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Night on Bald Mountain

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Subject: Modest Mussorgsky, List of compositions by Modest Mussorgsky, Mlada, Bill Tytla, Chernobog
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Night on Bald Mountain

Modest Mussorgsky, 1865

Night on Bald Mountain (musical picture", St. John's Eve on Bald Mountain (Russian: Иванова ночь на лысой горе, Ivanova noch' na lysoy gore) on the theme of a witches' sabbath occurring on St. John's Eve, which he completed on that very night, June 23, in 1867. Together with Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko (1867), it is one of the first tone poems by a Russian composer.[1]

Although Mussorgsky was proud of his youthful effort, his mentor,


  1. ^ Calvocoressi (1956: p. 78)
  2. ^ Calvocoressi, Abraham (1974: p. 21)
  3. ^ Calvocoressi, Abraham (1974: p. 175)
  4. ^ Calvocoressi (1956: p. 31)
  5. ^ a b Calvocoressi, Abraham (1974: p. 20)
  6. ^ Musorgskiy (1984: p. 27)
  7. ^ Calvocoressi (1974: p. 20)
  8. ^ a b c d Catalog of autographs of M. P. Mussorgsky
  9. ^ Musorgskiy (1984: pp. 73–74
  10. ^ Lloyd-Jones (1974)
  11. ^ Orlova (1991: p. 166)
  12. ^ Calvocoressi, Abraham (1974: p. 175)
  13. ^ Calvocoressi (1956: p. 74)
  14. ^ "Peter Richard Conte and the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ", American Public Media, October 2003, about a recording in July 2002 on Dorian DOR-90308
  15. ^ Calvocoressi (1956: p. 11)
  16. ^ Musorgskiy (1971: pp. 172–174)
  17. ^ Calvocoressi, Abraham (1974: p. 162)
  18. ^ Musorgskiy (1971: p. 154)
  19. ^ Rimsky-Korsakov (1923: pp. 261–262)
  20. ^ Rimsky-Korsakov (1923: pp. 281–282)
  21. ^ Rimsky-Korsakov (1923: pp. 301–302)
  22. ^ Rimsky-Korsakov (1923: p. 471)
  23. ^ Rimsky-Korsakov (1923: p. 306)
  24. ^ Russian: «Подземный гулъ нечеловѣчeскихъ голосовъ. Появление духовъ тьмы и, вследъ за ними, Чернобога. Величаніе Чернобога и Черная Служба. Шабашъ. Въ самомъ разгарѣ шабаша, раздаются отдаленные удары колокола деревенской церкви; они разсѣеваютъ духовъ тьмы. Утро.»
  25. ^ Serebrier, José, notes for Naxos 8.557645, Mussorgsky-Stokowski Transcriptions.
  26. ^ Program notes, Philadelphia Orchestra, October 2014
  1. ^ In fact, the use of "the" in this context changes "Bald Mountain" from a proper noun, referring to a particular place, to a common noun, which might refer to any mountain fitting the description.



René Leibowitz recorded his own arrangement with the Royal Philharmonic for Reader's Digest. Sir Adrian Boult conducted Charles Gerhardt's version with the New Symphony Orchestra of London, also for Reader's Digest. Alfred Walter recorded Gottfried von Einem's version with the NDR Symphony Orchestra.

[26] Peter Richard Conte transcribed the work for the

Other arrangements of this work have been made by René Leibowitz, Gottfried von Einem, Charles Gerhardt and Henry Sopkin.

Other arrangements


Millions of 20th-century listeners owe their initial acquaintance with Mussorgsky's tone-poem to Boris Godunov in 1929, and subsequently produced a symphonic synthesis of Boris for concert purposes.[25] Despite the success of Fantasia, Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestration remains the concert favorite, and the one most often programmed.

Fantasia soundtrack album which features Stokowski's soundtrack recording of his own arrangement.

Composition history

Leopold Stokowski

Leopold Stokowski's arrangement: Night on Bald Mountain (1940)

Recordings of Rimsky-Korsakov's revision are too numerous to catalog in this article.


