Opera and Ballet Stories in Music    

Lesson 22: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King - Chapter 13: The Capital

by E.T.A. Hoffman

Performer: LibriVox - Sandra Cullum

Nutcracker clapped his little hands together again, when the Rose Lake began to dash louder, the waves rolled higher, and Maria perceived a car of shells, covered with bright, sparkling, gay-colored jewels, moving toward them in the distance, drawn by two golden-scaled dolphins. Twelve of the loveliest little Moors, with caps and aprons braided of humming-bird's feathers, leaped upon the shore, and carried, first Maria, and then Nutcracker, with a soft, gliding step, over the waves, and placed them in the car, which straightway began to move across the lake. Ah, how delightful it was as Maria sailed along, with the rosy air and the rosy waves breathing and dashing around her!

The two golden-scaled dolphins raised up their heads, and spouted clear, crystal streams out of their nostrils, high, high in the air, which fell down again in a thousand quivering, flashing rainbows, and it seemed as if two small silver voices sang out, "Who sails upon the rosy lake? The little fairy—awake, awake! Music and song — bim-bim, fishes—sim-sim, swans—tweet-tweet, birds—whiz-whiz, breezes! Rustling, ringing, singing, blowing! A fairy o'er the waves is going! Rosy billows, murmuring, playing, dashing, cooling the air! Roll along, along."

But the singing of the falling fountains did not seem to please the twelve little Moors, who were seated up behind the car, for they shook their parasols so hard that the palm leaves of which they were made rattled and clattered, and they stamped with their feet in very strange time, and sang, "Klapp and klipp, and klipp and klapp, backward and forward, up and down!"

"Moors are a merry folk," said Nutcracker, somewhat disturbed, "but they will make the whole lake rebellious."

And very soon there arose a confused din of strange voices, which seemed to float in the sea and in the air, but Maria did not heed them, for she was gazing in the sweet-scented, rosy waves, out of which the face of a charming little maiden smiled up upon her.

"Ah!" she cried joyfully, and struck her hands together. "Look, look, dear Master Drosselmeier! There is the Princess Pirlipat down in the water! Oh, how sweetly she smiles upon me!"

Nutcracker sighed quite sorrowfully, and said, "Oh, kindest Miss Stahlbaum, that is not the Princess Pirlipat—it is you, you—it is your own lovely face that smiles so sweetly out of the Rose Lake."

Upon this, Maria drew her head back very quickly, put her hands before her face, and blushed very much. At this moment, she was lifted out of the car by the twelve Moors, and carried to the shore. They now found themselves in a little thicket, which was perhaps more beautiful even than the Christmas Wood, it was so bright and sparkling. What was most wonderful in it were the strange fruits that hung upon the trees, which were not only curiously colored, but gave out also every kind of sweet odor.

"We are in Sweetmeat Grove," said Nutcracker, "but yonder is the Capital."

And what a sight! How can I venture, children, to describe the beauty and splendor of the city which now displayed itself to Maria's eyes, upon the broad, flowery meadow before them? Not only did the walls and towers glitter with the gayest colors, but the style of the buildings was like nothing else that is to be found in the world. Instead of roofs, the houses had diadems set upon them, braided and twisted in the daintiest manner, and the towers were crowned with variegated trellis-work, and hung with festoons the most beautiful that ever were seen.

As they passed through the gate, which looked as if it were built of macaroons and candied fruits, silver soldiers presented arms, and a little man in a brocade dressing-gown threw himself upon Nutcracker's neck, with the words, "Welcome, best prince! Welcome to Confectionville!"

Maria was not a little astonished to hear young Drosselmeier called a prince by such a distinguished man. But she now heard such a hubbub of little voices, such a huzzaing and laughter, such a singing and playing, that she could think of nothing else, and turned to Nutcracker to ask him what it all meant.

"Oh, worthiest Miss Stahlbaum, it is nothing uncommon. Confectionville is a populous and merry city. Thus it goes here every day. Let us walk farther, if you please."

They had only gone a few steps, when they came to the great marketplace, which presented a wonderful sight. All the houses around were of sugared filigree work. Gallery was built over gallery, and in the middle stood a tall obelisk of white and red sugared cream, while four curious, sweet fountains played in the air, of orgeat, lemonade, mead, and soda-water, and in the great basin were soft bruised fruits, mixed with sugar and cream, and touched a little by the frost.

But prettier than all this were the charming little people, who, by thousands, pushed and squeezed, knocked their heads together, huzzaed, laughed, jested, and sang, who had raised indeed that merry din which Maria had heard at a distance. Here were beautifully dressed men and women, Armenians and Greeks, Jews and Tyrolese, officers and soldiers, preachers, shepherds, and harlequins. In short, all the people that can possibly be found in the world.

On one corner the tumult increased. The people rocked and reeled to clear the way, for just at that moment the Grand Mogul was carried by in a palanquin, attended by ninety-three grandees of the kingdom, and seven hundred slaves. Now, on the opposite corner, the fishermen, five hundred strong, were marching in procession, and it happened, very unfortunately, that the Grand Turk took it into his head just then to ride over the marketplace with three thousand Janissaries, besides which a loner train came from the Festival of Sacrifices, with sounding music, singing, "Up, and thank the mighty sun!" and pushed straight on for the obelisk.

