About "Dance of the Reed Pipes"

by Charmaine Jens
The flute is similar to the French mirliton.

The flute is similar to the French mirliton.

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"Dance of the Reed Pipes," also known as "Dance of the Mirlitons," "Dance of the Flutes" or "Marzipan," is a dramatic musical selection from "The Nutcracker" -- one of the most celebrated ballets of all time. "The Nutcracker" was originally performed on Dec. 5, 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The beautifully infectious and vibrant piece was also featured in the 1940 Disney Classic, "Fantasia." "Dance of the Reed Pipes" is the highlight of the second act of "The Nutcracker" ballet.

Musical Composition

The piece is played in the key of D major, the range of D4-Bb6, the time signature 2/4, meaning it has two beats per measure instead of four, and a tempo of 72 beats per minute, or Moderato Assai (very moderate). It uses a three-part, ternary form of A-B-A, which means the first and third parts (A) are identical, whereas the second part (B) contrasts sharply. Typically, an A-B-A arrangement has no chorus and is written as a thematic melody. The string accompaniment is in the key of D major, and the brass section performs in the key of f# minor with a steady eighth note pulse.


Wind instruments provide the primary instrumentation for "Dance of the Reed Pipes." Wind instruments include the oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, French horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba and timpani. Cymbals give the piece dramatic climax throughout. The string section includes the bass, cello and viola. "Dance of the Reed Pipes" begins with a gentle plucking of the strings, followed by the flute's main melody, the gradual accompaniment and solo of the English horn, a joining of the trumpets and percussion, then ends with a final flute solo.


Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky -- normally Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky in English -- was born on May 7, 1840 in Votkinsk, Russia and died on Nov. 6, 1893 in St. Petersburg. He was a composer of the Romantic era. His works include six symphonies and some of the world's most performed ballets, including "Swan Lake," "The Nutcracker" and "Sleeping Beauty." Popular pieces from "The Nutcracker" include "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" and "Dance of the Reed Pipes." He dedicated much of his talents to the composition of dramatic, orchestral, chamber or vocal music.

"The Nutcracker"

"The Nutcracker" was written as a two-act ballet from a popular Christmas tale by the 18th century German writer E.T.A. Hoffman. The exquisite musical flavor of the story is delivered through such illustrious pieces as "Miniature Overture," "March," "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," "Trepak, Russian Dance," "Arabian Dance," "Dance of the Reed Pipes" and "Waltz of the Flowers." "The Nutcracker" story begins with the children opening their much anticipated presents. One of the gifts, a charming doll, breaks during the brother's attempt to crack a nut in its mouth. The girl becomes terribly upset and the family drawing room becomes invaded by an army of mice. The doll miraculously transforms into a handsome soldier prince and leads the battle against the evil mice. When victory comes and peace is restored, the girl and the prince embark upon a journey to the enchanted Kingdom of Sweets governed by the Sugar Plum Fairy.

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