RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: The Maid of Pskov / Fairy Tale (Igor Golovschin/ Moscow Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.553513)
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Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)The Maid of Pskov: Overture & Entr'actes
The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh:Symphonic Suite
Fairy Tale, Op.29
Fantasia on Serbian Themes, Op.6
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 thereafterspent a dozen years as Inspector of Naval Bands, a civilian position speciallycreated for him. This led him to develop a particular interest ininstrumentation, an aspect of music that had long fascinated him. He owed much,at first, to Balakirev, the self-appointed leader of the Russian nationalistcomposers Cui, Borodin and Mussorgsky, but came to regret their lack oftechnical competence, a defect he sought to remedy when he came to revise workleft unfinished by Mussorgsky and Borodin after their deaths. By his ownefforts he acquired a sound technique, particularly in orchestration. His earlyassociation with Balakirev continued, although the latter's jealousies andlater fanatical religious preoccupations led eventually to a certain coolness,exacerbated by Rimsky-Korsakov's involvement with Belyayev, whose patronagebrought new possibilities of international publication to younger composers. In1905 he sided with disaffected students and was dismissed from the StPetersburg Conservatory, where he had taught since 1871, later to bereinstated, but trouble with the censors, not for the first time, prevented performanceof his opera The Golden Cockerel before his death in 1908.
The opera Pskovityanka (The Maid ofPskov) occupied Rimsky-Korsakov intermittently for some 25 years. The firstversion of his first opera was staged in St Petersburg in 1873 and reflectedthe lack of technical knowledge shared by his nationalist colleagues, to whomthe work was dedicated. After further necessary study, he revised the opera in1876-7, adding a prologue, a royal hunt and storm with other incidents and someweight of counterpoint. This new version was not performed, but provided thenecessary elements for the present Overture and Entr'actes, used in 1882for a performance of the original play by Lev Alexandrovich Mey on which theopera had been based. The work was revised again in 1891-2 and performed in1896, while the Prologue was revised as a one-act opera. The completeopera was staged in Moscow in 1901.
Rimsky-Korsakov had originally rejected thefirst act of Mey's drama. This became the prologue. Set fifteen years beforethe main action of the drama, it deals with the infancy of Olga, born as aresult of her mother Vera Sheloga's liaison with Tsar Ivan. In the first actOlga, 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 inlove with a young man but to her dismay her adoptive father plans that sheshall marry an old friend of his. In the following act news reaches Pskov ofthe approach of the Tsar, who has already wrought destruction on Novgorod.
Tokmakov advises submission but Olga's lover opts for resistance. In the thirdact the people gather to welcome the Tsar, who is entertained by Tokmakov. TheTsar is alarmed when he sees Olga, whom he realises is his illegitimate daughterand orders an end to threatened hostilities. In the final act Olga, foundmeeting her lover, is abducted by her proposed husband. Brought before theTsar, who addresses her as Olga Ivanovna, she seeks protection. Her lover,unaware of the situation, leads an attack on the Tsar's forces during thecourse of which Olga is killed, leaving the Tsar to mourn the loss of hisdaughter.
The incidental music for the play, derived fromthe revised opera, starts with a short Overture to introduce the Prologue.
opening with a recurrent fanfare that frames music suggesting Vera Shelogaand her lover, Tsar Ivan. The first entr'acte before Act I offers a tenderportrait of Olga, taken from Act IV of the original opera. In the introductionto Act II, the assembly in Pskov, a matter of concern to the censors, whoobjected 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 thedisapproval of Olga's nurse. The final entr'acte before Act IV shows the scenebefore the Monastery of Pyechorsky and Nikolay the Simpleton, the holy fool whoinveighs against the Tsar. These religious elements were proposed by Balakirevand use the theme of Alexey the Man of God.
Rimsky-Korsakov completed his opera TheLegend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya in 1905 andit was first staged in St Petersburg two years later. In the first actFevroniya, who lives in the woods with her brother, a woodman, sings a Hymnto Nature. She sees a stranger and falls in love, learning that her newlybetrothed is Vsevolod, the son of Prince Yury of Kitezh. The second act bringsher Wedding Procession in Lesser Kitezh, although some disapprove of themarriage. There is a Tatar attack and Fevroniya is abducted. In Greater Kitezhthe people prepare to resist the Tatars, led there by a captured traitor, andas the soldiers leave for battle the city is surrounded by a golden mist. The Battleof Kerzhenets includes elements representing the soldiers, led by Vsevolod,the Tatars and the rhythm of hoof-beats. The city of Kitezh, surrounded inmist, is invisible to the invaders, who quarrel, regretting the killing ofVsevolod, while their traitorous guide tries to drown himself. He sees thereflection of the invisible city and cries out in alarm, while the Tatarsscatter in terror. In the final act Fevroniya wanders through the forest,magically transformed, her death foretold by a prophet-bird but led towardsKitezh by the ghost of her beloved Vesevolod. The Death of Fevroniya and theApotheosis of the Invisible City brings her soul to the city, depicted bythe 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 thecomposer returned to it once more a year later and completed the orchestration.
He prefaced the work with the prologue that Pushkin had provided for Ruslanand Lyudmila, with its varied fairy-tale references and final lines, givenin 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 hedid with Sheherazade, preferring to leave matters to the imagination ofthe listener. Nevertheless Yastrebtsev, who had first approachedRimsky-Korsakov for a programme for Sheherazade, was told that elementsdepicted included the sounds of the forest, the call of some mythical bird, awater-nymph and the witch Baba Yaga, the original title of Skazka, flyingthrough the air, with her hut on fowl's legs.
Rimsky-Korsakov wrote his Fantasia on SerbianThemes in 1867 on the instructions of Balakirev, who provided the necessarySerbian thematic material. The original scoring, as with Pskovityanka, showedignorance of the existence of chromatic valve horns, among other defects. Thesewere remedied in a revised version of the work in 1887. The Fantasia wasfirst performed in May 1867 at a concert of Slav music in St Petersburg underthe direction of Balakirev, marking the All-Russian Ethnographic