Swan Lake: Telling Stories With Music

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Music is wonderfully versatile. It can help us to teach and explore an endless range of topics, therefore encouraging young minds to listen hard, think inquisitively, and ask imaginative questions. Many brilliant stories have been set to music throughout time.  Music helps to bring them alive, to make them memorable, and also to help children to empathise with the characters. Swan Lake is one such story! This post explores this timeless story and the music that accompanies it, with ideas for how to introduce it to your children at home.

Swan Lake – Telling The Story

Swan Lake is one of the most haunting tales. Prince Siegfried has just come-of-age, and his mother tells him he must now marry. A series of young girls will be presented to him the following evening, for him to select his bride. Meanwhile, a flock of swans appear, and the Prince decides to shoot one.

The swans are led by the Swan Queen. When the Prince is alone, the Swan Queen approaches him in her human form, as Odette. She tells him that they are all under the spell of the evil Von Rothbart, who turns them into swans by day. Her stepmother is also a horrid woman, and she will only be free of them when she marries. The Prince throws away his cross-bow, and the two of them dance, professing their love for each other.

The next day, when all the maidens are presented to the Prince, he doesn’t want any of them. Baron Rothbart enters with his daughter, Odile, who is strikingly similar to Odette. She dances for the Prince, who is captured by her beauty, and their betrothal is about to be announced. Suddenly, a window flies open, and there is the swan form of Odette, looking in!

The Prince rushes to the lake, explaining the trickery of Baron Rothbart, and apologising to Odette. She forgives him, but it’s too late. Rothbart says he must marry Odile, or the Prince and Odette will both die. He refuses and they both throw themselves into the lake, to their death. The power of their love breaks Von Rothbart’s spell over the other swans, and they destroy him as they are released.


The Swan Lake Ballet

Tchaikovsky wrote the music for Swan Lake, and it is one of the most well-known themes in the whole repertoire. Even if you don’t think you’ll know it, have a lesson – I bet you’ll recognise it! The roles of Odette and Odile are usually played by the same dancer, making this a very difficult role – the dancer must portray the two contrasting personalities, so that the audience knows which is which.

Introducing Swan Lake to Your Child: A 5-Step Plan

      • Read the story

        This is a very dark story, but there are some lovely books for children, which make it far less harrowing! This is a beautiful collection of 6 stories from the ballet, which covers all the classics: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Cinderella, The Firebird and Coppelia. Suitable for 3 – 8 year olds.

This musical version even plays some of the main themes, so that you can link the music to the story as you go along.

  • Watch the film

Although it doesn’t feature any of the music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Swan Princess is a good introduction to the story for young children. It is an animation which follows the plot line fairly well, except that everyone lives happily-ever-after at the end!

For grown-up children and adults, there are 2 popular films that heavily reference Swan Lake, which you might enjoy watching while you’re focusing on this theme:


  • Listen to the music from Swan Lake

Listen to Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet score. It is full of so much rich and brilliant music, it was at first said to be too difficult to dance to! It is written for a very large orchestra containing: violins, violas, cellos, double basses, piccolo, flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, french horns, cornets, trumpets, trombones, tuba, harp, and a huge array of percussion instruments! There’s lots to listen out for in this score.

  • Watch the ballet. 

    There is nothing quite like live performance to inspire children! Go and see the Mariinsky Ballet dance at the Royal Opera House this summer, and let your kids experience the magical combination of dance, music, and art. Tickets can be expensive, so there is an alternative. On 12th June 2017, one of the performances is being broadcast live across many participating cinemas. You’ll be able to enjoy the full ballet, without the travel expense and ticket price.

  • Make Swan Lake come alive

    Spend the morning at the duck pond, seeking out the beautiful swans. Imagine  their secret life with your little one, giving names and stories to each one. In the afternoon, help your child to find two contrasting outfits – black/white, long/short, casual/dressy – to represent Odette and Odile. Dress up in each one in turn, and find opposite ways of dancing to the music of Swan Lake: fast/slow, high/low, smooth/spiky, gracefully/heavily.

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