Opera and Ballet Stories in Music    

Lesson 14: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King - Chapter 5: The Battle

by E.T.A. Hoffman

Performer: LibriVox - Sandra Cullum

Beat the march, true vassal Drummer!" screamed Nutcracker very loudly, and immediately the drummer began to rattle and to roll upon his drum so skillfully, that the windows of the glass case trembled and hummed again. Now it rustled and clattered therein, and Maria perceived that the covers of the little boxes in which Fred's army were quartered, were bursting open, and now the soldiers leaped out, and then down again upon the lowest shelf, where they drew up in fine array.

Nutcracker ran up and down, speaking inspiring words to the troops —"Let no dog of a trumpeter blow or stir!" he cried angrily, for he was afraid he should not be heard, and then turned quickly to Harlequin, who had grown a little pale, and chattered with his long chin. "General," he said, earnestly, "I know your courage and your experience. There is need now for a quick eye, and skill to seize the proper moment. I entrust to your command all the cavalry and artillery. You do not need a horse, for you have very long legs, and can gallop yourself tolerably well. I look to see you do your duty."

Thereupon Harlequin put his long, thin fingers to his mouth and crowed so piercingly, that it sounded as if a hundred shrill trumpets were blown merrily.

Then it stirred again in the glass case— a neighing, and a whinnying, and a stamping were heard, and see! Fred's cuirassiers and dragoons, but above all, his new splendid hussars marched out, and halted close by the case. Regiment after regiment now defiled before Nutcracker, with flying colors and warlike music, and ranged themselves in long rows across the floor of the chamber. Before them went Fred's cannon rattling along, surrounded by the cannoniers, and soon boom—boom it went, and Maria could see how the mice suffered by the fire, how the sugar plums plunged into their dark, heavy mass, covering them with white powder, and throwing them more than once into shameful disorder. But the greatest damage was done them by a heavy battery that was mounted upon mamma's footstool, which—pum, pum—kept up a steady fire of caraway seeds against the enemy, by which a great many of them fell.

The mice, notwithstanding, came nearer and nearer, and at last mastered some of the cannon, but then it went prr—prr—and Maria could scarcely see what now happened for the smoke and dust. This however was certain, that each corps fought with the greatest animosity, and the victory was for a long time doubtful. The mice kept deploying more and more forces, and the little silver shot, which they fired very skillfully, struck now even into the glass case.

Clara and Trutchen ran around in despair. "Must I die in the blossom of youth?" said Clara. "Have I so well preserved myself for this, to perish here in these walls?" cried Trutchen. Then they fell about each, other's necks, and screamed so terribly, that they could be heard above the mad tumult of the battle.

Of the scene that now presented itself you can have no idea, good reader. It went prr—prr—puff—piff—clitter—clatter—boom, burum—boom, burum—boom—in the wildest confusion, while the Mouse-King and mice squeaked and screamed, and now and then the mighty voice of Nutcracker was heard, as he gave the necessary orders, and he was seen striding along through the battalions in the hottest of the fire.

Harlequin had made some splendid charges with his cavalry, and covered himself with honor, but Fred's hussars were battered by the enemy's artillery, with odious, offensive balls, which made dreadful spots in their red jackets, for which reason they would not move forward. Harlequin ordered them to draw off to the left, and in the enthusiasm of command headed the movement himself, and the cuirassiers and dragoons followed. That is, they all drew off to the left, and galloped home. By this step the battery upon the footstool was exposed to great danger, and it was not long before a strong body of very ugly mice pushed on with such determined bravery, that the footstool, cannons, cannoniers and all were overthrown by their headlong charge. Nutcracker seemed a little disturbed at this, and gave orders that the right wing should make a retreating movement.

You know very well, oh my military reader Frederic, that to make such a movement is almost the same thing as to run away, and you are now grieving with me at the disaster which impends over the army of Maria's darling Nutcracker.

