Opera and Ballet Stories in Music    

Lesson 16: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King - Chapter 7: The Story of the Hard Nut

by E.T.A. Hoffman

Performer: LibriVox - Sandra Cullum

Pirlipat's mother was the wife of a king, and therefore a queen, and Pirlipat straightway at the moment of her birth a true princess. The king was beside himself with joy, when he saw his beautiful daughter, as she lay in the cradle. He shouted aloud, danced, jumped about upon one leg, and cried again and again, "Ha! ha! was there ever anything seen more beautiful than my little Pirlipat?"

Thereupon all the ministers, generals, presidents and staff officers jumped about upon one leg like the king, and cried aloud, "No, never!"

And it was so, in truth, for as long as the world has been standing, a lovelier child was never born, than this very Princess Pirlipat. Her little face seemed made of lilies and roses, delicate white and red. Her eyes were of living sparkling azure, and it was charming to see how her little locks curled in bright golden ringlets.

Besides this, Pirlipat had brought into the world two rows of little pearly teeth, with which two hours after her birth, she bit the high chancellor's finger, as he was examining her features too closely, so that he screamed out, "Oh, Gemini!" Others assert that he screamed out, "Oh, Crickee!" but on this point authorities are at the present day divided.

Well, little Pirlipat bit the high chancellor's finger, and the enraptured land knew now that some sense dwelt in Pirlipat's beautiful body. As has been said, all were delighted.

The queen alone was very anxious and uneasy, and no one knew wherefore, but everybody remarked with surprise, the care with which she watched Pirlipat's cradle. Besides that the doors were guarded by soldiers, and not counting the two nurses, who always remained close by the cradle, six maids night after night sat in the room to watch.

But what seemed very foolish, and no one could understand the meaning of it, was this. Each of these six maids must have a cat upon her lap, and stroke it the whole night through, and thus keep it continually purring. It is impossible that you, dear children, can guess why Pirlipat's mother made all these arrangements, but I know, and will straightway tell you.

It happened that once upon a time many great kings and fine princes were assembled at the court of Pirlipat's father, on which occasion much splendor was displayed. The theatres were crowded, balls were given, and tournaments held almost every day. The king, in order to show plainly that he was in no want of gold and silver, was resolved to take a good handful out of his royal treasury, and expend it in a suitable manner. Therefore as soon as he had been privately informed by the overseer of the kitchen, that the court astronomer had predicted the right time for killing, he ordered a great feast of sausages, leaped into his carriage, and went himself to invite the assembled kings and princes to take a little soup with him, in order to enjoy the agreeable surprise which he had prepared for them.

Upon his return, he said very affectionately to the queen, "You know, my dear, how extremely fond I am of sausages."

The queen knew at once what he meant by that, and it was this, that she should take upon herself, as she had often done before, the useful occupation of making sausages. The lord treasurer must straightway bring to the kitchen the great golden sausage kettle, and the silver chopping knives and stew-pans. A large fire of sandalwood was made, the queen put on her damask apron, and soon the sweet smell of the sausage meat began to steam up out of the kettle.

The agreeable odor penetrated even to the royal council chamber, and the king, seized with a sudden transport, could no longer restrain himself, "With your permission, my lords," he cried, and leaped up, ran as fast as he could into the kitchen, embraced the queen, stirred a little with his golden scepter in the kettle, and then his emotion being quieted, returned calmly to the council.

The important moment had now arrived when the fat was to be chopped into little pieces, and browned gently in the silver stew pans. The maids of honor now retired, for the queen, out of true devotion and reverence for her royal spouse, wished to perform this duty alone.

But just as the fat began to fry, a small whimpering, whispering voice was heard, "Give me a little of the fat, sister—I should like my part of the feast—I too am a queen—give me a little of the fat."

The queen knew very well that it was Lady Mouserings who said this. Lady Mouserings had lived these many years in the king's palace. She maintained that she was related to the royal family, and that she was herself a queen in the kingdom of Mousalia, for which reason she held a great court under the hearth. The queen was a kind and benevolent lady, and although she was not exactly willing to acknowledge Lady Mouserings as a true queen and sister, yet she was very ready to allow her a little banquet on this great holiday.

She answered, therefore, "Come out, then, Lady Mouserings, you are welcome to a little of the fat."

Upon this, Lady Mouserings leaped out very quickly and merrily, jumped upon the hearth, and seized with her dainty little paws, one piece of fat after the other as the queen reached it to her. But now, all the cousins and aunts of the Lady Mouserings came running out, besides her seven sons, rude and forward rogues, who all fell at once upon the fat, and the terrified queen could not drive them away.

