Mussorgsky – Night on Bald Mountain

by Max Derrickson

Modest Mussorgsky   (1839-1881)

Night on Bald Mountain (originally St. John’s Night on Bald Mountain)

Under the black cover of night, the followers of darkness revel upon a foreboding mountaintop. The Spirits of Darkness and their minions await the arrival of Chernobog (a dark devil.) He is glorified and a black mass is celebrated into the Witches’ Sabbath. At the peak of this hedonistic gathering comes the far off toll of the village church bell, signaling daybreak and its tender mercies, forcing the ghouls to their desperate pits. This is what happens on Bald Mountain.

Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky  claimed to have been inspired by the confession of a witch who was burned at the stake in the 1660’s. Bald Mountain (sometimes translated as “Bare Mountain”) is in fact Mount Triglav near Kiev, and the music depicts the legendary Sabbath celebrations of Russian witches held on the eve of the feast of St. John the Baptist. The piece was sketched in principle in 1858 with the composer Balakirev upon the novel “St. John’s Night” by Gogol.

Having composed the work at age 27, Mussorgsky felt that he had created something truly Russian, “original…quite free, not deriving from German profundity and routine, but … from Russian soil and nurtured on Russian bread.” But it was so unconventional
[. . .]

The version we hear tonight was resurrected and reworked by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov    [. . .]