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8.553513 - RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Maid of Pskov (The) / Fairy Tale
Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
The Maid of Pskov: Overture & Entr'actes
In common with other nationalist composers, Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov began his musical career as an amateur, during service in the navy. In 1872 he resigned from the service and thereafter spent a dozen years as Inspector of Naval Bands, a civilian position specially created for him. This led him to develop a particular interest in instrumentation, an aspect of music that had long fascinated him. He owed much, at first, to Balakirev, the self-appointed leader of the Russian nationalist composers Cui, Borodin and Mussorgsky, but came to regret their lack of technical competence, a defect he sought to remedy when he came to revise work left unfinished by Mussorgsky and Borodin after their deaths. By his own efforts he acquired a sound technique, particularly in orchestration. His early association with Balakirev continued, although the latter's jealousies and later fanatical religious preoccupations led eventually to a certain coolness, exacerbated by Rimsky-Korsakov's involvement with Belyayev, whose patronage brought new possibilities of international publication to younger composers. In 1905 he sided with disaffected students and was dismissed from the St Petersburg Conservatory, where he had taught since 1871, later to be reinstated, but trouble with the censors, not for the first time, prevented performance of his opera The Golden Cockerel before his death in 1908.
The opera Pskovityanka (The Maid of Pskov) occupied Rimsky-Korsakov intermittently for some 25 years. The first version of his first opera was staged in St Petersburg in 1873 and reflected the lack of technical knowledge shared by his nationalist colleagues, to whom the work was dedicated. After further necessary study, he revised the opera in 1876-7, adding a prologue, a royal hunt and storm with other incidents and some weight of counterpoint. This new version was not performed, but provided the necessary elements for the present Overture and Entr'actes, used in 1882 for a performance of the original play by Lev Alexandrovich Mey on which the opera had been based. The work was revised again in 1891-2 and performed in 1896, while the Prologue was revised as a one-act opera. The complete opera was staged in Moscow in 1901.
Rimsky-Korsakov had originally rejected the first act of Mey's drama. This became the prologue. Set fifteen years before the main action of the drama, it deals with the infancy of Olga, born as a result of her mother Vera Sheloga's liaison with Tsar Ivan. In the first act Olga, brought up as the daughter of Prince Yury Tokmakov, viceroy in Pskov, learns the identity of her real mother, Tokmakov's sister-in-law. She is in love with a young man but to her dismay her adoptive father plans that she shall marry an old friend of his. In the following act news reaches Pskov of the approach of the Tsar, who has already wrought destruction on Novgorod. Tokmakov advises submission but Olga's lover opts for resistance. In the third act the people gather to welcome the Tsar, who is entertained by Tokmakov. The Tsar is alarmed when he sees Olga, whom he realises is his illegitimate daughter and orders an end to threatened hostilities. In the final act Olga, found meeting her lover, is abducted by her proposed husband. Brought before the Tsar, who addresses her as Olga Ivanovna, she seeks protection. Her lover, unaware of the situation, leads an attack on the Tsar's forces during the course of which Olga is killed, leaving the Tsar to mourn the loss of his daughter.
The incidental music for the play, derived from the revised opera, starts with a short Overture to introduce the Prologue. opening with a recurrent fanfare that frames music suggesting Vera Sheloga and her lover, Tsar Ivan. The first entr'acte before Act I offers a tender portrait of Olga, taken from Act IV of the original opera. In the introduction to Act II, the assembly in Pskov, a matter of concern to the censors, who objected to any taint of republicanism, is summoned by the sound of the tocsin, the tam-tam of the orchestra, as the hostile approach of the Tsar is awaited. Before Act III comes music drawn from a street-game played by the boys, to the disapproval of Olga's nurse. The final entr'acte before Act IV shows the scene before the Monastery of Pyechorsky and Nikolay the Simpleton, the holy fool who inveighs against the Tsar. These religious elements were proposed by Balakirev and use the theme of Alexey the Man of God.
Rimsky-Korsakov completed his opera The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya in 1905 and it was first staged in St Petersburg two years later. In the first act Fevroniya, who lives in the woods with her brother, a woodman, sings a Hymn to Nature. She sees a stranger and falls in love, learning that her newly betrothed is Vsevolod, the son of Prince Yury of Kitezh. The second act brings her Wedding Procession in Lesser Kitezh, although some disapprove of the marriage. There is a Tatar attack and Fevroniya is abducted. In Greater Kitezh the people prepare to resist the Tatars, led there by a captured traitor, and as the soldiers leave for battle the city is surrounded by a golden mist. The Battle of Kerzhenets includes elements representing the soldiers, led by Vsevolod, the Tatars and the rhythm of hoof-beats. The city of Kitezh, surrounded in mist, is invisible to the invaders, who quarrel, regretting the killing of Vsevolod, while their traitorous guide tries to drown himself. He sees the reflection of the invisible city and cries out in alarm, while the Tatars scatter in terror. In the final act Fevroniya wanders through the forest, magically transformed, her death foretold by a prophet-bird but led towards Kitezh by the ghost of her beloved Vesevolod. The Death of Fevroniya and the Apotheosis of the Invisible City brings her soul to the city, depicted by the sound of bells of joy, as Fevroniya reaches Kitezh and her wedding celebration, led to the altar by Vsevolod, now to enjoy eternal life.
Balakirev disapproved of Rimsky-Korsakov's Skazka (Fairy Tale), when he was shown it in the autumn of 1879. Nevertheless the composer returned to it once more a year later and completed the orchestration. He prefaced the work with the prologue that Pushkin had provided for Ruslan and Lyudmila, with its varied fairy-tale references and final lines, given in capital letters: One I remember; this tale I will now tell you. Rimsky-Korsakov denied that there was any precise programme to the work, as he did with Sheherazade, preferring to leave matters to the imagination of the listener. Nevertheless Yastrebtsev, who had first approached Rimsky-Korsakov for a programme for Sheherazade, was told that elements depicted included the sounds of the forest, the call of some mythical bird, a water-nymph and the witch Baba Yaga, the original title of Skazka, flying through the air, with her hut on fowl's legs.
Rimsky-Korsakov wrote his Fantasia on Serbian Themes in 1867 on the instructions of Balakirev, who provided the necessary Serbian thematic material. The original scoring, as with Pskovityanka, showed ignorance of the existence of chromatic valve horns, among other defects. These were remedied in a revised version of the work in 1887. The Fantasia was first performed in May 1867 at a concert of Slav music in St Petersburg under the direction of Balakirev, marking the All-Russian Ethnographical Exhibition taking place in Moscow. Rimsky-Korsakov's Fantasia opens with a theme, at first prefigured and then emerging from the cellos, followed by the violins, the woodwind and finally, more forcefully, by the brass. A lively dance ensues, interrupted by a return of the opening theme. The two finally join together in a brilliant conclusion.
Moscow Symphony Orchestra
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