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Topic: Mussorgsky's- A Night on Bald Mountain

  1. #1

    Talking Mussorgsky's- A Night on Bald Mountain

    Due to an error on my behalf, and after some confusion, Gary thought it best for me to re-post this so it benifits everyone, and I agree.

    A Night on Bald Mountain usually refers to one of two compositions – either a seldom performed early (1867) 'musical picture' by Modest Mussorgsky, St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain (Russian: Ivanova noch' na lïsoy gore), or a later (1886) and very popular 'fantasy for orchestra' by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, A Night on the Bare Mountain (Russian: Noch' na lïsoy gore), based almost entirely on Mussorgsky's themes.

    Inspired by Russian literary works and legend, Mussorgsky made a witches' sabbath the theme of the original tone poem, completed on June 23rd, 1867 (St. John's Eve). St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain and Rimsky-Korsakov's 'musical picture' Sadko (also composed in 1867) share the distinction of being the first tone poems by Russian composers.

    As with so much of Mussorgsky's music, the work had a tortuous compositional history and was arranged after his death in 1881 by his friend and fellow member of the Mighty Handful,Rimsky-Korsakov. It was never performed in any form during Mussorgsky's lifetime. The Rimsky-Korsakov edition premiered in 1886, and has become a concert favorite.

    Note on the title: The Russian word (lïsaya) literally means "bald", but is used in this case figuratively for a mountain supposedly barren of trees. Therefore, most experts officially title the piece A Night on the Bare Mountain, even if they commonly refer to it as Night on Bald Mountain.

    The following list traces the evolution of the Night on Bald Mountain music:

    Opera Project: St. John's Eve (1858)
    Mussorgsky's first ideas for a work set on St. John's Eve go back to 1858, when he discussed with Balakirev and others plans to write a three-act opera based on Gogol's short story St. John's Eve (Russian: Вечер накануне Ивана Купала, Vecher nakanune Ivana Kupala, St. John's Eve). Gogol's bloody tale contains the elements of devilry and witchcraft common to other stories in the Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka collection, but does not, as is often claimed, feature a witches' sabbath. Although Mussorgsky may have composed thematic sketches for this project, his plans were not mentioned again.

    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 Georgy 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. However, as with the previous project, it is unknown whether any materials were composed, and if so, whether they were transferred to subsequent projects.
    Work for piano and orchestra (Early 1860's)

    Rimsky-Korsakov declares in his memoirs (Chronicle of My Musical Life) that in the early 1860's Mussorgsky had written a version of the Night on Bald Mountain music for piano and orchestra, under the influence of Liszt's Totentanz. 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)
    In 1866 Mussorgsky wrote to Balakirev twice expressing a desire to discuss his plans for The Witches, his informal name for his Night on Bald Mountain music. In early June of 1867 he began composing the orchestral version of the piece, and finished the score on June 23 (St. John's Eve). He described the event in a letter to Vladimir Nikolsky:

    "My St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain (a far better title than The Witches) is, in form and character, Russian and original; and I want to feel sure that it is thoroughly in keeping with historic truth and Russian folk tradition– othewise it would not be good enough. I wrote it quickly, straight away in full score without preliminary rough drafts, in twelve days. It seethed within me, and I worked day and night, hardly knowing what was happening within me. And now I see in my wicked prank an independent Russian product, free from German profundity and routine, and, like my Savishna, grown on our country's soil and nurtured on Russian bread."

    He also stated — wrongly, 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 of this 'first version' was put aside, and did not appear in print until 1968.

    Unfinished Opera: Mlada (1872)
    The first re-modelling of the work took place in 1872, when Mussorgsky revised and recast it for chorus and orchestra as part of Act III 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: Noch' na gore Triglav) scene. Mlada was a project doomed to failure, however, and this 'second version' languished along with the first.

    Unfinished Opera: Sorochintsï Fair (1880)
    The work's 'third version', the Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad (Russian: Сонное видение паробка, Sonnoye videniye parobka), came into existence eight years later when the composer revived and revised the second version (see Night on Mount Triglav above) to function as a 'dream intermezzo' in his opera Sorochintsï Fair (1874–1880), a work which was still incomplete at the time of his death in 1881. Mussorgsky originally chose the end of Act I 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 more logically relocated to Act III, 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 in this version (which also finds its way into the Rimsky-Korsakov edition), thus forming a musical frame to the intermezzo.


    Original Tone Poem (1867)
    • Strings: Violins, Violas, Cellos, Double Basses
    • Woodwinds: 1 Piccolo, 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes, 2 Clarinets, 2 Bassoons
    • Brass: 4 Horns, 2 Cornets, 2 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, 1 Tuba
    • Percussion: Timpani, Bass Drum, Snare Drum, Triangle, Tambourine, Cymbals, Tam-tam
    Rimsky Korsakov Edition (1886)
    • Strings: Violins, Violas, Cellos, Double Basses
    • Woodwinds: 1 Piccolo, 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes, 2 Clarinets, 2 Bassoons
    • Brass: 4 Horns, 2 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, 1 Tuba
    • Percussion: Timpani, Bass Drum, Cymbals, Tam-tam, Bell
    • Other: Harp

    This is Rimsky Korsakov's edition using the same instrumentation, minus the percussion as I have not added that to the piece as of yet. This is a work in progress and I know there are still many technical issues such as articulation, dynamics etc. to contend with.

    My purpose for submitting this piece is to gain advice on what areas I might focus my attention on, to make the piece sound better. I value everyone's input and comments so please feel free to be as critical as needed. I also have the midi file available to any who wish to view/hear it; I just need to know how/where to add the file if anyone wants it.

    Thanks again for your patience and time

    The link:


    Jaker "Shaver"

  2. #2
    Senior Member Leaf's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Dallas, TX

    Thumbs up Re: Mussorgsky's- A Night on Bald Mountain

    Great Job on this John, i love Mussorgsky and Korsakov, and you certainly don't disappoint with your performance of this work. Also thanks for posting all the info on the the evolution of the Night on Bald Mountain, very interesting to learn all the details of a classical piece that so may people love.


  3. #3
    Senior Member LHong's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2000
    San Jose, Ca, USA

    Re: Mussorgsky's- A Night on Bald Mountain

    Very nice works, it sounds great as it is!
    I'll need to listen a few more times in order tell more!

    Thanks for sharing this,


  4. #4
    Senior Member fastlane's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Shelton, Washington State

    Re: Mussorgsky's- A Night on Bald Mountain

    Boy, quite an undertaking.

    I've heard this more than a few times on the local radio station.

    As far as sound, my ear was hearing the brass doing an accordion effect here and there when chording. One place was 3:19 to 3:27. I wonder if you are pulling back on the mod wheel and they are wheezing a bit.

    This is an exciting piece of music and I enjoyed it.


  5. #5
    Senior Member
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    May 2006
    Penfield (Rochester), NY

    Re: Mussorgsky's- A Night on Bald Mountain


    Quite and undertaking. If nothing else the entry of so much scored music is enormous. I've been there myself more that once.

    The production is quite impressive. I agree with Phil, the trumpets in a few places have sort of according affect. Also, I think the heavy bass sometimes approached distortion and with the large group of close notes gets muddy at times. Also, the whole piece really loud and frontal sounding, no matter what the dynamics are. It may be necessary to throttle back a bit to achieve better clarity and give a better sense of control over the work. This will make a great effort on your part even outstanding.

    Thanks for sharing this with the forum.



  6. #6

    Re: Mussorgsky's- A Night on Bald Mountain

    Hello, Shaver

    I am So happy this morning to see your post of "Bald Mountain" up in The Listening Room. Just now I had the pleasure of hearing your labor of love for the last 10 minutes.

    A big Bravo! to you for accomplishing the monumental task of working on this piece. I know it went way beyond "task" or "work" for you. The time that I've personally spent working with scores (MUCh simpler ones than this!) have been rewarding to me also, since the rather slow-motion process of working with brilliantly orchestrated scores can be so educational and enlightening to us.

    It's easy to see why this is a composition which has had such a wide popular appeal since the time it was first written. The energy and excitement of the music, broadly and deftly composed by Mussorgsky, makes it one of those classical pieces that can easily draw in an audience which may not otherwise listen to a lot of classical music. It has the dramatic appeal of music in any genre we could mention, from Opera, to Big Band, to Prog Rock - et al.

    Naturally, like the general public, I can't help but think of the innovative visuals the Disney Studios created for accompanying this work in the famous break-through film, "Fantasia." It's to the ever-lasting credit of Disney and his team that "serious" music was made as the basis for one of the greatest excursions of animation that ever flickered on the big screen.

    I'm glad to see you say that you plan on adding the percussion to your rendition. Like most any classical piece where rhythm is such a integral ingredient, the percussion line is essential.

    And now that you have the piece so thoroughly fleshed out, I'm sure it'll be fun to work on increasing the dynamic flow of the piece-tightening up the length of notes in some areas, making broader use of the Brass Overlays etc. And another area where more massaging of the material would be helpful, for instance, is in the last minute or so of the piece, where the spiritual calm-after-the-storm could be stated more pianissimo.

    Hats off to you, Jaker - And the informative text is also appreciated.

    Randy B.

  7. #7

    Re: Mussorgsky's- A Night on Bald Mountain


    Quite an undertaking and well done.

    Enjoyed listening. A lot of work went into this.

    Congratulations, John

    Jack Cannon--Toshiba laptop, 2.8 GHz CPU, 1.5 GB RAM, GPO4-JABB3-Auth. STEINWAY-Gofriller CELLO-Stradivari VIOLIN-COMB2-WORLD, FINALE 2009/11, RME Digiface, Cardbus, V-Stack---Mac Pro 2.66 GHz CPU, 8 GB RAM, DP 8, MOTU Traveler, MOTU Micro Express.--MacBook Pro 2.2 Ghz CPU, 8 GB RAM.

  8. #8

    Re: Mussorgsky's- A Night on Bald Mountain

    Extremely impressive .. get this one on the home page for sure!

    Kudos and bravo and golf claps to you for this piece.
    If pro is the opposite of con lets look beyond this....the opposite of congress must be progress...

  9. #9
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Wilton, NH

    Re: Mussorgsky's- A Night on Bald Mountain

    Wow, this is certainly a huge undertaking. So far it sounds great. I will say that I started listening before I read your post and wondered what about it sounded strange – I was missing the percussion.

    Thanks for posting this and the history of the piece (I knew a little of it but not all of it, particularly the early part).
    Trent P. McDonald

  10. #10

    Re: Mussorgsky's- A Night on Bald Mountain


    Thanks everyone for your encouraging words. This has most definately been a huge undertaking and challenge but, it's been so much fun. The way I decided to tackle this was somewhat unorthadox but, it seemed to work. I decided to take the reference recording and divide it into 30 second sections. I would loop the recording of the current section I was working on so it would play in a seperate player. While it played, I would enter each note into Fruity Loops virtual keyboard until I had the complete piece.

    I personally have heard this piece thousands of times and each time I listen to it, I discover more I hadn't heard previously. The most challenging part for me, is listening to the reference recording and transcribing what I "hear" note for note and by ear; that has taken the most time. Then of course, listening to the recording over and over to "feel" the dynamics, note length etc. and try to come as close as I can to the origional recording.

    There is still much work to do on this but, as I mockup the next rendering, I will post it so everyone can guage it's progress.

    Thanks again for all your enthusiastic support.

    Jaker "Shaver"

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