The Snow Maiden
Music for Aleksandr Ostrovsky's spring legend, Op. 12 (1873).
Tchaikovsky's original score contains 19 individual numbers, of which two (Nos. 14 and 15) exist in two versions. The titles of numbers in Russian (Cyrillic) are taken from the published score, with English translations added in bold type. Vocal incipits are given in the right-hand column, with transliterations below in italics.
At the beginning of 1873, the Maly Theatre in Moscow was closed for structural repairs, with the result that all three companies—drama, opera and ballet—performed on the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre. The management committee of the Moscow Imperial Theatres—Pavel Kavelin, L. N. Auber and Vladimir Begichev (on the initiative of the latter)—decided to make the most of this opportunity to unite for a single fairy-tale production. The committee approached Aleksandr Ostrovsky with a request that he should write a suitable piece, the music for which, at the recommendation of the committee and the personal request of Ostrovsky, was to be written by Tchaikovsky.
Both the dramatist and the composer worked with great enthusiasm, and collaborated closely on the work.
Tchaikovsky received the first portion of the text from Aleksandr Ostrovsky in early/mid March. On 9/21 March the writer finished the rough draft of the first act. On 15/27 March 1873, Ostrovsky sent the composer the text for the blind gusli players' song in the second act of the piece. "I am sending you", Ostrovsky wrote, "the song of the blind gusli players. It seems to me that the rhythm fits the words; I derived this rhythm from a 12th-century poem, The Tale of Igor's Campaign (Слово о полку Игореве). Although it is generally considered that this text does not have a definite metre, still on reading it closely, it seems to me that one can hear precisely this rhythm. The song is set in couplets. It might be better if this song had a soloist, i.e. if the first three lines of each couplet were sung by a single voice, and the remaining three by a small chorus? But do as you see fit, I won't make any directions on this point" .
The writer got his way, and the song of the blind gusli players was written for a soloist and small choir.
On 25 March/6 April, Tchaikovsky gave the full score to the directorate with instructions "to carry out any changes and additions to my score which may be required, if such are deemed essential" . In 1879, recalling his work on The Snow Maiden in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky wrote: "I liked Ostrovsky's piece, and I wrote the music in three weeks, without having to exert myself" .
On 6/18 April he told Aleksandr Ostrovsky: "The greater part is ready; only the first and second acts remain . But the main thing is if you would be so kind as to send me all those words which I am still missing: 1) Lel’s first song; 2) The remaining couplets in Lel’s second song; 3) The whole text of Spring's monologue during the dances in the fourth act; 4) The complete text of the final chorus («Бог Ярило»); 5) In the chorus set to the tune «А мы просо сеяли», are we supposed to retain the original words of the song, or use another text? If the latter, then be so kind as to send it to me. I beg you, Alexander Nikolayevich, to send me all the aforementioned as soon as possible". In the same letter, Tchaikovsky wrote that he had badly cut his hand, and because of this he was finding writing difficult. With the remaining numbers held up, he asked Ostrovsky to let him "reduce my workload somewhat [...] by having [the actor Nikolay] Muzil' [who was to play Brusila] sing without any accompaniment that melody you spoke of" . The song referred to was Brusila's «Купался бобер».
On 7/19 April, the composer wrote to his father: "For around a month I’ve hardly risen from my desk because of work; I’ve been writing music to go with Ostrovsky’s piece The Snow Maiden" . And on 27 April/9 May he told Aleksandra Davydova and Modest Tchaikovsky: "Currently at the nearby Bolshoi Theatre, frantic rehearsals are taking place for Ostrovsky's piece The Snow Maiden... for which I am required to attend the theatre in the evening" .
The first performance of The Snow Maiden took place on 11/23 May 1873 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, in a production by artists of the combined companies. Nikolay Kashkin recalled that the piece was not particularly successful, despite being excellently performed. Yet the music was well received by the public. In letters to Aleksandr Ostrovsky, Prov Sadovsky and V. I. Rodislavsky, reviewing the production, it is reported that it went well, and had every chance of becoming part of the standard repertoire. Prov Sadovsky gave the reason for the withdrawal of The Snow Maiden from the summer season of 1873 as the departures of members of the companies for summer engagements . By the end of the spring season the piece had been performed four times. In the following season it was revived and given four more performances. In the 1874/75 season, The Snow Maiden was performed one more time and then withdrawn from the repertoire. This was possibly because the performance required both the opera and ballet companies.
