Sunday, April 24, 2011

Russian Easter Overture by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov

On this glorious Resurrection Day of the Lord Jesus Christ, I'd like to introduce you to a stunning piece by the Russian Nationalist composer, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Overture. The beauty and mystery of this composition is breathtaking.

Though a non-believer himself, Rimsky-Korsakov was interested in liturgical themes and employed chant from the Russian Orthodox liturgy in his Russian Easter Overture, specifically "Christ Is Risen" and "The Angel Cried." I have Russian Orthodox friends who have confirmed that they sing these very chants during their Vigil and Pascha liturgies. The solo violin cadenzas represent the light eminating from Jesus's empty tomb. Psalm 68:1 ("Let God arise and His enemies be scattered; let them also that hate Him flee before Him") and Mark 16 in which the angel announces to the women at the empty tomb that Jesus has risen from the dead also play prominent roles.

Rimsky-Korsakov said in his autobiography that he was also portraying "the legendary and heathen aspect of the holiday, and the transition from the solemnity and mystery of the evening of Passion Saturday to the unbridled pagan-religious celebrations of Easter Sunday morning." I confess that I don't know where in the world he attempted to do this; it is lost on me. Maybe he made a note in the score (which I have not seen)? I don't know, but I do know that this is one of my very favorite compositions. Believer or not, Rimsky-Korsakov gave us in his Russian Easter Overture an awe-inspiring musical work pointing to the risen Christ.

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