FROM: Panagiotis Papadakos
Modest Mussorgsky – Saint John’s Night on the Bare Mountain (Original score) / Abbado – LSO
The original Mussorgsky score (1867) and not the Rimsky Korsakov one (1886).
Night on Bald Mountain is a composition by Modest Mussorgsky that exists in, at least, two versions—a seldom performed 1867 version or a later (1886) and very popular “fantasy for orchestra” arranged by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, A Night on the Bare Mountain (Ночь на лысой горе, Noch’ na lysoy gorye), based on the vocal score of the “Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad” (1880) from The Fair at Sorochyntsi with some revisions, most notably the omission of the choir. There is also a version orchestrated by twentieth-century conductor Leopold Stokowski; this is the version used in the now-classic 1940 Walt Disney animated film Fantasia.
Inspired by Russian literary works and legend, Mussorgsky made a witches’ sabbath the theme of the original tone poem, completed on 23 June 1867 (St. John’s Eve). St. John’s Night on the Bare Mountain and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “musical picture” Sadko (also composed in 1867) share the distinction of being the first tone poems by Russian composers.
As with so much of Mussorgsky’s music, the work had a tortuous compositional history and was arranged after his death in 1881 by his friend and fellow member of The Mighty Handful Rimsky-Korsakov. It was never performed in any form during Mussorgsky’s lifetime. The Rimsky-Korsakov edition premiered in 1886, and has become a concert favorite.
Russian legend tells of a witches’ sabbath taking place on St. John’s Night (June 23–24) on the Lysa Hora (Bald Mountain), near Kiev.
The following program is taken from the score: Сбор ведьм, их толки и сплетни (Assembly of the witches, their chatter and gossip) Поезд Сатаны (Cortège of Satan) Чёрная служба, Messe noire (Black service, Black mass) Шабаш (Sabbath)
More details and a variation to this program may be found in a letter written by the composer to Vladimir Nikolsky: “So far as my memory doesn’t deceive me, the witches used to gather on this mountain, gossip, play tricks and await their chief — Satan. On his arrival they, i.e. the witches, formed a circle round the throne on which he sat, in the form of a kid, and sang his praise. When Satan was worked up into a sufficient passion by the witches’ praises, he gave the command for the sabbath, in which he chose for himself the witches who caught his fancy. –So this is what I’ve done.
At the head of my score I’ve put its content:
1. Assembly of the witches, their talk and gossip;
2. Satan’s journey;
3. Obscene praises of Satan; and
4. Sabbath… The form and character of the composition are both Russian and original”.