Polovtsian Dances

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The Polovtsian Dances, or Polovetsian Dances (Russian: Половецкие пляски, Polovetskie plyaski from the Russian name of 'Polovtsy' - the name given to the Kipchaks and Cumans by the people of Rus') form an exotic scene at the end of Act II of Alexander Borodin's opera Prince Igor.

The work remained unfinished when the composer died in 1887, although he had worked on it for more than a decade. A performing version was prepared by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov, appearing in 1890. Several other versions, or "completions," of the opera have been made. The dances are performed with chorus and last between 11 and 14 minutes. They occur in Act I or Act II, depending on which version of the opera is being used. Their music is popular and sometimes given in concert. At such performances the choral parts are often omitted. The opera also has a "Polovtsian March," which opens Act III, and an overture at the start. When the dances are given in concert, a suite may be formed: Overture, Polovtsian Dances and March from "Prince Igor."

Ballets Russes performances

As part of his first "Saison Russe" at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, Sergei Diaghilev presented Polovtsian Scenes and Dances, consisting of Act II of Prince Igor, with full orchestra and singers. The premiere took place on 18 May 1909. The choreography was by Michel Fokine and the sets and costumes were designed by Nicholas Roerich. In later seasons, without singers, the work was given as The Polovtsian Dances. For the 1923 season, it was partly re-choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska.[1]


Performed in 1913 at the Berlin State Opera by the Staatskapelle Berlin. (4:00)

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The first dance, which uses no chorus and is sometimes omitted in concerts, is No. 8, entitled "Dance of the Polovtsian Maidens" ["Пляска половецких девушек"]: presto, 6/8, F major; it is placed directly after the "Chorus of the Polovtsian Maidens," which opens the act and is followed by "Konchakovna's Cavatina". The dances proper appear at the end of the Act as an uninterrupted single number in several contrasting sections listed as follows (basic themes are indicated with letters in brackets and notated in the accompanying illustration)

  • No. 17, "Polovtsian Dance with Chorus" ["Половецкая пляска с хором"]
    • [a] Introduction: Andantino, 4/4, A Major
    • [b] Gliding Dance of the Maidens [Пляска девушек плавная]: Andantino, 4/4, A Major
    • [c + a] Wild Dance of the Men [Пляска мужчин дикая]: Allegro vivo, 4/4, F Major
    • [d] General Dance [Общая пляска]: Allegro, 3/4, D Major
    • [e] Dance of the Boys [Пляска мальчиков] and 2nd Dance of the Men [Пляска мужчин]: Presto, 6/8, D Minor
    • [b’ + e’] Gliding Dance of the Maidens (reprise, soon combined with the faster dancing of the boys): Moderato alla breve, 2/2, A Major
    • [e’’] Dance of the Boys and 2nd Dance of the Men (reprise): Presto, 6/8, D Minor
    • [c’ + a’’] General Dance: Allegro con spirito, 4/4, A Major


As an orchestral showpiece by an important nineteenth-century Russian composer, notable instrumental solos include the clarinet (in No. 8 and the Men's Dance [c]) and the oboe and English horn (in the Women's Dance [b]).


The text of the first stanza of this particular section in the opera is given below.

Russian[2] Transliteration English translation[3]

Улетай на крыльях ветра
Ты в край родной, родная песня наша,
Туда, где мы тебя свободно пели,
Где было так привольно нам с тобою.
Там, под знойным небом,
Негой воздух полон,
Там под говор моря
Дремлют горы в облаках;
Там так ярко солнце светит,
Родные горы светом заливая,
В долинах пышно розы расцветают,
И соловьи поют в лесах зеленых,
И сладкий виноград растет.
Там тебе привольней, песня,
Ты туда и улетай.


Пойте песни славы хану! Пой!
Славьте силу, дочесть хана! Славь!
Славен хан! Хан!
Славен он, хан наш!
Блеском славы
Солнцу равен хан!
Нету равных славой хану! Нет!
Чаги хана славят хана.
Хана своего.


Uletay na krylyakh vetra
Ty v kraj rodnoy, rodnaya pesnya nasha,
Tuda, gde my tebya svobodno peli,
Gde bylo tak privolno nam s tobyu
Tam, pod znoynym nebom,
Nogoy vozdukh polon,
Tam pod govor morya
Dpemjyot gory v oblakakh;
Tam tak yarko solntse svetit,
Rodnyye gory svetom zalivaya,
V dolinakh pyshno rozy rastsvetayot,
I solovi poyut v lesakh zelenykh,
I sladkiy vinograd rastet.
Tam tebe privolney, pesnya,
Ty tuda i uletay.


