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8.220438 - RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Night on Mount Triglav / Pan Voyevoda
Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov was a leading figure in that remarkable group of musicians who brought about the establishment of Russian music in the nineteenth century. He was born in 1844 into a family and naval tradition, and in 1856 he followed his admired elder brother, 22 years his senior, to the naval college.
As a child Rimsky-Korsakov had shown musical talent and interest, both of which he was able to develop during a naval career which lasted until his resignation from the service in 1872, to occupy the specially created civilian position of Inspector of Naval Bands. The appointment, the result of family and personal influence, led him to a further interest in instrumentation, an aspect of music that had fascinated him since his first experience of opera, Flotow’s Indra, which he had seen in St. Petersburg in 1857.
The group of five nationalist composers, the polymath Stasov’s “Mighty Handful”, was initially under the strongest possible influence of Balakirev, the only one of the group to have been trained as a professional musician. It was in 1861 that Rimsky-Korsakov had been introduced by his inspiring teacher Canillé to Balakirev, Cesar Cui and Mussorgsky, but contact had been broken by a 2 1/2 year tour of naval duty abroad. From this Rimsky-Korsakov returned with a symphony, conducted by Balakirev at a Free School of Music concert in St. Petersburg at the end of 1865.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s association with Balakirev was to continue, although the latter’s personality, his jealousies and his fanatical religious preoccupations, later led to coolness. In particular, Rimsky-Korsakov was involved with the new circle of Belyayev, his musical Friday evenings, a rival to the evenings earlier in the week over which Balakirev had long presided. Nevertheless his sense of loyalty to his friends led him to spend a great deal of time on the music of other composers of the group. Mussorgsky had died in 1881, leaving much work unfinished, and, in Rimsky-Korsakov’s more professional view, in need of correction. This he undertook. Similarly, the death of Borodin in 1887 left him the self-imposed task of completing the latter’s opera Prince Igor, which he did with the help of his pupil Glazunov.
There were further interruptions to Rimsky-Korsakov’s career as a composer in the 1890’s, with bouts of depression, the result of cerebrospinal neurasthenia. The Tsar asked for something more cheerful than Sadko, an opera completed in 1896, and a breach between the composer and the Imperial Theatres followed, leading to a production of Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Mozart and Salieri by the Private Russian Opera of Mamontov in 1898. Sadko was eventually performed by the Imperial Theatre in 1901. The Polish opera Pan Voyevoda was performed by a private company in 1904; in 1905 the composer was involved in the student unrest of that year, as a result of which he was dismissed from his post in the Conservatory, later to be reinstated, when liberal policies prevailed. There had been student demonstrations in his support at performances of the opera Kashchey, and trouble with the censors led to a delay in the production of The Golden Cockerel, which was staged in October, 1909, a year after the composer’s death.
1872 Rimsky-Korsakov was commissioned, with Cui, Borodin and Mussorgsky, to provide the music for an elaborately staged fairy ballet, Mlada. Before the work could be mounted, however, Godunev, the director of the Court Theatre, found the whole undertaking beyond his resources. Mussorgsky had used earlier music for part of his contribution, and some his was later reworked, with a specially composed Turkish March appearing in 1880.
Rimsky-Korsakov was to return to the subject of Mlada, to be produced in 1891, its music influenced by the composer’s first hearing of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in 1889. It was shortly before his that he had decided to make use of the music he had written for the collaborative Mlada of 1872. The result was Night on Mount Triglav, an orchestra arrangement of Act III of the original opera, completed in 1901.
The history of music has provided various examples of musical sorcery and witchcraft. The third act of Mlada is set on Mount Triglav, where the soul of Mlada seeks the spirit of her beloved Prince in his dreams. There is a dance of the blessed spirits, leading to a witches’ Sabbath, with the summoning of the black god by the infernal goddess. The Prince is lured to mere sexual lust by the vision of the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra, but the spirit of Mlada triumphs as the cock crows and the Prince awakes.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Pan Voyevoda was dedicated to Chopin and takes for its theme a Polish subject. The work was completed n 1903 and first staged the following year. Maria is in love with Boleslav Czaplinski, but is destined to marry the Pan Voyevoda, who is loved by a rich, aristocratic widow, Jadwiga Zapolska. Jadwiga attempts to murder Maria, but by mischance succeeds in poisoning the Pan Voyevoda, using her rejected lover as an agent. All ends happily for Maria and Boleslav, who are united, while Jadwiga is left in final solitude.
The orchestral suite arranged by the composer from the opera consists, after Introduction, of a series of Polish dances, clearly associated with Chopin, one of those chiefly responsible for bringing traditional Polish dances into the musical salon, if not into the concert hall. Rimsky-Korsakov’s suite is a further example of his skill in handling orchestral colour, an ability he was always to demonstrate with facility, a dangerous example to his successors.
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