Russian Easter Festival Overture

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Russian Easter Festival Overture: Overture on Liturgical Themes, Op. 36 (Svetliy prazdnik, also known as the Great Russian Easter Overture) is a concert overture written by the Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov between August 1887 and April 1888, and dedicated to the memories of Modest Mussorgsky and Alexander Borodin, two members of the group of composers known in English as "The Five". It is the last of the composer's series of three exceptionally brilliant orchestral works, preceded by Capriccio Espagnol and Scheherazade. The work received its premiere at a Russian Symphony Concert in St. Petersburg in late December 1888.


The overture is scored for a Romantic orchestra consisting of 3 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in C, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in B-flat, 3 trombones, tuba, 3 timpani in A, D and G, percussion (glockenspiel, triangle, cymbals, tamtam), harp, and strings.[1]


The score is prefaced by quotations from Psalm 68:1-2, Mark 16:1-6, and a third which is not identified.

The tunes in the overture are largely from the Russian Orthodox liturgy, based on a collection of old Russian Orthodox liturgical chants called the Obikhod.

In this overture, the composer, as he says in his autobiography, is eager to reproduce "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". Rimsky-Korsakov always had a great interest in - and enjoyment of - liturgical themes and music, though he was himself a non-believer.

Milos Velmirirovic explained that, "The Obikhod was like the Russian's Liber usualis... In 1848 it became mandatory for all of the Churches in Russia." Thus the Obikhod became nationalistic in a sense. The tunes that Rimsky chose from the Obikhod would carry a certain nationalistic and religious weight to them, and the Russians would absolutely know them. The second way that the piece helps to pull on the heart strings of Russians as well as express its nationalistic appeal is by drawing on religious subject matter via word painting for the Easter Holiday.

Professor Robert Greenberg describes The Russian Easter Overture as, "A narrative story of a Russian Easter day from dawn until dusk." In Russian, Easter is known as the "Bright Holiday".


The form of the Russian Easter Festival Overture is mainly a Sonata Allegro with a lengthy introduction at the beginning of it.

The opening section is written in 5/2 time, and is one of the more famous works in 5 for orchestra. The final section of the piece is notated in 2/1 time, making occasional use of 3/1, and is one of very few orchestral works to use either of these time signatures.


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