The sound of the celesta, in the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker is familiar to almost everyone. The evolutionary origins of many instruments are lost in the mists of history, but not so with the celesta. It was invented in Paris in 1886 by a man named Auguste Mustel, who called it the céleste, or “heavenly one.” The instrument looks like a shrunken upright piano, with a keyboard like a piano’s, but with keys that are connected to hammers that strike steel bars. Not exactly a heavenly mechanism, but certainly a heavenly sound. Tchaikovsky heard the celesta in Paris, and asked his publisher to buy one for him. But he wrote, “I don’t want you to show it to anyone, as I’m afraid Rimsky-Korsakov or Glazunov will sniff it out and take advantage of its unusual effects before I do.” Tchaikovsky expected the celesta to make, in his words, “a tremendous sensation,” and indeed it did.
A Minute with Miles - a production of ETV Radio made possible by the JM Smith Corporation.