Music, drama and folklore in Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Opera Snegurochka [Snowmaiden]

by Halbe, Gregory A

Abstract (Summary)
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s third of his fifteen operas, Snegurochka [Snowmaiden], is examined here from historical and analytical perspectives. Its historical importance begins with the composer’s oft-expressed preference for this work. It was by far his most popular opera during his lifetime, and has endured as a staple of the operatic repertory in Russia to this day. Rimsky Korsakov’s famous declaration that he considered himself for the first time an artist “standing on my own feet” with this work, Snegurochka also represents a revealing case study in the dissolution of the Russian Five, or moguchaia kuchka, as a stylistically cohesive group of composers. The opera’s dramatic source was a musical play by the same name by Aleksandr Ostrovsky, with music by Piotr Tchaikovsky. Rimsky-Korsakov solicited and received Ostrovsky’s permission to adapt the script into an opera libretto. Primary sources, including the composer’s sketchbooks, the first editions of the score and the subsequent revisions, and correspondence with Ostrovsky and others, reveal how he transformed the dramatic themes of Ostrovsky’s play, in particular the portrayal of the title character. Finally, the musical themes and other stylistic features of this opera are closely analyzed and compared with those of Richard Wagner’s music dramas. Although Rimsky-Korsakov had not yet seen or studied Der Ring des Nibelungen when he worked on Snegurochka, he was acquainted with Wagner’s early works and his theoretical writings. Comparison of these two composers’ representations of dramatic themes through music is not only appropriate, but necessary for a full appreciation of Snegurochka in its historical context. Far from the pedantic conservative that others have described, this study reveals Rimsky-Korsakov to have been a profoundly innovative composer. Disenchanted as he was with the naturalistic prosody that characterized his comrade, Modest Musorgsky’s most well-known works (as well as Rimsky-Korsakov’s own first opera, Pskovitianka [The Maid of Pskov]), Rimsky-Korsakov blended melodic recitative, Russian folksong, and late Romantic chromaticism into a distinctively new musical language. In so doing, he established a reputation as one of Russia’s foremost composers.
Bibliographical Information:


School:The Ohio State University

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:nineteenth century opera mighty five moguchaia kuchka russian nationalist music


Date of Publication:01/01/2004

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