Those Sugar Plum Fairy Bells


Which instrument creates the bell-like sound we hear in The Nutcracker’s ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’, Harry Potter’s ‘Hedwig Theme’, ‘It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ from Mister Rogers, and Willy Wonka’s ‘Pure Imagination’?



That beautiful bell sound comes from a celeste, or celesta.

When organ maker Auguste Mustel invented the celeste in 1886, he could not have known how strongly his metal bar-filled keyboard would be associated with beloved story classics.

Composer Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky was an early adopter of the celeste. After discovering Mustel’s creation in Paris, he organized for this wonderful new keyboard – ‘midway between a tiny piano and a glockenspiel, with a divinely wonderful sound,’ he raved – to be shipped in the strictest of confidence to Saint Petersburg. There was no way that Tchaikovsky was going to let Rimsky Korsakov work in these keyboard bells before him.

Here’s the Sugar Plum Fairy + celeste  at the Royal Opera House, with Lauren Cuthbertson in the title role.


Header Photo: Gaelle Marcel




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Merry Christmas

Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton