Night on Bald Mountain
Night on The Bare Mountain (Russian: Ночь на лысой горе, Noch' na lïsoy gore) is a composition originally by Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881). Inspired by Russian literary works and legend, Mussorgsky made a witches' sabbath the theme of a 'musical picture' titled St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain (Russian: Иванова ночь на лысой горе, Ivanova noch' na lïsoy gore), completed on 23 June 1867 (St. John's Eve).
Although Mussorgsky was proud of this youthful effort, his mentor Miliy Balakirev refused to perform it. To salvage what he considered worthy material, Mussorgsky attempted to insert his Bare Mountain music, recast for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra, in two subsequent projects—the collaborative opera-ballet Mlada (1872) and the opera Sorochintsï Fair (1880).
However, the work achieved fame and is still best known in Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov's edition, a 'fantasy for orchestra' titled A Night on the Bare Mountain (1886), composed five years after Mussorgsky's death:
"I need hardly remind the reader that the orchestral piece universally known as 'Mussorgsky's Night on the Bare Mountain' is an orchestral composition by Rimsky-Korsakov based on the later version of the Bare Mountain music which Mussorgsky prepared for Sorochintsï Fair."—Gerald Abraham, musicologist and an authority on Mussorgsky, 1945
A Night on the Bare Mountain was never performed in any form during Mussorgsky's lifetime. The Rimsky-Korsakov edition premiered in 1886 in Saint Petersburg, and has become a concert favorite. The original tone poem by Mussorgsky was not published until 1968, and although it is seldom heard, it is gradually gaining exposure and popularity.
Many listeners became acquainted with Night on Bald Mountain through the Disney animated film Fantasia (1940), which used an arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov's edition made by Leopold Stokowski. An arrangement (by David Shire) of the composition was included in the tremendously successful original soundtrack of the movie Saturday Night Fever.
Note: The Russian word "лысая" (lïsaya) literally means "bald", but is used in this case figuratively for a mountain supposedly barren of trees. In the United Kingdom the title is rendered Night on the Bare Mountain. "Night on Bald Mountain" is sometimes mistaken as "In the Hall of the Mountain King."
Early unrealized projects 
Opera project: St. John's Eve (1858) 
A sheet of paper apparently found among Mussorgsky's manuscripts contains the following statement:
"Program of the opera St. John's Night, in three acts, after the tale by Gogol, written by P. Boborïkin, in the presence and with the help of Modest Mussorgsky, Yevgeniy Mussorgsky, and Vasiliy. Witness to the proceedings: Miliy Balakirev."
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.
Opera project: The Witch (1860) 
The theme of a witches' sabbath, the central theme in all subsequent Night on Bald Mountain projects, appears to have been derived from the nonextant play The Witch (Russian: Ведьма, Ved'ma, Witch) by Baron Georgiy Mengden, a military friend of the composer. In 1860 Mussorgsky informed Balakirev that he had been commissioned to write one act of an opera on this subject:
"I have also received some highly interesting work which needs to be prepared for the coming summer. This work is: a whole act on The Bare 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."—Modest Mussorgsky, letter to Balakirev, 26 September 1860
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.
Work for piano and orchestra (early 1860s) 
Rimsky-Korsakov declares in his memoirs (Chronicle of My Musical Life) that in the early 1860s Mussorgsky, under the influence of Franz Liszt's Totentanz, had written a version of the Bare Mountain music for piano and orchestra. However, it is believed that Mussorgsky did not hear Liszt's work until 1866, by which time he was planning the orchestral tone poem St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain (see below). No trace of a work for piano and orchestra has survived outside Rimsky-Korsakov's recollections, so it is assumed that the score was lost, or, more likely, that it had never existed.
Tone poem: St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain (1867) 
Composition history 
In 1866 Mussorgsky wrote to Balakirev expressing a desire to discuss his plans for The Witches, his informal name for his Bare Mountain music. In early June 1867, he began composing the orchestral version of the piece. The score is inscribed with the following details:
"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."
Mussorgsky described the piece in a letter 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 Russian and original... I wrote St. John's Night quickly, straight away in full score, I wrote it in about twelve days, glory to God... While at work on St. John's Night 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."
