ from one another.

2. Tchaikovsky and Beethoven comparison

2.1. Instrumentation

“The Nutcracker” is scored for a large orchestra that includes piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings. In comparison, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 is scored for a smaller orchestra that includes flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings. Although both pieces are scored for different sized orchestras, they both make use of similar instrumentation.

2. 2. Form

“The Nutcracker” is in the form of a ballet and is divided into two acts with eight scenes. The work is approximately one hour long. In contrast, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 is in four movements and has a duration of approximately 30 minutes. The first movement is in sonata form, the second movement is in Largo form, the third movement is in scherzo form, and the fourth movement is in sonata form once again. As we can see, the two pieces are in different forms entirely. “The Nutcracker” is a longer work that is divided into more distinct sections than Beethoven’s symphony.

2. 3. Harmony

Both “The Nutcracker” and Symphony No. 5 make use of tonality throughout their entire duration. “The Nutcracker” begins in the key of D major and eventually modulates to the key of A major by the end of the first act. Beethoven’s Symphony No., on the other hand, starts off in C minor but ends in C major by the end of its fourth movement. We can see that both pieces start off in a different key than they end in. However, they both use tonality as their main harmonic language.

2. 4 Tempo

The tempo markings for “The Nutcracker” vary throughout the work. The opening section, “Marche des soldats de plomb”, is marked “Moderato assai quasi marcia funebre” which translates to “Moderately, almost like a funeral march”. This tempo slows down even further when the Snowflakes begin to dance which is marked “Poco più lento” or “Slightly slower”. The Sugarplum Fairy’s solo is in a quick tempo marked “Allegro” or “Fast”. The final section of the work, the “Waltz of the Flowers”, is in a moderate tempo once again marked “Moderato”.

In comparison, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 has a more uniform tempo throughout its duration. The first movement is in Allegro con brio which translates to “Fast and with spirit”. The second movement, Largo, is in a slow tempo as its name suggests. The third movement, Scherzo, is in a quick tempo once again. The final movement, Allegro, is also in a fast tempo. As we can see, Beethoven’s symphony has a more consistent tempo throughout its four movements while “The Nutcracker” has a greater variety of tempi.

2. 5 Meter

The meter of “The Nutcracker” varies throughout the work as well. The opening section is in 4/4 meter while the Snowflakes’ dance is in 3/4 meter. The Sugarplum Fairy’s solo is in 6/8 meter while the Waltz of the Flowers is back in 4/4 meter. In comparison, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 is mostly in 4/4 meter except for the third movement which is in 3/4 meter. We can see that “The Nutcracker” has a greater variety of meters while Beethoven’s symphony is mostly in one meter.

2. 6 Texture

The texture of “The Nutcracker” changes several times throughout the work. The opening section is monophonic as it only consists of the sound of the march being played by the brass instruments. The Snowflakes’ dance is polyphonic as it features several different melodic lines being played simultaneously by the various instruments. The Sugarplum Fairy’s solo is monophonic once again as it consists of only her solo instrument, the violin, playing. The final Waltz of the Flowers is homophonic as it features all of the instruments playing together in unison.

In comparison, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 has a more consistent texture throughout its four movements. The first movement is mostly homophonic with occasional moments of polyphony. The second movement is monophonic as it consists of only the sound of the winds playing. The third movement is polyphonic once again featuring several different melodic lines being played simultaneously by the various instruments. The final movement returns to a homophonic texture with all of the instruments playing together in unison.

2. 7 Style period

“The Nutcracker” was composed during the Romantic era while Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 was composed during the Classical era. Although both pieces are considered to be classics of their respective eras, they are still quite different from one another stylistically speaking. Romantic music tends to be more emotional and expressive than Classical music which is more restrained and objective. We can hear this difference in style between the two pieces when we compare them side by side.

2. 8 Meaning

“The Nutcracker” tells the story of a young girl named Clara who dreams of a nutcracker that comes to life and takes her on a magical journey through the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets.
In contrast, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 is a more abstract work that does not tell a specific story. However, many people have interpreted the meaning of the work in various ways. Some have said that the work is about the struggle of good against evil while others have said that it is about the triumph of the human spirit. Regardless of its specific meaning, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 is a work that is full of emotion and expressiveness.

2. 9 Orientation

“The Nutcracker” is a ballet that was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa with sets and costumes designed by Ivan Vsevolozhsky. The work had its premiere in 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 was composed between 1804 and 1808 and was first performed in 1808 at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, Austria. The work was not well received at its premiere and was met with booing and calls for it to be stopped. However, the symphony has since become one of Beethoven’s most popular and well-known works.

As we can see, “The Nutcracker” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 are two very different pieces of music. Despite their differences, they are both considered to be classics of their respective eras.

Frequently Asked Questions


What are the similarities and differences between Tchaikovsky's and Beethoven's music?

Both Tchaikovsky and Beethoven were prolific and popular composers during their time periods. They both wrote a variety of music, including symphonies, concertos, operas, and solo pieces. Both composers were also known for their innovation and originality.

How did each composer's work reflect their individual personalities?

Tchaikovsky's music was known for its emotional intensity and dramatic flair, while Beethoven's music was characterized by its strength and power. Tchaikovsky's compositions often reflected his personal struggles with depression and anxiety, while Beethoven's work often conveyed his determination and defiance in the face of adversity.

What made Tchaikovsky and Beethoven two of the most popular composers of their time period?

Tchaikovsky and Beethoven were two of the most popular composers of their time period because they wrote such accessible and enjoyable music. Their music was able to reach a wide audience, and it continues to be enjoyed by people all over the world today.


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