Subterranean sounds of non-human voices. Appearance of the spirits of darkness, followed by that of Chernobog. Glorification of Chernobog and Black Service. Sabbath. At the height of the sabbath, the distant ringing of a village church bell is heard; it disperses the spirits of darkness. Morning.[24]

The following program is printed in Rimsky-Korsakov's edition of Night on Bald Mountain, published in 1886 by V. Bessel and Co.:



Performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. Courtesy of Musopen

Problems playing this file? See .

Night on Bald Mountain was performed at the second concert, on 29 June 1889, where it followed Borodin's 'Polovtsian Dances' and 'Polovtsian March' from Prince Igor in the second half of the program.[22] Rimsky-Korsakov later mentions another performance of the piece, taking place on 25 April 1890, at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels.[23]

In the summer of 1889, the Paris Universal Exposition took place. Belyayev decided to give there two symphonic concerts of Russian music at the Trocadéro, under my direction... The concerts were set for Saturdays, June 22 and 29, new style. Upon our arrival in Paris, rehearsals commenced. The orchestra, which proved to be excellent, the men being amiable and painstaking, had been borrowed from Colonne. Their playing in the concerts was fine... The success was considerable, with plenty of applause, but the attendance was not large.[21]

The Western European premiere performance of his edition was likely the one described further on:

The orchestration of A Night on Bald Mountain, which had baffled me so long, was finished for the concerts of [the 1886/87] season, and the piece, given by me at the first concert in a manner that could not be improved upon, was demanded again and again with unanimity. Only a tom-tom had to be substituted for the bell; the one I selected at the bell-store proved to be off pitch in the hall, owing to a change in temperature.[20]

Rimsky-Korsakov's edition was completed in 1886, and published in the same year by V. Bessel and Co.. It received its premiere on 15 October 1886 in St. Petersburg's Kononov Hall, performed by the orchestra of the Russian Symphony Concerts. Rimsky-Korsakov conducted the performance himself, and gives the following account of it in his memoirs, Chronicle of My Musical Life (1909):

Title page of Rimsky-Korsakov's edition, published by V. Bessel and Co.

Performance history

Rimsky-Korsakov made "corrections" typical of him, as he did with Khovanshchina, and was later to do with Boris Godunov, preserving the general thematic structure, but adding or omitting bars, and making modifications to melody, harmony, rhythm, and dynamics.

During the season of 1882/83, I continued working on [19]

In the years after Mussorgsky's death, his friends prepared his manuscripts for publication and created performing editions of his unfinished works to enable them to enter the repertoire. The majority of the editorial work was done by Rimsky-Korsakov, who in 1886 produced a redacted edition of Night on Bald Mountain from the Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad vocal score. Rimsky-Korsakov discusses his work on the piece, designated a "fantasy for orchestra", in his memoirs, Chronicle of My Musical Life (1909):

Composition history

Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov

Rimsky-Korsakov's fantasy: Night on Bald Mountain (1886)


The peasant lad sleeps at the foot of a hillock at some distance from the hut where he should have been. In his sleep appear to him:
  1. Subterranean roar of non-human voices, uttering non-human words.
  2. The subterranean kingdom of darkness comes into its own—mocking the sleeping peasant lad.
  3. Foreshadowing of the appearance of Chernobog (Satan).
  4. The peasant lad left by the spirits of darkness. Appearance of Chernobog.
  5. Worship of Chornobog and the black mass.
  6. Sabbath.
  7. At the wildest moment of the sabbath the sound of a Christian church bell. Chernobog suddenly disappears.
  8. Suffering of the demons.
  9. Voices of the clergy in church.
  10. Disappearance of the demons and the peasant lad's awakening.[17]

Mussorgsky sent the following program to Vladimir Stasov about three months after its composition in 1880:

Surviving the transfer from Glorification of Chernobog are the same supernatural characters, although Morena has been replaced by Death (Russian: Смерть, Smert'). Chernobog and his accomplices form a kind of Six Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The demon language the characters sing, of which Mussorgsky was contemptuous in a letter, is preserved.