But as good fortune would have it, the chief maid of honor came in at this moment, and chased away the intruding guests, so that a little of the fat was left. The king's mathematician being summoned, demonstrated very clearly that there was enough, remaining to season all the sausages, if distributed with the nicest judgment and skill.

Drums and trumpets were now heard without, and all the invited potentates and princes, some on white palfreys, some in crystal carriages, came in splendid apparel to the sausage-feast. The king received them kindly and graciously, and then, adorned with crown and scepter, as became the monarch of the land, seated himself at the head of the table.

Already in the first course, that of the sausage balls, it was observed that he grew pale and paler, raised his eyes to heaven, gentle sighs escaped from his bosom, and he seemed to undergo great inward suffering. But in the second course, which consisted of the long sausages, he sank back upon his throne, sobbing and moaning, held both bands to his face, and at last wept and groaned aloud. All sprang up from the table, the royal physician tried in vain to feel the pulse of the unhappy monarch, a deep-seated, unknown torture appeared to agitate him.

At last, after much anxiety, and after the application of some very strong remedies, the king seemed to come a little to himself, and stammered out scarce audibly the words, "Too little fat."

Then the queen threw herself in despair at his feet, and sobbed out, "Oh, my poor, unhappy, royal husband! Alas, how great must be the suffering which you endure! But see the guilty one at your feet. Punish, punish her without mercy. Alas! Lady Mouserings with her seven sons, and aunts and cousins, have eaten up the fat, and—" with these words she fell right over backwards in a swoon.

Then the king, full of rage, leaped up and cried out, "Chief maid of honor, how happened that?"

The chief maid of honor told the story, as much as she knew of it, and the king resolved to take vengeance upon Lady Mouserings and her family for having eaten up the fat of his sausages. The privy council was called, and it was resolved to summon Lady Mouserings to trial, and confiscate all her estates. But as the king was of opinion that in the meanwhile she might eat up more of his sausage fat, the affair was placed at last in the hands of the royal watchmaker and mechanist.

This man (whose name was the same as mine, to wit, Christian Elias Drosselmeier engaged, by means of a very singular and deep political scheme, to drive Lady Mouserings and her family from the palace forever. He invented therefore several curious little machines, in which a piece of toasted fat was fastened to a thread, and these Drosselmeier placed around Lady Mouserings' dwelling.

Lady Mouserings was much too wise not to see through Drosselmeier's craft, but all her Avarnings, all her entreaties were of no avail, every one of her seven sons, and many of her cousins and aunts, went into Drosselmeier's machines, and, as they tried to snap away the fat, were caught by an iron grating, which fell suddenly down behind them, and were afterwards miserably slaughtered in the kitchen. Lady Mouserings, with the little remnant of her family, forsook the dreadful place. Grief, despair, revenge filled her bosom.

The court reveled in joy at this event, but the queen was very anxious, for she knew the disposition of Lady Mouserings, and was very sure that she would not suffer the death of her sons to go unavenged.

In fact, Lady Mouserings appeared one day, when the queen was in the kitchen, preparing a harslet hash for her royal husband, a dish of which he was very fond, and said, "My sons, my cousins and aunts are destroyed. Take care queen, that Mouse-Queen does not bite thy little princess in two—take good care."

With this she disappeared, and was not seen again, but the queen was so frightened that she let the hash fall into the fire, and thus a second time Lady Mouserings spoiled a favorite dish for the king, at which he was very angry.

"But this, dear children," said Drosselmeier, "is enough for tonight—the rest at another time."

Maria, who had her own thoughts about this story, begged Godfather Drosselmeier very hard to go on, but she could not prevail upon him.

He rose, saying, "Too much at once is bad for the health—the rest tomorrow."

As the Counsellor was just stepping out of the room, Fred called out, "Tell me, Godfather Drosselmeier, is it then really true that you invented mousetraps?"

"How can you ask such a silly question?" said his mother, but the Counsellor smiled mysteriously, and said in an under tone, "Am I a skillful watchmaker, and yet not able to invent a mousetrap?"

    Opera and Ballet Stories in Music    

Lesson 16: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King - Chapter 7: The Story of the Hard Nut

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 7 of E.T.A. Hoffmann's story 'The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,' along with the Dance of the Reed Flutes 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: Dance of the Reed Flutes (time 13.57-16.14)