Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Liadov - Baba Yaga

In Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is a supernatural being that takes the form of an old woman that lives deep in the forest. She lives in a hut that stands on the huge legs of a chicken. She flits about the wilderness while sitting in a mortar and moving herself with a pestle. She's not strictly an evil entity as she can give assistance as well as evil to those who seek her out.  The folklore for the figure varies according to the area. The Russian Baba Yaga folklore has inspired Russian artists as well as musicians. Two Russian composers that wrote works based on the legend were Mussorgsky, who wrote one of the pieces in his Pictures From An Exhibition called The Hut On Fowl Legs,  and the piece discussed here by Anatoly Liadov. 

Liadov came from a family of musicians, and entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1870 to study violin and piano. He was a very good pianist, but his lack of drive began early as he was expelled from Rimsky-Korsakov's class for extensive absenteeism. He managed to get back into good graces to complete his studies and began teaching at the conservatory in 1878 and taught many young composers including Modest Mussorgsky and Sergei Prokofiev

Liadov was well regarded as a composer in his lifetime. Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Stravinsky all thought much of his technical abilities, but Liadov's output as a composer was relatively small thanks to lack of ambition and perhaps a lack of self confidence. He finished no composition of any major length, but was a master of the miniature, whether he was writing for piano or orchestra. He married into money in 1884, which meant that between that and his teaching position he was hardly in need of money, no doubt another stumbling block to his composing career. 

Baba Yaga was written between the years 1891 - 1904 and the piece shows Liadov's flair for orchestral color.  In a piece that lasts under four minutes, Liadov manages to paint a picture of Russian forests and folklore, a tone poem in miniature.

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