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Anatol Liadov (1855 - 1914)


Kikimora, Op. 63

History has not been kind to Anatol Liadov. Few reference books give him more than a cursory paragraph, where he is often damned as "a very indolent man, which accounts for his comparatively small output". This unfortunate reputation rests largely on one incident when, in about 1912, the impressario Diaghilev asked him to write a ballet on the "Firebird" legend. Liadov was slow to begin work, Diaghilev transferred the commission to the young Igor Stravinsky, and the rest (as they say) is history. In fact Liadov was a fine miniaturist, composer of piano pieces of great charm influenced by Chopin, a very busy teacher at the St. Petersburg conservatoire and, when well into his 50s, somewhat disillusioned by lack of recognition as a composer.

Kikimora is a short tone poem, describing a malicious household spirit of Russian fairy tales. It is said that Kikimora was a tiny brown witch with a body scarcely thicker than a straw and a head the size of a thimble, who lived in a sorcerer's cave on the top of a mountain. She took seven years to grow up, lying in a crystal cradle, and being told tales all day long by a large wise cat; her heart was full of malice to human beings.

The first half is soft and filigree, with a wistful cor anglais theme, while the second half is faster, working up to quite a spiteful climax … but notice how Kikimora slips away in the last bars, presumably to go and plague another household.

The Enchanted Lake, Op. 62

Like several other composers (e.g. Chopin, Grieg - and Peter Warlock, from whom we hear later) Liadov was at his best in small forms. "The Enchanted Lake" is a sound-painting evoking the image of a still lake with mystical and magical powers. Such a lake appears often in Russian folklore - perhaps this could be the Swan Lake of Tchaikovsky's ballet? It is also subtitled "A Fairy Picture for Orchestra".

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