Act 1, scene 2 – "Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad" (Intermezzo)
p. 1) A hilly desolate area. An approaching subterranean choir of infernal forces. The curtain rises. The peasant lad sleeps at the foot of a hill.
p. 3) Witches and devils surround the sleeping peasant lad.
p. 5) On a hill appear fiery serpents. The approach of Chernobog. Chernobog rises from underground. Following him are Kashchey, Cherv, Chuma, Topelets, Smert, and the rest of his retinue.
p. 7) Worship of Chernobog.
p. 10) Sabbath.
p. 11) Ballet.
p. 16) Stroke of a matins bell.
p. 17) Satan and his retinue vanish. The scene is covered by clouds.
p. 21) The peasant lad awakens and stands up, stretching and looking around wildly. The clouds disperse. The scene is illuminated by the rising sun.

At the end of act 1, Gritsko falls asleep some distance from the fair, and, because there has been talk of devilry, has a dream of a witches' sabbath. The following remarks are taken from the score (page numbers supplied):

The peasant Solopiy Cherevik, his domineering wife Khivrya, and pretty daughter Parasya are visiting the Sorochyntsi Fair. Parasya is wooed by Gritsko Golopupenko, the "peasant lad" of the title. Gritsko desires Cherevik's consent to marry his daughter. Although Cherevik is not against the match, his wife objects because Gritsko had thrown mud in her face on the way to the fair. Gritsko strikes a bargain with a gypsy to assist him in winning Parasya. They exploit the superstitious fears of the fairgoers, who believe that the location of the fair this year is ill-chosen, it being the haunt of a devil who was thrown out of hell, took to drinking, went broke, pawned his jacket, and has returned to claim it. After various pranks and comic circumstances, Gritsko achieves his goal and all ends happily.


The Fair at Sorochyntsi is set in and around the Ukrainian village of Velyki Sorochyntsi, some 500 kilometers east of Kiev and the famous "Bald Mountain" (Lysa Hora), in the year 1800.



The Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad was first performed as part of Vissarion Shebalin's performing edition of The Fair at Sorochyntsi, which premiered in 1931 in Leningrad at the Maly Theater, conducted by Samuil Samosud. Shebalin's orchestration was published by Muzgiz in 1934.

Performance history

Mussorgsky originally chose the end of act 1 of the opera as the location for his choral intermezzo. It is now generally performed in the Shebalin version (1930) of the opera, where it is relocated to act 3, just after the peasant lad's dumka. The theme of the dumka also serves as one of the main themes of the new quiet ending.

The work's "third version", the Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad (piano-vocal score is dated 10 May 1880.[8]

Composition history

Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad from The Fair at Sorochyntsi (1880)

The evil spirits sing in a strange demonic language, in the manner of the "demons and the damned" of Hector Berlioz's La damnation de Faust. Morena calls on Chernobog to help make Yaromir forsake Mlada. Kashchey determines that Morena and Chernobog will be successful if Yaromir is seduced by another. Chernobog commands Yaromir's soul to separate from his body, and for Queen Cleopatra to appear. Instantly the scene changes to a hall in Egypt, where the shade of Cleopatra attempts to entice Yaromir's soul to her side with a seductive dance. She almost succeeds in doing so when a cock crow announcing the break of day causes the entire infernal host to vanish. Yaromir awakens and ponders the mysterious events he has witnessed.

Russian Transliteration Description
Злые духи Zlïye dukhi Evil spirits
Ведьмы Véd'mï Witches
Кикиморы Kikímorï Female hobgoblins
Чёрнобог Chórnobog "Cherno" (black) + "bog" (god), an infernal Slavic deity, in the form of a goat
Морена Moréna An infernal Slavic deity
Кащей Kashchéy An ogre familiar from Russian folktales; plays a gusli
Червь Cherv Worm, god of famine
Чума Chumá Plague, god of pestilence
Топелец Topelets 'Drowner', god of floods

Voyslava and her father Mstivoy, the Prince of Retra, have poisoned Mlada, the betrothed of Yaromir, Prince of mime to Yaromir the wish to be reunited with him in the kingdom of dead souls. He is eager to join her. However, there is a rumbling sound announcing the appearance, apparently from underground, of the following fantastic characters (many of whom also appear in Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad from The Fair at Sorochyntsi, described below):


The Mlada scenario is the only Bald Mountain setting that mentions a "Mt. Triglav", where the supernatural events of act 3 take place. The name Triglav ["tri" (three) + "glav" (heads)] happens to be the name of an ancient three-headed Slavic deity or a trinity of deities, and is also the name of a famous peak in Slovenia, which is, however, some 750 kilometers distant.

