Classical Music Stories

Classical Music Stories: The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and a Piano Piece


Classical Music Stories is a series that connects music to your favorite books and characters. Since listening to classical music can be like hearing a story (albeit an abstract one), imagining specific stories that match the music can make it that much more fun and accessible!

In this short, 20th century piano piece by Ligeti (Etude No. 8 “Fem” from the second book of etudes) I imagined the Mad Hatter’s and the March Hare’s perpetual tea party, i.e. their punishment by Time:

The louder, higher music is like when they are eating and drinking, participating in the tea party as normal. The first soft section is a pause in their tea activities when Alice shows up where they begin talking to her instead. There are many repetitions of these types of sections—the louder sections are the characters actually having tea, including Alice eventually (giving in to Time’s demands) and the soft parts are their conversations when they forget as a result of Alice’s presence. In these softer sections, the influence of Time and tea is still there, but under the surface since our focus is on the conversation.

As the piece continues, Time (the loud, tea sections) grows more and more insistent as a result of being ignored, until it suddenly gives way to very soft, peaceful sounds: in a hilarious twist, the pressing nature of Time’s enforced tea is replaced by the Dormouse’s overall undisturbed dreams of treacle…

How do you hear this quirky music? Does it remind you of Alice in Wonderland or something totally different? Be sure to let me know in the comments below!

You can check out the rest of the Classical Music Stories series here!

P.S. My apologies for the sporadic posting…as the PhD school year starts back up life gets increasingly hectic again, but I should be back on track and catching up on reading your posts soon!


4 thoughts on “Classical Music Stories: The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and a Piano Piece”

  1. Love the idea behind your post/series. Sadly I couldn’t get the video to work (“This video is not available”). I’m going to the cinema on 23 Oct. to see a live relay of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Royal Ballet) – the music (full-length score) is by Joby Talbot. Looking forward to it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! And thanks for telling me about the video! Sorry it wasn’t working…it seems to be pulling up fine in my browser so I’m not sure what the problem could be but the piece is called “Fem” by Ligeti in his Études Book 2 No. 8 in case you want to look it up. I used Fredrik Ullén’s recording in “Ligeti: the complete piano music volume 1.” Also, that version of Alice in Wonderland sounds fantastic!! If you want to and/or remember, I’d love to hear about how that goes!


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