Opera and Ballet Stories in Music    

Lesson 21: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King - Chapter 12: The Puppet Kingdom

by E.T.A. Hoffman

Performer: LibriVox - Sandra Cullum

I believe that none of you, children, would have hesitated for an instant to follow the good, honest Nutcracker, who could never have meditated any evil.

Maria consented to follow him, so much the more readily, because she knew what claims she had upon his gratitude, and because she was convinced that he would keep his word, and show her many beautiful things. "I will go with you, Master Drosselmeier," she said. "But it must not be far, and it must not be long, for as yet I have hardly had any sleep."

"I will choose, then," replied Nutcracker, the nearest, though a more difficult way." He went onward, and Maria followed him, until he stopped before a large, antique wardrobe, which stood in the hall.

Maria perceived, to her astonishment, that the doors of this wardrobe, which were always kept locked, now stood wide open, so that she could see her father's fox furred travelling coat, which hung in front. Nutcracker clambered very nimbly up by the carved figures and ornaments, until he could grasp the large tassel which hung down the back of the coat, and was fastened to it by a thick cord.

As soon as Nutcracker pulled upon the tassel, a neat little stairs of cedarwood stretched down from the sleeve of the travelling, coat to the floor. "Ascend, if you please, dearest Miss," cried Nutcracker.

Maria did so, but scarcely had she gone up the sleeve, scarcely had she seen her way out at the collar, when a dazzling light broke forth upon her, and all at once she stood upon a sweet-smelling meadow, surrounded by millions of sparks, which darted up like flashing jewels.

"We are now upon Candy Meadow," said Nutcracker, "but we will directly pass through, yonder gate."

When Maria looked up, she saw the beautiful gate, which stood a few steps before them upon the meadow. It seemed built of variegated marble, of white, brown, and raisin color, but when Maria came nearer, she perceived that the whole mass consisted of sugar, almonds and raisins, kneaded and baked together, for which reason the gate, as Nutcracker assured her when they passed through it, was called the Almond and Raisin Gate.

Upon a gallery built over the gate, made apparently of barley-sugar, there were six apes, in red jackets, who struck up the finest Turkish music which was ever heard, so that Maria scarcely observed that they were walking onward and onward, over a rich mosaic, which was nothing else than a pavement of nicely-inlaid lozenges. Very soon the sweetest odors streamed around them, which were wafted from a wonderful little wood, that opened on each side before them. There it shone and sparkled so, among the dark leaves, that the golden and silvery fruit could plainly be seen hanging from their gaily-colored stems, while the trunks and branches were ornamented with ribbons and nosegays, and when the orange perfume stirred and moved like a soft breeze, how it rustled among the boughs and leaves, and the golden fruit rocked and rattled in merry music, to which the bright, dancing sparkles kept time!

"Ah, how delightful it is here!" cried Maria, entranced in happiness.

"We are in Christmas Wood, best miss," said Nutcracker.

"Ah, if I could but linger here a while," cried Maria. "Oh, it is too, too charming!"

Nutcracker clapped his hands, and some little shepherds and shepherdesses, and hunters and huntresses came near, who were so delicate and white, that they seemed made of pure sugar. They brought a dainty little armchair, all of gold, laid upon it a green cushion of candied citron, and invited Maria very politely to sit down.

She did so, and immediately the shepherds and shepherdesses danced a very pretty ballet, while the hunters very obligingly blew their horns, and then all disappeared again in the bushes.

"Pardon, pardon, kindest Miss Stahlbaum," said Nutcracker, "the dance was miserably performed, but the people all belong to our company of wire dancers, and they can do nothing but the same, same thing. They are deficient in variety. And the hunters blew so dull and lazily—but shall we not walk a little farther?"

"Ah, it was all very pretty, and pleased me very much," said Maria, as she rose, and followed Nutcracker.

They now walked along by a soft, rustling brook, out of which all the sweet perfumes seemed to arise which filled the whole wood. "This is the Orange Brook," said Nutcracker, "but its fine perfume excepted, it cannot compare either in size or beauty with Lemonade River, which like it empties into Orgeat Lake."

In fact Maria very soon heard a louder rustling and dashing, and then beheld the broad Lemonade River, which rolled in proud cream-colored billows, between banks covered with bright green bushes. A refreshing coolness arose out of its noble waves.

Not far off, a dark yellow stream dragged itself lazily along, but it gave forth a very sweet odor, and a great number of little children sat on the shore angling for little fish, which they ate up as soon as caught. When Maria came nearer she observed that these fish were shaped almost like peanuts. At a distance there was a very neat little village, on the borders of this stream. Houses, churches, parsonages, barns, were all dark brown, but many of the roofs were gilded, and some of the walls were painted so strangely, that it seemed as if little sugar plums and bits of citron were stuck upon them.

"This is Gingerbreadville," said Nutcracker, "which lies on Molasses River. Very pretty people live in it, but they are a little ill-tempered, because they suffer a good deal from the toothache, and so we will not visit it."

At this moment Maria observed a little town in which the houses were clear and transparent, and of different colors, which was a very pretty sight to look at. Nutcracker went straight forward towards it, and now Maria heard a busy, merry clatter, and saw a thousand tiny little figures, collected around some heavily laden wagons, which had stopped in the market. These they unloaded, and what they took out looked like sheets of colored paper and chocolate cakes.

"We are now in Bonbon Town," said Nutcracker. "An importation has just arrived from Paper Land, and from King Chocolate. The poor people of Bonbon Town are often terribly threatened by the armies of Generals Fly and Gnat, for which reason they fortify their houses with stout materials from Paper Land, and throw up fortifications of the strong bulwarks, which King Chocolate sends to them. But, worthiest Miss Stahlbaum, we will not visit all the little towns and villages of this land. To the capital—to the capital!"

Nutcracker hastened forward, and Maria followed full of curiosity. It was not long before a sweet odor of roses enveloped them, and everything around was touched with a soft rose-colored tint. Maria soon observed that this was the reflection of the red glancing lake, which rustled and danced before them, with charming and melodious tones in little rosy waves. Beautiful silver-white swans with golden collars, swam over the lake singing sweet tunes, while little diamond fish dipped up and down in the rosy water, as if in the merriest dance.

"Ah," exclaimed Maria, ardently, "this is then the lake which Godfather Drosselmeier was once going to make for me, and I myself am the maiden, who is to fondle and caress the dear swans."

Nutcracker laughed in a scornful manner, such as Maria had never observed in him before, and then said, "Godfather Drosselmeier can never make anything like this. You, you yourself, rather, sweetest Miss Stahlbaum, but we will not trouble our heads about that. Let us sail across the Rose Lake to the capital."

    Opera and Ballet Stories in Music    

Lesson 21: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King - Chapter 12: The Puppet Kingdom

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 12 of E.T.A. Hoffmann's story 'The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,' along with the entirety of the 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: Identify the Movements

A 'movement' is a principal division of a longer musical work, self-sufficient in terms of key, tempo, and structure.

There are eight (8) movements in the core Nutcracker Suite performance. Listen for each and try to identify them (the listed times will help at first and later instructors might randomize the movements). The titles of each movement are listed below.

  • Overture (time 0.00)
  • March (time 3.24)
  • Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (time 6.11)
  • Trepak (Russian Dance) (time 8.25)
  • Coffee (Arabian Dance) (time 9.32)
  • Tea (Chinese Dance) (time 12.53)
  • Dance of the Reed Flutes (time 13.57)
  • Waltz of the Flowers (time 16.14)