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ClassicsOnline Home » RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Pan Voyevoda / Sadko / May Night
Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908):
Suite: Pan Voyevoda
Musical Picture – Sadko, Op. 5
Overture on Russian Themes, Op. 28
Overture: May Night
Boyarïnya Vera Sheloga, Op. 54: Overture & Lullaby
Russian cultural nationalism in the nineteenth century had its musical reflection first in the work of Glinka and then in that of a group of five composers, Vladimir Stasov's Mighty Handful, dominated by Balakirev. The group included César Cui, a professor of military fortification, the young guards officer Mussorgsky, Borodin, a professor of chemistry, and a young naval officer, Rimsky-Korsakov. Bom in 1844, this last had followed his childhood ambition and family tradition by entering the naval college in 1856. He had shown an early interest and ability in music, and these he was able to further during his naval career, which lasted until his resignation from the service in 1872. Thereafter he spent a dozen years as Inspector of Naval Bands, a civilian position specially created for him through the influence of his family, and only abolished in 1884. This led him to develop a particular interest in instrumentation, an aspect of music that had fascinated him since his first experience of opera, Flotow's Indra, which he had seen in St Petersburg in 1857.
Rimsky-Korsakov's first meeting with Balakirev, Cui and Mussorgsky had been in 1861. A tour of naval duty abroad, during which he wrote his first symphony, was followed, on his return, by a performance of the work in 1865 under the direction of Balakirev. Relations with the latter cooled over the years and Rimsky-Korsakov turned to a new circle of musicians assembled by Belyayev, whose musical Friday evenings rivalled the Tuesday evenings over which Balakirev had presided. Belyayev, moreover, was able to offer younger musicians practical support and established a publishing-house for their benefit. Of the original group of five, Mussorgsky died in 1881 and Borodin in 1887, and Rimsky-Korsakov was left to undertake the revision, completion and publication of much that they had left unfinished His later years were not without their troubles. In the 1890s he suffered from bouts of depression and there was a breach with the Imperial Theatres when approval was not given to various new operas. In 1905 he was involved in support of the student unrest at the St Petersburg Conservatory, where he had taught since 1871 and from which he was now dismissed, to be reinstated under the more liberal policies that followed the disturbances. Political trouble occurred again when his last opera, The Golden Cockerel was refused approval by the censors, who saw in it an attack on the régime. He died in 1908.
The international reputation of Rimsky-Korsakov rests largely on his colourful orchestral works such as the Capriccio espagnol and Sheherazade. His principal achievement, however, must be seen to rest on his sixteen or so operas, major contributions to a relatively new repertoire. The opera Pan Voyevoda was written in 1904. Rimsky-Korsakov had for some time toyed with the idea of composing a tribute to Chopin and asked his former pupil Il'ya Fyodorovich Tyumenev for a suitable libretto. The action was to be set in sixteenth or seventeenth century Poland and was to avoid any political suggestions that might alienate the Russian censors. Mariya and her lover meet at a mill in the forest. An official arrives to prepare for the arrival of Pan Voyevoda, the local military commander or voyevode, who has, it seems, met Mariya before and fallen in love with her, to the jealous reaction of his mistress Yadwiga Zapolskaya. The voyevode has Mariya's lover arrested and declares that she is to be his wife. In the second act Yadwiga consults a sorceress, sees in a bowl of water the marriage of Mariya and Pan Voyevoda and persuades the sorceress to provide her with poison, for her revenge. Meanwhile Mariya's lover, overheard by Yadwiga, plans an attack on the voyevode and the rescue of his beloved. At the wedding feast, in the third act, Yadwiga fails to put poison in Mariya's glass but betrays the plot to kill the voyevode. The poison, intended for Mariya, is put into the voyevode's glass and he drinks it and dies.