Nikolay Rubinstein liked the music to The Snow Maiden, and after it was withdrawn from the repertoire (according to Nikolay Kashkin) he performed it to great acclaim at a concert on 28 March/9 April 1878. The solo singers were Aleksandra Svyatoslavskaya and Aleksandr Dodonov, and the text was recited by Nadezhda Nikulina and Ivan Samarin. In Saint Petersburg the music to The Snow Maiden was performed for the first time on 14/26 December 1894, conducted by Yury Bleikhman.
In May 1873, Pyotr Jurgenson published the piano scores of selected numbers from The Snow Maiden: Lel’s three songs, Brusila’s Song and Dance of the Tumblers (passed by the censor on 15/27 May 1873). In the same year all the numbers from The Snow Maiden were published separately (passed by the censor on 22 September/4 October 1873). In December the same year, the author's piano arrangement of the songs was published (approved by the censor on 29 September/11 October 1873). Six years later (approved by the censor on 12/24 April 1879) a piano duet arrangement by Eduard Langer of the music to The Snow Maiden was issued.
All these editions differed from the author's manuscript score with regard to the numbering of each musical number—and in particular the numbering of Lel’s songs. In the autograph full score, Lel's first and second songs are combined as one, under the title "Lel's songs" (without an ordinal number). The third song is also not given a number, though on the autograph full score it was described as the second. In each of the published editions, each of the three songs had its own title, but in the separate editions of 1873 the second and third were given ordinal numbers.
After Tchaikovsky's death the music to The Snow Maiden was published once again by Pyotr Jurgenson. In November 1894 the choral parts were issued. December 1895 saw the first publication of the full score (approved by the censor on 16/28 January 1895). This edition included two new numbers: the chorus of flowers to spring's monologue, No. 17 (this number was in the autograph full score, but had not been published earlier), and a second version of Lel's third song. In March 1896 the arrangement for voice with piano appeared in print; this also included the supplementary numbers (Lel's third song in an arrangement by Sergey Taneyev), which had been published separately in March 1895. In this new edition, Lel's songs were given consecutive numbers. In December 1897 the numbers were again issued separately, and in an arrangement for piano solo by Vyacheslav Laub.
It is not at all clear when Tchaikovsky wrote the second version of Lel's third song, and why it was not included in the editions of 1873 and 1879, or arranged by the author. The reasons for the appearance of the second version are uncertain: was Tchaikovsky obliged to introduce the different version because the first did not meet the requirements of the singers, or whether the first version was too difficult, etc.
In the music to The Snow Maiden, Tchaikovsky re-used several numbers from his opera Undina, namely: Undina's arioso («Водопад мой дядя»), for Lel's first song («Земляничка-ягодка»), and the introduction to the opera was transferred in its entirety to The Snow Maiden. It is possible that other numbers from the opera were also re-used. since Tchaikovsky asked Vasily Bessel for the full score of Undina while he was working on The Snow Maiden .
After The Snow Maiden had been withdrawn from the repertoire and its music forgotten, some numbers were re-used by Tchaikovsky in his music to Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet, written in 1891. The melodrama from The Snow Maiden (Kupava’s lament) [No. 10] served as the entr'acte to Act III of the tragedy.
Tchaikovsky had a great affection for his music to The Snow Maiden. In a letter to Nadezhda von Meck of 1879, he wrote: "The Snow Maiden is one of my favourite offspring. Spring is a wonderful time; I was in good spirits, as I always am at the approach of summer and three months of freedom. I think this music is imbued with the joys of spring that I was experiencing at the time" . According to Modest Tchaikovsky, he later considered writing an opera on this subject . And when Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov wrote his own opera The Snow Maiden, Tchaikovsky was upset that "our subject has been stolen from us; that Lel sings the same words to different music—it’s though they've taken from me by force something that is innately mine and dear to me, and are presenting it to the public in bright new clothes. It makes me want to weep!" .
In The Snow Maiden, Tchaikovsky made use of twelve folk songs:
Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 192–196
This page was last updated on 12 February 2013