Mercury Orchestra


Notes on the composers and the pieces

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Nikolai Rimsky-Korskakov: Russian Easter Overture

Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) was born in Tikhvin, Russia. He intended to be a naval officer, but when his father took him to an opera, he was overwhelmed by the orchestra to the point where he became a musician. On his first assignment at sea, he took his composition notebook with him. Though he went on to be in charge of naval bands, Rimsky-Korsakov was one of Russia’s leading composers, joining Cesar Cui, Alexander Borodin, Modeste Mussorgsky, and Mily Balakirev as the Russian Five, a group of “nativist” composers opposed to the German Romantic school. Rimsky-Korsakov was a prolific opera composer, but his nativism tended to limit the appeal of his operas mostly to Russian audiences. He wrote three symphonies, but his most famous works were three orchestral pieces he completed in 1888: Capriccio Espagnol, Scheherazade, and Russian Easter (in Russian, Bright Holiday). A master orchestrator, his book on orchestration remains a classic. His reorchestration of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov established that opera as a staple, though Mussorgsky’s original scoring has held sway in recent years. Rimsky-Korsakov also reorchestrated Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, and he helped Glazunov finish Borodin’s Prince Igor. He was also a teacher with a great legacy, with his students including Liadov, Glazunov, Miaskovsky, and Stravinsky.

Russian Easter: Overture on Liturgical Themes draws from a collection of Russian Orthodox Liturgical chants called the Obikhod. The work portrays “the legendary and heathen aspect of the holiday; the transition from the solemnity and mystery of the evening of Passion Saturday to the unbridled pagan-religious celebrations of Easter Sunday morning” (perhaps this composer’s My Life). The introduction is based on “Let God Arise!,” and “Angel Cried.” The Andante lugubre, begun by the tuba and contrabassoon, depicts the Resurrection. The Allegro “Let them also that hate Him flee before Him” leads to the pagan-like celebration “alternating with an evocation of the sexton’s rapid reading and the chant of the priest’s reading the glad tidings of the Evangel” (trombone solo). “Christ is risen” is the basis of the celebratory final section.

—Roger Hecht

Roger Hecht plays trombone in the Mercury Orchestra, Lowell House Opera, and Bay Colony Brass (where he is the Operations/Personnel Manager). He is a former member of the Syracuse Symphony, Lake George Opera, New Bedford Symphony, and Cape Ann Symphony. He is a regular reviewer for American Record Guide, contributed to Classical Music: Listener’s Companion, and has written articles on music for the Elgar Society Journal and Positive Feedback magazine. His latest fiction collection, The Audition and Other Stories, includes a novella about a trombonist preparing for and taking a major orchestra audition (English Hill Press, 2013).

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