The score of Pan Voyevodo includes a number of colourful episodes, while the opera as a whole, with an uninspired libretto. is unsuccessful. The work opened the St Petersburg Conservatory Opera season in October 1904 and was later mounted in Moscow, where it was conducted by Rachmaninov. The Suite derived from it opens with the Introduction to the opera, setting the forest scene. This is followed by a Krakowiak in the first act. The Nocturne: Clair de lune provides an instrumental intermezzo and the Mazurka that follows opens the second act of the opera. The Suite ends with a Polonaise from the third act.
Various legends surround the historical character of Sadko, a rich merchant in twelfth-century Novgorod. The best known of the traditional epics has him as a guslyar, entertaining the nobility to the sound of his instrument. Exiled through jealousy of his ambitions, he charms the Sea King's daughter Volkhova with his music and is rewarded with a golden fish that soon brings him wealth. In later years, becalmed on a voyage, he is cast adrift by sailors, in an attempt to bring a fair wind, and descends to the Sea King's realm. There he marries Volkhova, but the disturbance of their revelry causes storms, calmed only when St Nicholas restores Sadko to Novgorod once more and turns Volkhova into a river. Rimsky-Korsakov's first treatment of the legend was in a symphonic poem, allegedly the first such in Russia, written in 1867 and bearing the title Episode from the Legend of Sadko. The composer revised the work two years later, publishing it as Musical picture — Sadko and made a final revision for further publication in 1892, before the composition of his opera on the same subject, completed in 1896. The narrative programme of the tone-poem is a simple one. It opens with a depiction of the sea. In a second section Sadko is cast adrift and descends to the realm of the Sea King. This is followed by the celebration of the marriage of Sadko and Volkhova, the revelry provoking a storm. The work ends with the sea calm once more.
It was in 1866 that Rimsky-Korsakov, under the influence of Balakirev, had the idea of writing his Overture on Russian Themes. As with all his earlier works, this was later revised, reaching its final form in 1880. The themes he chose to use were Slava (Gloria), and the folk-songs 'At the gates, the gates' and 'Ivan has a big coat on'. Modelled on Balakirev's Overture on Three Russian Themes, Rimsky-Korsakov's work starts with a slow introduction followed by an Allegro using the two folk-songs. Slava, familiar both from Beethoven's Razumovsky Quartet, Op. 59, No. 2 and from Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, heard in the introduction, returns in the coda.
May Night, Rimsky-Korsakov's second opera, completed in 1879, was based on a story by Gogol and concerns tricks played on a Village Headman by his son Levko, his rival for the favours of Hanna. The Headman, after the intervention of a water- nymph who has sought Levko's earlier help, finds himself finally obliged to consent to his son's marriage. The opera makes extensive use of folk- material and this s reflected in the Overture which makes full use of themes that are later to be heard, including the water-nymph music of the third act, Levko's song about Hanna, sung by the take in the same act, something of Levko and Hanna's duet in the first act and music from the opera's finale.
The one-act opera Boyarïnya Vera Sheloga was written in 1898 and served as a prologue to The Maid of Pskov, dealing, as it does, with events prior to those of the latter work. Rimsky-Korsakov derived his own libretto from the first act of the play by Lev Alexandrovich Mey which is set in the house of Sheloga in Pskov in 1555. Vera, her husband now away at the war with his friend Prince Tolunakov, sings her baby daughter Olga to sleep in a lullaby, 'Bayu-bayushki-bayu' (Hush now, hushaby), of which Rimsky-Korsakov had first composed the setting in 1866. Her sister seeks to know the child' s paternity, but Vera can only admit that she had fainted while visiting a monastery and had found herself in the tent of a stranger, later to be identified as Tsar Ivan the Terrible. Sheloga and Tokmakov return and Vera's sister Nadezhda claims the bany as hers. It is only in The Maid of Pskov that Olga overhears Tokmakov, who has adopted the child, reveal something of her true identity. The Overture starts with a fanfare figure, and makes use of thematic material from the opera.
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RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Pan Voyevoda / Sadko / May Night