Thursday, November 21, 2013

Liadov - Kikomora

Not every classical composer excelled in larger forms. Composers such as Chopin, who did write a few works for piano and orchestra and a handful of piano sonatas, is best remembered for his works in the smaller form of the prelude, etude and other shorter works for the piano. That is not a criticism to be sure. It isn't the length of a composition that determines its value, it is whether the composer can move us with their craftsmanship, inspiration and quality of their work.

Anatoly Liadov was a composer that hardly wrote a single work in the larger forms for piano or orchestra. Practically his entire output consisted of miniatures for the piano or orchestra. The reasons for this have been posited by many. Some blamed his natural indolence, or his exceedingly self-critical nature, or perhaps his lack of self-confidence. It could have been that his mind worked best in the smaller forms. No one really knows. All we have is the compositions, some of them well-crafted jewels.  

Liadov took much of his inspiration from Russian folk tales and folk songs. He wrote three short symphonic poems with one, The Enchanted Lake, created in his own imagination and the other two, Baba Yaga and Kikomora, based on Slavic folk tales. The music for the tone poem was based on music originally written for an opera in 1879 that Liadov never finished. He turned this music into the tone poem in 1909.

As with most folk tales, the Kikomora shows differences by region and cultures.  The Polish version of a Kikomora (taken from the website Polish Supernatural Spirits):
A female house spirit that is sometimes said to be married to the Domowije. She usually lives behind the stove or in the cellar. She will look after the chickens and the housework if the home is well kept. If not, she will tickle, whistle, and whine at the children at night. She comes out at night to spin; if she appears spinning to someone it is said that person will die. To appease an angry Kikimora it is said one should wash all the pots and pans in a fern tea. She is said to look like an average woman with her hair down (Slavic women kept their heads covered).
Liadov said this about the Kikomora in his tone poem: 
She grows up with a magician in the mountains. From dawn to sunset the magician’s cat regales Kikimora with fantastic tales of ancient times and faraway places, as Kikimora rocks in a cradle made of crystal. It takes her seven years to reach maturity, by which time her head is no larger than a thimble and her body no wider than a strand of straw. Kikimora spins flax from dusk and to dawn, with evil intentions for the world.
The tone poem is in two sections, the first section is slow and mysterious and reflects the magical upbringing of Kikomora. The second section is faster and works up to a climax, presumably the Kikomora doing her malicious deeds to the members of the household she's invaded.  At the end, the music grows quiet and the Kikomora slinks away.

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