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 Mily Balakirev was savagely critical of it. The score is peppered with comments such as "the devil knows what [this is]", "what rubbish", and "this might be of use", probably pencilled in by Balakirev. This 'first version' was put aside, and did not appear in print until 1968, in a new edition prepared by Georgiy Kirkor.
Performance history 
St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain (1867) was not performed until the 20th century. Musicologist Aleksandra Orlova claims that the original manuscript of this version was discovered in the library of the Leningrad Conservatory by musicologist Georgiy Orlov in the late 1920s, that it was performed once by the Leningrad Philhamonic Society, and that Nikolay Malko brought along a copy of it when he emigrated to the West. Gerald Abraham states that this version was performed by Malko on 3 February 1932, apparently in England. Michel-Dimitri Calvocoressi claims that Malko performed this version in several countries in 1933. According to the Grove Dictionary of Music this version premiered in Moscow in 1968, presumably in Georgiy Kirkor's edition.
- Strings: violins I & II, violas, cellos, double basses
- Woodwinds: 1 piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons
- Brass: 4 French horns, 2 cornets, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba
- Percussion: timpani, bass drum, snare drum, triangle, tambourine, cymbals, tam-tam
The following program is taken from the score:
||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)|
Glorification of Chornobog from Mlada (1872) 
Composition history 
The first re-modelling of the work (in this case, of the original tone poem—see St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain above) 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.
Mussorgsky referred to this piece under the title Glorification of Chornobog (Russian: Славленье Чёрнобога, Slavlenye Chornoboga) in a list of his compositions given to Vladimir Stasov. In 1930, Pavel Lamm, in his edition of Mussorgsky's complete works, referred to the piece as Worship of the Black Goat (Russian: Служение чёрному козлу, Sluzheniye chornomy kozlu).
Mlada was a project doomed to failure, however, and this 'second version' languished along with the first. The score of Glorification of Chornobog has not survived, and was never published or performed.
The following scenario is taken from Rimsky-Korsakov's later 'magic opera-ballet' Mlada (1890), based on the same libretto by Viktor Krïlov.
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 Mlada scenario is the only Bare 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.
Voyslava and her father Mstivoy, the Prince of Retra, have poisoned Mlada, the betrothed of Yaromir, Prince of Arkona. Voyslava sells her soul to Morena, an evil goddess, to obtain her aid in making Yaromir forget Mlada so she may have him to herself. In Act 3, the shade (ghost) of Mlada leads Yaromir up the slopes of Mt. Triglav to a pine wood in a gorge on top of the mountain. Mlada's shade joins a gathering of the spirits of the dead. She expresses in 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 Sorochintsï Fair, described below):
|Злые духи||Zlïye dukhi||Evil spirits|
|Чёрнобог||Chórnobog||'Chorno'(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|
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 Chornobog to help make Yaromir forsake Mlada. Kashchey determines that Morena and Chornobog will be successful if Yaromir is seduced by another. Chornobog 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.
Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad from Sorochintsï Fair (1880) 
Composition history 
The work's 'third version', the Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad (Russian: Сонное видение паробка, Sonnoye videniye parobka), was composed eight years later when Mussorgsky revived and revised the second version (see Glorification of Chornobog above) to function as a 'dream intermezzo' in his opera Sorochintsï Fair (1874–80), a work which was still incomplete at the time of his death in 1881. Mussorgsky's piano-vocal score is dated 10 May 1880.
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 (which also finds its way into the Rimsky-Korsakov edition) in this version, thus forming a musical frame to the intermezzo.
Performance history 
The Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad was first performed as part of Vissarion Shebalin's performing edition of Sorochintsï Fair, which premiered in 1931 in Leningrad at the Maly Theater, conducted by Samuil Samosud. Shebalin's orchestration was published by Muzgiz in 1934.
The peasant Solopy Cherevik, his domineering wife Khivrya, and pretty daughter Parasya are visiting the Sorochintsi 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.
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):
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 Chornobog. Chornobog rises from underground. Following him are Kashchey, Cherv, Chuma, Topelets, Smert, and the rest of his retinue.
- p. 7) Worship of Chornobog.
- 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.
Surviving the transfer from Glorification of Chornobog are the same supernatural characters, although Morena has been replaced by Death (Russian: Смерть, Smert'). Chornobog 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.