Fly on the wings of the wind
To our native land, dear song of ours,
There, where we have sung you at liberty,
Where we felt so free in singing you.
There, under the hot sky,
The air is full of bliss,
There to the sound of the sea
The mountains doze in the clouds;
There the sun shines so brightly,
Bathing the native mountains in light,
Splendid roses blossom in the valleys,
And nightingales sing in the green forests.
And sweet grapes grow.
You are free there, song,
Fly home,

The English translation of the remaining is:

Sing songs of praise to the Khan! Sing!
Praise the power and valor of the Khan!
Praise the glorious Khan!
He is glorious, our Khan!
In the brilliance of his glory,
The Khan is equal to the sun!
There is none equal to the Khan in glory, None!
The Khan female slaves praise the Khan,
Their Khan!

KONCHAK [the Khan]
Do you see the captives
From the distant sea;
Do you see my beauties,
From beyond the Caspian Sea?
Oh, tell me, friend,
Tell me just one word:
If you want to,
I will give you anyone of them.

Sing songs of praise to the Khan! Sing!
Praised be his generosity, praised be his mercy!
Praise him!
To his enemies the Khan is merciless
He, our Khan!
Who may equal the Khan in glory, who?
In the brilliance of his glory,
He is equal to the sun!
Our Khan, Khan Konchak, is equal
In glory to his forefathers!
The terrible Khan Konchak is equal
In glory to his forefathers! Glorious is our Khan Konchak!
Glory, glory!

(Repeats the opening stanza)

Our Khan, Khan Konehak, is equal
In glory to his forefathers!
The grim Khan Konehak is equal
In glory to his forefathers!
Glory, glory to Khan Konchak!
Khan Konehak!
With your dancing entertain the Khan,
Dance to entertain the Khan, slaves!
Your Khan!
Dance to entertain the Khan, slaves!
Your Khan!
With your dancing entertain the Khan!
Entertain with dancing!
Our Khan Konchak![4]

References in popular culture[edit]

Some Polovtsian Dances performed by Daniel Bautista (fragment).

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Most of the themes from No. 17 were incorporated into the 1953 musical Kismet, best known of which is the women's dance ("Gliding Dance of the Maidens"), adapted for the song "Stranger in Paradise". Thirteen years earlier, in 1940, Artie Shaw recorded "My Fantasy" (credited to composers Paul Whiteman, Jack Meskill, and Leo Edwards), which has a tune virtually identical to this dance. Paul Whiteman adapted the music from the Polovtsian Dances theme from Prince Igor (1890). The Paul Whiteman Orchestra recorded "My Fantasy" in 1939.

A hip-hop song version of the music was produced by Warren G and Sissel Kyrkjebø for the album The Rhapsody, simply entitled "Prince Igor". The single was released in 1997, along with the album.

The theme was also used in the Massive Attack song "Karmacoma", from the album Protection in 1994.

The heavy metal song Lonely Winds of War by Masterplan also uses the melody in the chorus.

More recent adaptations of the music include the following:

  • In the 1970s there was a television commercial for a classical music compilation set that tried to hook viewers by arguing that many of their favorite tunes were actually classical pieces. The narrator (British actor John Williams) speaks at one point, with "Stranger in Paradise" playing in the background, and says, "You may think of this as 'Stranger in Paradise,' but did you know it was from the Polovtsian Dance Number 2 by Borodin?"
  • The "Gliding Dance of the Maidens" section is played, to suggest loneliness and despair, during the pilot episode of the cartoon series "Ren and Stimpy" when Ren and Stimpy are jailed at the dog pound.
  • The "Gliding Dance of the Maidens" was performed at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

See also[edit]

  • Cumans - the Cumans were called Polovtsy by the Rus'


  1. ^ Garofala, Lynn. Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. (New York, NY: DaCapo Press, 1998). p. 384.
  2. ^ "Prince Igor on Russian Wikisource". 
  3. ^ http://www.brilliantclassics.com/media/445949/94608-Borodin-Prince-Igor-Sung-texts.pdf, retrieved 5 July 2015.
  4. ^ http://www.brilliantclassics.com/media/445949/94608-Borodin-Prince-Igor-Sung-texts.pdf, retrieved 5 July 2015.
  • Borodin, A. Le Prince Igor. Partition pour chant et piano. Edition M.P. Belaieff. (Russian, French, and German text.)

External links[edit]

Free scores of Polovtsian Dances in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)