San Francisco Symphony
Night on Bald Mountain
Davies Symphony Hall
Thu, Oct 20, 2022 at 7:30PM
Davies Symphony Hall
Sat, Oct 22, 2022 at 7:30PM
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THESE CONCERTS ARE GENEROUSLY SPONSORED BY THE MATTHEW KELLY FAMILY FOUNDATION.
BERTRAND CHAMAYOU’S APPEARANCE IS GENEROUSLY SUPPORTED BY THE SHENSON YOUNG ARTIST FUND.
Witches, ghouls, and ghosts abound in this wonderfully wicked concert led by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique paints scenes of lavish beauty and ghastly visions, while pianist Bertrand Chamayou takes on the devilish charm of Franz Liszt’s Totentanz. Listen for the frightful sounds of supernatural beings as they dance deep into the night in Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.
Illustration by Heather Vaughn.
At A Glance
Many a dark and stormy night thundered through the years of the Romantic era, which took form in the late 18th century in literature and painting and erupted in full force in the first half of the 19th. Among the Romantic obsessions were themes involving supernatural beings, unhinged psychologies, and imminent dread; think of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) at one end of the century and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw (1898) at the other. Romantic composers added their voices to the aesthetic.
Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain depicts a witches’ sabbath on St. John’s Eve, the summer solstice celebrated in Slavic cultures, with deep roots in the pagan past. The piece was “civilized” in a heavy revision by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, but today we hear Mussorgsky’s original, wilder intentions.
The Dies irae chant, which figures in the Roman Catholic liturgy of the Mass for the Dead, is used in both Franz Liszt’s Totentanz and Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. Liszt attended that work’s premiere in 1830 and encountering morbid frescoes in Italy added further impetus for him to write this Dance of Death, a virtuosic work for piano and orchestra that unrolls through variations on the haunting melody.
In the psychedelic expanses of Symphonie fantastique, Berlioz imagines being in love and poisoning himself with opium. He has a vision in which he kills his beloved, is sentenced to death, and then parties with witches and demons alongside the now-fallen girl.