But turn your eyes from this scene, and view the left wing, where all is still in good order, and where there is yet great hope, both for the general and the army. During the hottest of the fight, large masses of mice cavalry had debouched softly from under the settee, and amid loud and hideous squeaking had thrown themselves with fury upon the left wing, but what an obstinate resistance did they meet with there! Slowly, as the difficult nature of the ground required— for the edge of the glass case had to be traversed—the china figures had advanced, headed by two Chinese emperors, and formed themselves into a hollow square.

These brave, motley, but noble troops, which were composed of Gardeners, Tyrolese, Bonzes, Friseurs, Merry-andrews, Cupids, Lions, Tigers, Peacocks, and Apes, fought with coolness, courage, and determination. By their Spartan bravery this battalion of picked men would have wrested the victory from the foe, had not a bold major rushed madly from the enemy's ranks, and bitten off the head of one of the Chinese emperors, who in falling dashed to the ground two Bonzes and a Cupid.

Through this gap the enemy penetrated into the square, and in a few moments the whole battalion was torn to pieces. Their brave resistance, therefore, was of no avail to Nutcracker's army, which, once having begun to retreat, retired farther and farther, and at every step with diminished numbers, until the unfortunate Nutcracker halted with a little band close before the glass case. "Let the reserve advance! Harlequin—Scaramouch—Drummer—where are you?"

Thus cried Nutcracker, in hopes of new troops which should deploy out of the glass case. And there actually came forth a few brown men and women, made of sweet thorn, with golden faces, and caps, and helmets, but they fought around so awkwardly, that they did not hit one of the enemy, and at last knocked the cap off their own general's head. The enemies' chasseurs, too, bit off their legs before long, so that they tumbled over, and carried with them to the ground some of Nutcracker's best officers. Nutcracker, now completely surrounded by the foe, was in the greatest peril.

He tried to leap over the edge, into the glass case, but found his legs too short. Clara and Trutchen lay each in a deep swoon. They could not help him. Hussars, dragoons sprang merrily by him into safe quarters, and in wild despair, he cried, "A horse—a horse—a kingdom for a horse!"

At this moment, two of the enemies' tirailleurs seized him by his wooden mantle, and the Mouse-King, squeaking from his seven throats, leaped in triumph towards him.

Maria could no longer control herself. "Oh, my poor Nutcracker!" she cried, sobbing, and without being exactly conscious of what she did, grasped her left shoe, and threw it with all her strength into the thickest of the mice, straight at their king. In an instant, all seemed scattered and dispersed, but Maria felt in her left arm a still sharper pain than before, and sank in a swoon to the floor.

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    Opera and Ballet Stories in Music    

Lesson 14: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King - Chapter 5: The Battle

by E.T.A. Hoffman

Performer: LibriVox - Sandra Cullum


Read the chapter and listen to the musical selection for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read the synopsis.
  • Review any vocabulary terms.
  • Read about the composer.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


This lesson features chapter 5 of E.T.A. Hoffmann's story 'The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,' along with the Coffee (Arabian Dance) from the Nutcracker ballet, Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a.


  1. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in 1840 in Votkinsk, Russia. Examine his picture.
  2. Zoom in and find Tchaikovsky's country of birth on the map of Europe below.
  3. Tchaikovsky took piano lessons starting at age five and wrote his first composition, a waltz in honor of his deceased mother, at the age of fourteen.
  4. Although as an adult Tchaikovsky first worked as a civil servant, he found his way back to music, enrolling in the Saint Petersburg Conservatory.
  5. Tchaikovsky worked as a music professor and a composer and was eventually voted into the French Académie des Beaux-Arts.
  6. Tchaikovsky died in 1893 at the age of 53, possibly from cholera due to drinking bad water.


Activity 1: Recite the Ballet Information

  • Recite the name of the composer and the name of the ballet.

Activity 2: Narrate the Story

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 3: Listen to the Movement

  • After reading the story, listen to the assigned movement: Coffee (Arabian Dance) (time 9.32-12.53)