Opera and Ballet Stories in Music    

Lesson 17: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King - Chapter 8: The Story of the Hard Nut Continued

by E.T.A. Hoffman

Performer: LibriVox - Sandra Cullum

You know now, children, commenced Counsellor Drosselmeier, on the following evening, why the queen took such care in guarding the beautiful Princess Pirlipat. Was it not to be feared that Lady Mouserings would execute her threat, that she would come again, and bite the little princess to death?

Drosselmeier's machines were not the least protection against the wise and prudent Lady Mouserings, but the court astronomer, who was at the same time private star-gazer and fortune-teller to his majesty, declared it to be his opinion that the family of Baron Purr would be able to keep Lady Mouserings from the cradle.

Most of that name were secretaries of legation at court, with little to do, though always at hand for an embassy to a foreign power, but they must now render themselves useful at home. And thus it came that each of the waiting-women must hold a son of that family upon her lap, and by continual and attentive fondling, lighten the severe public duties which fell to their lot.

Late one night the two chief nurses who sat close "by the cradle, started up out of a deep sleep. All around lay in quiet slumber—no purring—the stillness of the grave! even the death-watch could be heard ticking! and what was the terror of the two chief waiting-women, as they just saw before them a large, dreadful mouse, which stood erect upon its hind feet, and had laid its ugly head close against the face of the princess.

With a cry of terror they jumped up, all awoke, but in a moment Lady Mouserings (for the great mouse by Pirlipat's cradle was no one but she) ran as fast as she could to the corner of the chamber. The secretaries of legation leaped after her, but too late—she had disappeared through a hole in the chamber floor. Little Pirlipat awoke at the noise and wept bitterly.

"Thank heaven," cried the nurse, "she lives—she lives!"

But how great was their terror, when they looked at Pirlipat, and saw what a change had taken place in the sweet beautiful child. Instead of the white and red face with golden locks, a large, ill-shaped head sat upon her thin shriveled body, her azure blue eyes were changed into green staring ones, and her little mouth had stretched itself from ear to ear.

The queen was brought to death's door by grief and sorrow, and it was found necessary to hang the king's library with thick wadded tapestry, for again and again he ran his head against the wall, crying out at every time in lamentable tones, "Ah, me, unhappy monarch!" He might now have seen how much better it would have been to eat his sausages without fat, and to leave Lady Mouserings and her family at peace under the hearth, but Pirlipat's royal father did not think about all this, he laid all the blame upon the court watchmaker and mechanist, Christian Elias Drosselmeier of Nuremburg.

He therefore wisely decreed that Drosselmeier should restore the Princess Pirlipat to her former condition within four weeks, or at least find out some certain and infallible method of effecting this, otherwise he should suffer a shameful death under the axe of the executioner.

Drosselmeier was not a little terrified, but he had great confidence in his skill and good fortune, and began immediately the first operation which he thought useful. He took little Princess Pirlipat apart with great dexterity, unscrewed her little hands and feet, and carefully examined her inward structure, but he found, alas, that the princess would grow uglier as she grew bigger, and knew not what to do or what to advise. He put the princess carefully together again, and sank down by her cradle in despair, for he was not allowed to leave it.

The fourth, week had commenced—yes, Thursday had come, when the king looked in with flashing eyes, and shaking his scepter at him, cried, "Christian Elias Drosselmeier, cure the princess, or thou must die."

Drosselmeier began to weep bitterly, but the Princess Pirlipat lay as happy as the day, and cracked nuts. Pirlipat's uncommon appetite for nuts now occurred for the first time to the mechanist, and the fact likewise that she had come into the world with teeth.

In truth, immediately after her transformation, she had screamed continually until a nut accidentally came in her way, which she immediately put into her mouth, cracked it, ate the kernel, and then became quite composed. Since that time her nurses found that nothing pleased her so well as to be supplied with nuts.

"Oh, sacred instinct of Nature! eternal, inexplicable sympathy of existence!" cried Christian Elias Drosselmeier. "Thou pointest me to the gates of this mystery. I will knock, and they will open."

He begged straightway for permission to speak with the royal astronomer, and was led to his apartment under a strong guard. They embraced with many tears, for they had been warm friends, then retired into a private cabinet, and examined a great many books which treated of instinct, of sympathies, and antipathies, and other mysterious things.

Night came on. The astronomer looked at the stars, and with the aid of Drosselmeier, who had great skill in such matters, set up the horoscope of Princess Pirlipat. It was a great deal of trouble, for the lines grew all the while more and more intricate, but at last—what joy!—at last it became clear, that the Princess Pirlipat, in order to be freed from the magic which had deformed her, and to regain her beauty, had nothing to do but to eat the kernel of the nut Crackatuck.

Now the nut Crackatuck had such a hard shell, that an eight-and-forty pounder might be wheeled over it without breaking it. This hard nut must be cracked with the teeth before the princess, by a man who had never been shaved, and had never worn boots. The young man must then hand her the kernel with closed eyes, and must not open them again until he had marched seven steps backward without stumbling.

Drosselmeier and the astronomer had labored together, without cessation, for three days and nights, and the king was seated at dinner on Sunday afternoon, when the mechanist, who was to have been beheaded early Monday morning, rushed in with joy and transport, and proclaimed that he had found out a method of restoring to the Princess Pirlipat her lost beauty. The king embraced him with great kindness, and promised him a diamond sword, four orders of honor, and two new Sunday suits.

"Immediately after dinner we will go to work," he added. "And see to it, dear mechanist, that the unshorn young man in shoes is ready at hand with the nut Crackatuck, and take care that he drinks no wine beforehand, for fear he should stumble as he goes the seven steps backward, like a crab. Afterward he may drink like a fish."

Drosselmeier was very much discomposed at these words, and, after much stuttering and stammering, said, that the method was discovered, indeed, but that the nut Crackatuck and the young man to crack it were yet to be sought after, and that it was quite doubtful whether nut or nutcracker would ever be found.

The king in great anger swung his scepter about his crowned head, and roared with the voice of a lion, "Then off goes thy head!"

It was very fortunate for the unhappy Drosselmeier, that the kind's dinner had been cooked better than usual this day, so that he was in a pleasant humor, and disposed to listen to reason, while the good queen, who was moved by the hard fate of the mechanist, used her influence to soothe him.

Drosselmeier then after a while took courage, and represented to the monarch, that he had performed his task in discovering the means to restore the princess to her beauty, and thus by the terms of the royal decree had secured his safety.

The king said that was all trash, stupid stuff and nonsense, but resolved at last, that the watchmaker should leave the court instantly, accompanied by the royal astronomer, and never return without the nut Crackatuck in his pocket. By the intercession of the queen, he consented that the nutcracker might be summoned by a notice in all the home and foreign newspapers and journals.

Here the Counsellor broke off again, and promised to narrate the rest on the following evening.

    Opera and Ballet Stories in Music    

Lesson 17: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King - Chapter 8: The Story of the Hard Nut Continued

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 8 of E.T.A. Hoffmann's story 'The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,' along with the Waltz of the Flowers 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: Waltz of the Flowers (time 16.14-end of recording).