Eight Russian Folk Songs
Length: c. 10 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, percussion (tambourine, triangle), and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: January 11, 1925, Walter Henry Rothwell conducting
Anatol Liadov actively explored Russia’s folk music, going directly to its source through field trips to various districts, trips made possible through a grant from the Imperial Geographical Society. The eight songs comprising Op. 58, set in 1906, show Liadov’s views of mother Russia to be quite out of the same ornately colored fairytale book as those of his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov. Thus, the pieces are treated with warmth, humor, and fantasy, and dressed in colorfully conceived orchestrations.
1) A stately tune sung by children at religious festivals, the Sacred Song is introduced here by English horn and bassoon.
2) The Christmas Song tells of the ride of Christmas fairies in a golden sled drawn by reindeer. The melody, presented by winds, is varied throughout.
3) The gentle pleadings of the Lament are voiced almost entirely by cellos divided into four parts.
4) In the Comic Song “I have danced with a gnat,” the strings buzz ominously while flutes and piccolo cavort on the humorous peasant antics.
5) The exceedingly simple tune of the Tale of the Birds – its range doesn’t extend beyond three notes – is given by clarinet and pizzicato strings. Between its repetitions, birds (winds) chirp and sing hapily.
6) A rocking rhythm in violas sets the mood for the plaintive, single-motif Lullaby, scored aptly for muted strings only. Gentle chromatic harmonies add Rimskyian piquance.
7) Pizzicato strings are sprightly throughout the Dance, but the piccolo is the prima (peasant) ballerina, and a tambourine its rhythmic companion.
8) A festival is clearly taking place in the Choral Dance. Liadov keeps proceedings vigorous, if well-mannered and quaintly picturesque.
— Orrin Howard