Our music for this week is one of the most fascinating pieces of music I’ve listened to in a while. It was a random discovery of mine while listening to the radio on the way to work one day.
These are the Polovtsian Dances from the opera “Prince Igor” by Alexander Borodin. Borodin was a Hungarian composer who lived during the mid and late 19th century. Like his contemporaries Smetana (from whom we recently heard with the “River Moldau Suite”) and Dvorak, he was fiercely proud of his Hungarian folk heritage and sought to display it in all of his compositions. The series of dances, which was meant to come at the end of Act II of the opera, takes us through an amazing and intense variety of musical styles – soft choral melodies, furious cadences, booming fermatas, delicate andantes, and wild chases. I would encourage you to read along with the following description of each dance while listening to the music to gain a fuller understanding of the work.
The Introduction leads us through a mellow and carefree exposition of one of the opera’s main themes. When the sopranos enter to begin the second dance, we have begun the Gliding Dance of the Maidens, which radiates gracefulness and evokes images of Hungarian countryside landscapes. The third dance is the Wild Dance of the Men, which needs very little explanation. Listen for the frenetic winding and running of the clarinet, winds, and finally the strings that signal the start of this movement. It is a wild and rollicking dance that is very short and to the point. Next comes the General Dance, which thunders along with massive tones from the trombones and tuba. The entire choir is involved in this part of the piece, further adding to the sense of power that it emanates. The following dance is the Dance of the Boys, which is again introduced by a very fast conversation between the oboe and the clarinet and quickly descends into a frantic whirlwind. A return to the Gliding Dance of the Maidens is unmistakably the next step (you will have no trouble recognizing it), but this time it is sped up and combined with the craziness of the Dance of the Boys. These two melodies mix to merge into a return to the Dance of the Men and finally a recapitulation of the General Dance for the finale.