Mlada is set in the 9th or 10th century city of Retra, in the (formerly) Slavic lands between the Baltic Sea coast and the Elbe River. This would be the land of the pre-Christian Polabian Slavs, in the region corresponding to the modern German areas of Holstein, Mecklenburg, or Vorpommern.


The following scenario is taken from Rimsky-Korsakov's later "magic opera-ballet" Mlada (1890), based on the same libretto by Viktor Krïlov.


Mlada was a project doomed to failure, however, and this "second version" languished along with the first. The score of Glorification of Chernobog has not survived, and was never published or performed.

). Sluzheniye chornomy kozlu, Служение чёрному козлу) in a Slavlenye Chornoboga, Славленье Чёрнобога (Russian: Glorification of Chernobog Mussorgsky referred to this piece under the title

The first re-modelling of the tone poem took place in 1872, when Mussorgsky revised and recast it for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra as part of act 3 that he was assigned to contribute to the collaborative opera-ballet Mlada. In this new version the music was to form the basis of the Night on Mt. Triglav (Russian: Ночь на горе Триглаве, Noch' na gore Triglave) scene.

Composition history

Glorification of Chernobog from Mlada (1872)


Seq. Original Transliteration English
Сбор ведьм, их толки и сплетни Sbor ved'm, ikh tolki i spletni Assembly of the witches, their chatter and gossip
Поезд Сатаны Poyezd Satanï Cortège of Satan
Чёрная служба (Messe noire) Chornaya sluzhba (Messe noire) Black service (Black mass)
Шабаш Shabash Sabbath

The following program is taken from the score:


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 original tone poem, St. John's Eve on Bald Mountain (1867), was not performed until the 20th century. Musicologist Leningrad Philharmonic Society, and that Nikolay Malko brought along a copy of it when he emigrated to the West.[11] Gerald Abraham states that this version was performed by Malko on 3 February 1932, apparently in England.[12] Michel-Dimitri Calvocoressi claims that Malko performed this version in several countries in 1933.[13]

Performance history

He also stated—incorrectly, as it turned out—that he would never re-model it: "with whatever shortcomings, it is born; and with them it must live if it is to live at all." Having finally completed the work, Mussorgsky was crushed when his mentor Georgiy Kirkor.

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 Russian and original ... I wrote St. John's Eve quickly, straight away in full score, I wrote it in about twelve days, glory to God ... While at work on St. John's Eve I didn't sleep at night and actually finished the work on the eve of St. John's Day, it seethed within me so, and I simply didn't know what was happening within me ... I see in my wicked prank an independent Russian product, free from German profundity and routine, and, like Savishna, grown on our native fields and nurtured on Russian bread.[9]

Mussorgsky described the piece in a letter to Vladimir Nikolsky:

Conceived in 1866. Began to write for orchestra 12 June 1867, completed work on the eve of St. John's Day, 23 June 1867, in Luga District on Minkino Farm. Modest Musorgskiy.

In 1866 Mussorgsky wrote to Balakirev expressing a desire to discuss his plans for The Witches, his informal name for his Bald Mountain music.[7] In early June 1867, he began composing the orchestral version of the piece. The score is inscribed with the following details:

Composition history

(1867)St. John's Eve on Bald MountainTone poem: ) that in the early 1860s Mussorgsky, under the influence of Chronicle of My Musical Life Rimsky-Korsakov declares in his memoirs (

Work for piano and orchestra (early 1860s)

However, as with the previous project, it is unknown whether any materials were written down, and, if so, whether they were transferred to subsequent projects.

