Opera and Ballet Stories in Music    

Lesson 15: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King - Chapter 6: The Sickness

by E.T.A. Hoffman

Performer: LibriVox - Sandra Cullum

When Maria woke out of her deep and deathlike slumber, she found herself lying in her own bed, with the sun shining bright and sparkling through the ice-covered windows into the chamber. Close beside her sat a stranger, whom she soon recognized, however, as the Surgeon Wendelstern.

He said softly, "She is awake!"

Her mother then came to the bedside, and gazed upon her with anxious and inquiring looks.

"Ah, dear mother," lisped little Maria, "are all the hateful mice gone, and is the good Nutcracker safe?"

"Do not talk such foolish stuff," replied her mother. "What have the mice to do with Nutcracker? You naughty child, you have caused us a great deal of anxiety. But so it always is, when children are disobedient and do not mind their parents. You played last night with your dolls until it was very late. You became sleepy, probably, and a stray mouse may have jumped out and frightened you. At all events, you broke a pane of glass with your elbow, and cut your arm so severely, that neighbor Wendelstern, who has just taken the piece of glass out of the wound, declares that it came very near cutting a vein, in which case you might have had a stiff arm all your life, or perhaps have bled to death. It was fortunate that I woke about midnight, and not finding you in your bed, got up and went into the sitting room. There you lay in a swoon upon the floor, close by the glass case, the blood flowing in a stream. I almost fainted away myself at the sight. There you lay, and scattered around, were many of Frederic's leaden soldiers, broken China figures, gingerbread men and women and other playthings, and not far off your left shoe."

"Ah! dear mother, dear mother," exclaimed Maria, interrupting her, "those were the traces of that dreadful battle between the puppets and the mice, and what frightened me so was the danger of poor Nutcracker, when the mice were going to take him prisoner. Then I threw my shoe at the mice, and after that I don't know what happened."

Surgeon Wendelstern here made a sign to the mother, and she said very softly to Maria, "Well, never mind about it, my dear child, the mice are all gone, and little Nutcracker stands safe and sound in the glass case."

Doctor Stahlbäum now entered the chamber, and spoke for a while with Surgeon Wendelstern, then he felt Maria's pulse, and she could hear very plainly that he said something about a fever. She was obliged to remain in bed and take physic, and so it continued for some days, although except a slight pain in her arm, she felt quite well and comfortable.

She knew little Nutcracker had escaped safe from the battle, and it seemed to her that she sometimes heard his voice quite plainly, as if in a dream, saying mournfully, "Maria, dearest lady, what thanks do I not owe you! but you can do still more for me."

Maria tried to think what it could be, but in vain. Nothing occurred to her. She could not play very well on account of the wound in her arm, and when she tried to read or look at her picture books, a strange glare came across her eyes, so that she was obliged to desist. The time, during the day, always seemed very long to her, and she waited impatiently for evening, as her mother then usually seated herself by her bedside, and read or related some pretty story to her.

One evening she had just finished the wonderful history of prince Fackardin, when the door opened, and Godfather Drosselmeier entered, saying, "I must see now for myself how it goes with the sick and wounded Maria."

As soon as Maria saw Godfather Drosselmeier in his brown coat, the image of that night in which Nutcracker lost the battle against the mice, returned vividly to her mind, and she cried out involuntarily, "Oh Godfather Drosselmeier, you have been very naughty. I saw you as you sat upon the clock, and covered it with your wings, so that it should not strike loud, to scare away the mice. I heard how you called out to the Mouse-King. Why did you not come to help us, me, and the poor Nutcracker? It is all your fault, naughty Godfather Drosselmeier, that I must he here sick in bed."

Her mother was quite frightened at this, and said, "What is the matter with you, dear Maria?"

But Godfather Drosselmeier made very strange faces, and said in a grating, monotonous tone, "Pendulum must whirr—whirr—whirr —this way—that way—clock will strike—tired of ticking—all the day—softly whirr—whirr-whirr—strike kling—klang—strike klang—kling—bing and bang and bang and bing—'twill scare away the Mouse-King. Then Owl in swift flight comes at dead of night. Pendulum must whirr—whirr—Clock will strike kling—klang—this way—that way—tired of ticking all the day bing—bang—and Mouse-King scare away—whirr—whirr—prr—prr."

Maria stared at Godfather Drosselmeier, for he did not look at all as he usually did, but appeared much uglier, and he moved his right arm backward and forward, like a puppet pulled by wires. She would have been afraid of him, if her mother had not been present, and if Fred had not slipped in, in the meanwhile, and interrupted him with loud laughter.

"Ha, ha! Godfather Drosselmeier," cried Fred, "you are today too droll again—you act just like my Harlequin that I threw into the lumber room long ago."

But their mother was very serious, and said, "Dear Counsellor, this is very strange sport—what do you really mean by it?

"Gracious me," replied Drosselmeier, laughing, "have you forgotten then my pretty watchmaker's song? I always sing it to suck patients as Maria." With this he drew his chair close to her bed, and said, "Do not be angry that I did not pick out the Mouse-King's fourteen eyes that could not be—but instead, I have in store for you a very agreeable surprise." The Counsellor with these words put his hand in his pocket, drew something out slowly, and behold it was Nutcracker with his lost teeth nicely fastened in, and his lame chin well set and sound.

Maria cried aloud with joy, while her mother smiled, and said, "You see now, Maria, that Godfather Drosselmeier meant well by your little Nutcracker."

"But still you must confess," Maria, said the Counsellor, "that Nutcracker's figure is none of the finest, neither can his face be called exactly handsome. How this ugliness came to be hereditary in the family, I will now relate to you, if you will listen. Or perhaps you know already the story of the Princess Pirlipat and the Lady Mouserings, and the skillful, Watchmaker?

"Look here, Godfather Drosselmeier," interrupted Fred, "Nutcracker's teeth you have fastened in very well, and his chin is no longer lame and rickety, but why has he no sword? why have you not put on his sword?"

Ah," replied the Counsellor, angrily, "you must always meddle and make, you rogue. What is Nutcracker's sword to me? I have cured his wounds, and he may find a sword for himself as he can."

"That's true," said Fred, "he is a brave fellow, and will know how to get one."

"Tell me then, Maria," continued the Counsellor, "have you heard the story of the Princess Pirlipat?

"I hope, dear Counsellor," said the mother, "that your story will not be frightful, as those that you narrate usually are."

"By no means, dearest madam," replied Drosselmeier, "on the contrary, what I have this time the honor to relate is droll and merry."

"Begin, begin then, dear Godfather!" cried the children, and the Counsellor began as follows.

    Opera and Ballet Stories in Music    

Lesson 15: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King - Chapter 6: The Sickness

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 6 of E.T.A. Hoffmann's story 'The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,' along with Tea (Chinese 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: Tea (Chinese Dance) (time 12.53-13.57)