Choral Movements for The Rusalka

‘The Rusalka’ is adapted from a story included in Heroes, Monsters and Otherworlds from Russian Mythology, Elizabeth Warner’s compilation of tales from Russian-language collections. The rusalka is one of several kinds of spirits that inhabit the elemental world and feature in a genre of stories called ‘bylichka’, which are supposed to tell of real people’s real encounters with the supernatural. Although rusalkas may be seen as a kind of nature spirit or mermaid, they’re also regarded as the spirits of drowned maidens. In some stories they’re sexy and alluring; in others their form is cadaverous and altogether less enticing. Antonín Dvořák’s opera Rusalka tells a more elaborate story about a rusalka, influenced by Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale ‘The Little Mermaid’.

The choral music reflects the natural world, both in songs about Ivan and the sounds of wind across the ice, and also the supernatural world of the rusalkas, heard through the undulating waves and wind.

Choral Movements for Prince Ivan, the Firebird and the Grey Wolf

‘Prince Ivan, the Firebird, and the Grey Wolf’ is one of two different tales about the Firebird included in Alexander Afanasyev’s magisterial Russian Fairy Tales. The other, somewhat shorter, story is ‘The Firebird and Princess Vasilisa’. Both are examples of ‘volshebnaia skazka’ – best translated as ‘wonder tales’, to distinguish these highly imaginative folktales, which don’t involve fairies, from the literary ‘fairy tales’ of writers like Anderson and the ‘fairy legends’ recording local encounters with fairies in Western Europe. The Firebird is a feminine symbol of inspiration; it’s said that wherever one of her feathers falls a new artistic tradition will appear. The Grey Wolf’s wisdom and shape-changing powers are redolent of a folk belief in wizards who were also werewolves. Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird is loosely based on this tale, drawing also on other Russian wonder tales.

Ivan is the ubiquitous hero of many Russian stories – the analogue of ‘Jack’ in English tradition, the ever-youthful everyman to whom unexpected things happen and who always seems to be trying to grow up. So it’s not outrageously against the odds that ‘Ivan’ should be the protagonist of both stories.

De cora lux (1980)

Each of the three verses of this plainsong hymn associated with the feast of St. Peter and St Paul on 29th June, De cora lux, is passed in turn between three vocal lines. The style of the music imitates early 14th century Italian sacred works which use complete plainsong melodies sung at normal speed rather than drastically slowed down and treated as a cantus firmus. In this way, interest passes to the texture and harmony rather than polyphony. Only the part singing the plainsong has a text.