I have also received some very interesting work which must be prepared for the coming summer. This work is: a whole act on The Bald Mountain (from Mengden's drama The Witch), a witches' sabbath, separate episodes of sorcerers, a ceremonial march of all this rubbish, a finale—glory to the sabbath... The libretto is very good. There are already some materials, perhaps a very good thing will come of it.[6]
— Modest Mussorgsky, letter to Balakirev, 26 September 1860

[5] The theme of a

Opera project: The Witch (1860)

This curious fragment, dated 25 December 1858, has been interpreted as an indication of Mussorgsky's intent to write an opera on the subject of Gogol's short story St. John's Eve (Russian: Вечер накануне Ивана Купала, Vecher nakanune Ivana Kupala, St. John's Eve). Gogol's tale contains the elements of witchcraft common to other stories in the Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka collection, but does not feature a witches' sabbath. No further plans for this project were mentioned.[5]

Program of the opera St. John's Night, in three acts, after the tale by Gogol, written by [4]

A sheet of paper apparently found among Mussorgsky's manuscripts contains the following statement:

Opera project: St. John's Eve (1858)

Early unrealized projects

Some performances of the work also insert the article "the" before "Bald Mountain" or "Bare Mountain". Articles are not used in Russian, but are often applied to nouns when translating Russian into languages that regularly use articles, such as English and French. However, because the title of the work refers to a specific place called "Bald Mountain," an article would not normally be used in English.[lower-roman 1]

Bald Mountain is the most familiar translation of лысой горе in English, and is also the most literal. The adjective "bald" is commonly used in English place names for barren hills, mountains, and other features, and so is also idiomatic. However, because the most familiar use of "bald" describes hairlessness, this part of the title is also known as Bare Mountain. The use of "bald" to describe barren landscapes is common in European languages. In French, the piece is known as Une nuit sur le mont Chauve (A Night on the Bald Mountain); and in Italian Una Notte sul Monte Calvo (A Night on Bald Mountain).

The Russian word "ночь" (noch) is literally "night" in English, but idiomatically this would refer to the night following St. John's Day, variously observed between June 21 (the summer solstice) and June 25. The night before St. John's Day is usually referred to as "St. John's Eve" in English; Russian does not make this distinction.

The original Russian title of the tone poem, Иванова ночь на лысой горе, translates literally as Saint John's Eve on Bald Mountain, usually shortened to Night on Bald Mountain. However, due to several ambiguities, the composition is also known by a number of alternate titles in English.


  • Name 1
  • Early unrealized projects 2
    • Opera project: St. John's Eve (1858) 2.1
    • Opera project: The Witch (1860) 2.2
    • Work for piano and orchestra (early 1860s) 2.3
  • Tone poem: St. John's Eve on Bald Mountain (1867) 3
    • Composition history 3.1
    • Performance history 3.2
    • Instrumentation 3.3
    • Program 3.4
    • Recordings 3.5
  • Glorification of Chernobog from Mlada (1872) 4
    • Composition history 4.1
    • Program 4.2
  • Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad from The Fair at Sorochyntsi (1880) 5
    • Composition history 5.1
    • Performance history 5.2
    • Program 5.3
    • Recordings 5.4
  • Rimsky-Korsakov's fantasy: Night on Bald Mountain (1886) 6
    • Composition history 6.1
    • Performance history 6.2
    • Instrumentation 6.3
    • Program 6.4
    • Recordings 6.5
  • Leopold Stokowski's arrangement: Night on Bald Mountain (1940) 7
    • Composition history 7.1
    • Recordings 7.2
  • Other arrangements 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


achieved lasting fame. Premiering in Night on Bald Mountain It is through Rimsky-Korsakov's version that

— Gerald Abraham, musicologist and an authority on Mussorgsky, 1945
[3].Sorochintsy Fair music which Mussorgsky prepared for Bare Mountain is an orchestral composition by Rimsky-Korsakov based on the later version of the Night on the Bare Mountain' I need hardly remind the reader that the orchestral piece universally known as 'Mussorgsky's In 1886, five years after Mussorgsky's death, Rimsky-Korsakov published an arrangement of the work, described as a "


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