Week 5 - Mythical Mountain
Composer: Modest Mussorgsky (1839 - 1881)
Title: Night on Bald Mountain
Genre: Programme Music
Background: This piece of music was written by Mussorgsky in 1867, depicting one night of the year when witches gathered at the top of a mountain. The night in question is 23 June, also known as St John’s Eve which, according to popular belief, is the night when evil forces are at work and witches come out. It also happens to be the date that Mussorgsky finished writing this piece of music. Is that a coincidence...?
Some people might say this really happens on 23 June every year, but some might say it is just part of Russian folk lore. Mussorgsky used a lot of Russian folk stories in his music – stories and tales can often help composers to write their music, and to inspire them. The music finishes with six chimes, ringing out from the church bell. These chimes tell the witches that the sun is coming up, and it is time for them to disappear. They can come back again next year!
Mussorgsky wrote this piece of music incredibly quickly, in 12 days, although sadly it was never performed in his lifetime and so he never heard it. These days, it is one of his most popular works.
The Music Today: Disney has once again used this piece of classical music, this time in their original 1940 film ‘Fantasia’. The music is used to accompany a terrifying depiction of the Russian folk tale, alongside another piece of music called ‘Ave Maria’ by Franz Schubert. You can watch the film on YouTube, but be warned, the ghosts and ghouls are very haunting!
Things to do:
- Listen out for the trombones and tuba near the beginning playing long rumbling notes. How do these big, heavy brass instruments make you feel? Do instruments need to play really loudly to make you feel scared?
- How does the composer make you feel surprised and excited throughout the music? Do you feel anything else when you are listening?
- At 2.42 the music suddenly gets quiet, but then gradually gets louder and louder. Do you know the musical word for getting louder?
- The mood changes at 7.22. How does the composer achieve this? What changes in the music? Think about the instruments, dynamics (loud/quiet) and the tempo (fast/slow).
- Do you think you could write a piece of music in 12 days? Why don’t you try to create some creepy, eerie sounds at home with objects in your house?
You can listed to the music on YouTube here!