Then what a squeezing, and a pushing, and a rattling, and a clattering. By and by, a screaming was heard, for a fisherman had knocked off a Brahmin's head in the crowd, and the Great Mogul was almost run over by a Harlequin. The tumult grew wilder and wilder, and they had commenced to beat and strike each other, when the man in the brocade dressing-gown, who had called Nutcracker a prince at the gate, clambered up by the obelisk, and having thrice pulled a little bell, called out three times, "Confiseur! confiseur! confiseur!"

The tumult was immediately appeased. Each one tried to help himself as well as he could, and, after the confused trains and processions were set in order, and the dirt upon the Great Mogul's clothes was brushed off, and the Brahmin's head put on again, the former hubbub began anew.

"What do they mean by 'Confiseur,' good Master Drosselmeier?" asked Maria.

"Ah, best Miss Stahlbaum," replied Nutcracker, "by 'Confiseur' is meant an unknown but very fearful power, which they believe can do with them as he pleases. It is the Fate that rules over this merry little people, and they fear it so much, that the mere mention of the name is able to still the greatest tumult. Each one then thinks no longer of anything earthly of cuffs, and kicks, and broken heads, but retires within himself, and says, "What are we, and what is our destiny?"

Maria could not refrain from a loud exclamation of surprise and wonder, as all at once they stood before a castle glimmering with rosy light, and crowned with a hundred airy towers. Beautiful nosegays of violets, narcissuses, tulips, and dahlias, were hung about the walls, and their dark, glowing colors only heightened the dazzling, rose-tinted, white ground upon which they were fastened. The large cupola of the center building and the sloping roofs of the towers were spangled with a thousand gold and silver stars.

"We are now in front of Marchpane Castle," said Nutcracker.

Maria was completely lost in admiration of this magic palace, yet it did not escape her that one of the large towers was without a roof, while little men were moving around it upon a scaffolding of cinnamon, as if busied in repairing it.

But before she had time to inquire about it, Nutcracker continued, "Not long ago, this beautiful castle was threatened with serious injury, if not with entire destruction. The Giant Sweet-tooth came this way, and bit off the roof of yonder tower, and was gnawing upon the great cupola, when the people of Confectionville gave up to him a full quarter of the city, and a considerable portion of Sweetmeat Grove, as tribute, with which he contented himself, and went his way."

At this moment soft music was heard, the doors of the palace opened, and twelve little pages marched out with lighted cloves, which they carried in their hands like torches. Each of their heads was a pearl. Their bodies were made of rubies and emeralds, and they walked upon feet cast out of pure gold.

Four ladies followed them, almost as tall as Maria's Clara, but so richly and splendidly dressed, that she saw in a moment that they were princesses born. They embraced Nutcracker in the tenderest manner, and cried with joyful sobs, "Oh, my prince, my best prince! Oh, my brother!"

Nutcracker seemed very much moved. He wiped the tears out of his eyes, then took Maria by the hand, and said with great emotion, "This is Miss Maria Stahlbaum, the daughter of a much respected and very worthy physician, and she is the preserver of my life. Had she not thrown her shoe at the right time, had she not supplied me with the sword of a pensioned colonel, I should now be lying in my grave, torn and bitten to pieces by the terrible Mouse-King. View her gaze upon her, and tell me, if Pirlipat, although a princess by birth, can compare with her in beauty, goodness, and virtue? No, I say no!"

And all the ladies cried out "No!" and then fell upon Maria's neck, exclaiming, "Ah, dear preserver of the prince, our beloved brother, charming Miss Maria Stahlbaum!"

She now accompanied these ladies and Nutcracker into the castle, and entered a room, the walls of which were of bright, colored crystal. But of all the beautiful things which Maria saw here, what pleased her most were the nice little chairs, sofas, secretaries, and bureaus, with which the room was furnished, and which were all made of cedar or Brazilwood, and ornamented with golden flowers.

The princesses made Maria and Nutcracker sit down, and said that they would immediately prepare something for them to eat. They then brought out a great many little cups and saucers, and plates and dishes, all of the finest porcelain, and spoons, knives, and forks, graters, kettles, pans, and other kitchen furniture, all of gold and silver.

Then they brought the finest fruits and sugar-things, such as Maria had never seen before, and began in the nicest manner to squeeze the fruits with their little snow-white hands, and to pound the spice, and grate the sugar-almonds, in short, so to turn and handle everything, that Maria could see how well the princesses had been brought up, and what a delicious meal they were preparing. As she desired very much to learn such things, she could not help wishing to herself that she might assist the princesses in their labor.

The most beautiful of Nutcracker's sisters, as if she had guessed Maria's secret thoughts, reached her a little golden mortar, saying, "Oh, sweet friend, dear preserver of my brother, will you not pound a little of this sugar candy?

While Maria pounded in the mortar, Nutcracker began to give a full account of his adventures, of the dreadful battle between his army and that of the Mouse-King, and how he had lost it by the cowardice of his troops. How the terrible Mouse-King lay in wait to bite him in pieces, and how Maria, to preserve him, gave up many of his subjects, who had entered her service, and all just as it had happened.

During this narration, it seemed to Maria, as if his words became less and less audible, and the pounding of her mortar also sounded more and more distant, until she could scarcely hear it. Presently, she saw a silver gauze before her, in which the princesses, the pages, Nutcracker, and herself, too, were all enveloped. A singular humming, and rustling, and singing was heard, which seemed to die away in the distance, and now Maria was raised up, as if upon mounting waves, higher and higher — higher and higher — higher and higher!

    Opera and Ballet Stories in Music    

Lesson 22: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King - Chapter 13: The Capital

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 13 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)