Piece of the Week: Night on Bald Mountain

Night on Bald Mountain

This arrangement of Mussorgsky’s well known tone poem makes the piece accessible for young bands.

Composition Notes:

Originally titled “St. John’s Night On The Bare Mountain,” this famous tone poem by Russian composer Modest Moussorgsky (1839-1881) was created then revised several times between 1860 and 1875. Never performed during Moussorgsky’s lifetime, it was only after being reworked and orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov that Night On Bald Mountain was finally performed. The music was designed to depict a world plagued by evil spirits and demons, and does so with vivid and gruesome intensity. However, the calmness displayed by the ending suggests the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Disney animators brought the musical images to life in the landmark movie “Fantasia.”

In this edition for young players, the 11 minute orchestral piece has been carefully condensed to a concert band piece of under 3 minutes in length that incorporates the inherent dynamic contrasts and dramatic effects from the original. In keeping with the intent and overall design of the original, the preferred ending is calm and reflective. However, an optional “loud” ending has been provided and may be used depending on your programming needs or musical preferences.

Audio Sample:

Audio provided by Hal Leonard Corporation.

Composer Biography:

Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky was born on March 21, 1839 in Karevo, Russia, and died on March 28, 1881 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Regarded as the most original and individual Russian composer of the Nationalist-Romantic era (1850-1900), he was part of “The Great Five” or “Mighty Handful.” This nationalistic group of musicians worked toward the composer Glinka’s goal of creating entirely “Russian” music. Mussorgsky composed operas, solo songs, orchestral works, choral works, and piano pieces, including “Pictures at an Exhibition,” later orchestrated by Ravel. Mussorgsky’s training as a composer was limited. As a child, he took piano lessons. Later in his career he received advice from Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov, two other members of “The Great Five,” and from his close friend the music critic Stasov. Early in his career, Mussorgsky earned a living as a government clerk. Fired after four years, he was later rehired in the forestry ministry. Although he was an alcoholic and unstable, he was repeatedly promoted. His lenient supervisor, a folk song collector, gave him time to do musical work, even giving him a three month leave to tour as accompanist to the contralto Darya Leonova. Heavy drinking impaired Mussorgsky’s health, and he eventually died of alcoholic epilepsy. Mussorgsky’s work echoes Russian folk song in its use of modal melodies, irregular rhythms, and asymmetrical forms, though he seldom quotes actual folk songs. In his operas and songs, the inflections of speech govern the vocal line. These departures from normal Italian-style operatic techniques were part of the reason his great opera, “Boris Godunov,” was rejected twice by the Mariinsky theater before being performed. Rimsky-Korsakov believed his unorthodox harmonies and forms to be awkward, and after Mussorgsky’s death, he revised many of his works, including “Boris Godunov.”

Arranger Biography:

Michael Sweeney (b. 1952) is a graduate of Indiana University (Bloomington) where he studied music education. In addition, he studied composition with Bernard Heiden, John Eaton and Donald Erb. Mr. Sweeney taught five years in the public schools of Ohio and Indiana where his teaching experience included working with successful concert, jazz and marching programs at all levels from elementary to high school. Since 1982, he has worked full time for Hal Leonard Corporation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one of the largest publishers of printed music in the world. In his present position as Director of Band Publications, Mr. Sweeney is directly responsible for the development, production, recording and marketing of new publications for school bands. In addition, he contributes as a composer and arranger in all instrumental areas. Michael is particularly known for his writing at the younger levels for concert band and jazz. Since 1982, Hal Leonard has published over 500 of his compositions and arrangements.

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