Mussorgsky sent the following program to Vladimir Stasov about three months after its composition in 1880:
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:
- Subterranean roar of non-human voices, uttering non-human words.
- The subterranean kingdom of darkness comes into its own—mocking the sleeping peasant lad.
- Foreshadowing of the appearance of Chornobog (Satan).
- The peasant lad left by the spirits of darkness. Appearance of Chornobog.
- Worship of Chornobog and the black mass.
- At the wildest moment of the sabbath the sound of a Christian church bell. Chornobog suddenly disappears.
- Suffering of the demons.
- Voices of the clergy in church.
- Disappearance of the demons and the peasant lad's awakening.
Rimsky-Korsakov's fantasy: Night on the Bare Mountain (1886) 
Composition history 
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 A Night on the Bare Mountain from the Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad vocal score:
"During the season of 1882-3, I continued working on Khovanshchina and other compositions of Mussorgsky's. A Night on the Bare Mountain was the only thing I could not find my way with. Originally composed in the sixties under the influence of Liszt's Danse Macabre for the piano with accompaniment of orchestra, this piece (then called St. John's Eve, and both severely and justly criticized by Balakirev) had long been utterly neglected by its author, gathering dust among his unfinished works. When composing Gedeonov's Mlada, Mussorgsky had made use of the material to be found in Night, and, introducing singing into it, had written the scene of Chornobog on Mount Triglav. That was the second form of the same piece in substance. Its third form had developed in his composing of Sorochintsï Fair, when Mussorgsky conceived the queer and incoherent idea of making the peasant lad, without rhyme or reason, see the sabbath of devilry in a dream, which was to form a sort of stage intermezzo that did not chime at all with the rest of the scenario of Sorochintsï Fair. This time the piece ended with the ringing of the village church bell, at the sounds of which the frightened evil spirits vanished. Tranquility and dawn were built on the theme of the peasant lad himself, who had seen the fantastic dream. In working on Mussorgsky's piece, I made use of its last version for the purpose of closing the composition. Now then, the first form of the piece was for piano solo with orchestra; the second form and the third, vocal compositions and for the stage, into the bargain (unorchestrated). None of these forms was fit to be published and performed. With Mussorgsky's material as a basis, I decided to create an instrumental piece by retaining all of the author's best and coherent material, adding the fewest possible interpolations of my own. It was necessary to create a form in which Mussorgsky's ideas would mould in the best fashion. It was a difficult task, of which the satisfactory solution baffled me for two years, though in the other works of Mussorgsky I had got on with comparative ease. I had been unable to get at either form, modulation, or orchestration, and the piece lay inert until the following year." —Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Chronicle of my Musical Life, 1909
Rimsky-Korsakov made some "corrections" typical of him, as he did with Mussorgsky's other works (Boris Godunov, Khovanshchina), preserving the general thematic structure, but adding or omitting bars, and making some modifications to melody, harmony, rhythm, and dynamics.
Performance history 
Rimsky-Korsakov's edition was completed in 1886, and was published in the same year by V. Bessel and Co.. It received its premiere on 15 October of that year in St. Petersburg's Kononov Hall, performed by the orchestra of the Russian Symphony Concerts, conducted by Rimsky-Korsakov himself.
- Strings: Violins, Violas, Cellos, Double Basses
- Woodwinds: 1 Piccolo, 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes, 2 Clarinets, 2 Bassoons
- Brass: 4 French Horns, 2 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, 1 Tuba
- Percussion: Timpani, Bass Drum, Cymbals, Tam-tam, Bell
- Other: Harp
For Rimsky-Korsakov's edition we apparently return to the 'Bald Mountain' (Lysa Hora) in or near Kiev.
"Subterranean sounds of unearthly voices. Appearance of the Spirits of Darkness, followed by that of Chornobog. Glorification of Chornobog and celebration of the Black Mass. Witches' Sabbath. At the height of the orgy, the bell of the little village church is heard from afar. The Spirits of Darkness are dispersed. Daybreak."
Leopold Stokowski's arrangement: Night on Bald Mountain (1940) 
Millions of 20th-century listeners owe their initial acquaintance with Mussorgsky's tone-poem to the use within Walt Disney's 1940 film Fantasia of a specially produced version made by Leopold Stokowski. Stokowski stated that he based it on the Rimsky-Korsakov arrangement in form and content (though notably without the 'fanfare' that marks the entrance of the black god Chernobog), but on Mussorgsky's original in orchestration. However, like Rimsky-Korsakov himself, Stokowski had no copy of the original tone poem from 1867, so he did what he felt Mussorgsky would have done, being familiar to some extent with Mussorgsky's style, having conducted the U.S. premiere of the original version of Boris Godunov in 1929 and having subsequently produced a symphonic synthesis of Boris for concert purposes. Stokowski went on to produce an even more drastic adaptation of Night on Bald Mountain for concert performance. The Stokowski arrangements are only rarely heard today, Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestration being the concert favorite, and the one most often programmed.
Selected Recordings 
Performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. Courtesy of Musopen
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Original tone poem (1867)
- 1971, Lloyd-Jones, London Philharmonic Orchestra
- 1980, Abbado, London Symphony Orchestra
- 1991, Dohnanyi, Cleveland Orchestra
- 1991, Kitayenko, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
- 1993, Abbado, Berliner Philharmoniker
- 2003, Kuchar, National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine
- 2006, Salonen, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad (1880)
- As part of The Fair at Sorochyntsi:
- 1969, Aranovich, Moscow Radio Orchestra and Chorus
- 1983, Esipov, Stanislavsky Theater Orchestra and Chorus
- Concert version:
- 1997, Polyansky, Russian State Symphony Orchestra
- 1997, Abbado, Berliner Philharmoniker
- 1997, Mácal, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra
Rimsky-Korsakov edition (1886)
- Recordings of Rimsky-Korsakov's revision are too numerous to catalog in this article.
Stokowski arrangement (1940)
- Calvocoressi (1956: pg. 78)
- Calvocoressi, Abraham (1974: pg. 175)
- Calvocoressi, Abraham (1974: pg. 21)
- Calvocoressi (1956: pg. 31)
- Calvocoressi, Abraham (1974: pg. 20)
- Musorgskiy (1984: p. 27)
- Calvocoressi (1974: p. 20)
- Catalog of autographs of M. P. Mussorgsky
- Musorgskiy (1984: p. 73-74
- Lloyd-Jones (1974)
- Orlova (1991: p. 166)
- Calvocoressi, Abraham (1974: p. 175)
- Calvocoressi (1956: pg. 74)
- Calvocoressi (1956: pg. 11)
- Musorgskiy (1971: p. 172-174)
- Calvocoressi, Abraham (1974: pg. 162)
- Musorgskiy (1971: p. 154)
- Rimsky-Korsakov (1923: pp. 261-262)
- Serebrier, Jose, notes for Naxos 8.557645, Mussorgsky-Stokowski Transcriptions.
- Calvocoressi, M.D., Abraham, G., Mussorgsky, 'Master Musicians' Series, London: J.M.Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1946/1974
- Calvocoressi, M.D., Modest Mussorgsky: His Life and Works, London: Rockliff, 1956
- Catalog of autographs of M. P. Mussorgsky in the manuscript department of the St. Petersburg Conservatory [in Russian] (Accessed December 26, 2007), <http://biblio.conservatory.ru/Today/Public/Miller02.htm>
- Lloyd-Jones, D., notes to CD RD70405 (Mussorgsky: Orchestral and Choral works) RCA Records, 1974
- Musorgskiy, M., Literary Legacy (Literaturnoye naslediye), Orlova, A., Pekelis, M. (editors), Moscow: Muzïka (Music, publisher), 1971 [Мусоргский, М., Литературное наследие, Орлова, А., Пекелис, М., Москва: Музыка, 1971]
- Musorgskiy, M., M. P. Musorgskiy: Letters, 2nd edition, Gordeyeva, Ye. (editor), Moscow: Muzïka (Music, publisher), 1984 [Мусоргский, М., М. П. Мусоргский: Письма, Гордеева, Е., Москва: Музыка, 1984]
- Orlova, A., Musorgsky Remembered, translated by Zaytzeff, V., and Morrison, F., Bloomington and Indianopolis: Indiana University Press, 1991
- Rimsky-Korsakov, N., Chronicle of My Musical Life, New York: Knopf, 1923