Russian Easter Festival Overture, op. 36

The Russian Easter Festival Overture was written in 1887-88. Rimsky-Korsakov left two Biblical quotes on the first page of the score, as explanation for the composition's programme: “Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered;  let those who hate him flee before him. Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away;  as the wax melts at the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.” (Psalm 68.)
“And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.” (Mark's Gospel, 16, 1-6)

 

Rimsky-Korsakov wrote in greater detail about the programme of his overture in his autobiography: “The rather lengthy and slow introduction of the Russian Easter Festival Overture, written to a theme of “The Lord is resurrected”, which alternates with a church theme depicting a choir of the Heavenly Host, I imagined as a prophesy by Isaiah on Christ's resurrection. With the dark colours of the Andante Lugubre, I wanted to depict the holy sepulchre, which at the time of the resurrection, turning to the Allegro of the overture, is drenched with light. The Allegro draws on the mood of the entire Orthodox  Easter festival; in place of the triumphant trumpeting of the archangels, we hear a cheerful chiming with a dance character which is soon replaced with the reading scripture by the priest and the joyful proclamation of the Gospel. The “Christ is arisen” theme is taken from the Obihod (an Orthodox collection of folk hymns) and serves as virtually a subsidiary theme in the overture amid the trumpeting and peals of bells. From this the triumphant coda is prepared. Therefore in the overture, the memory of an ancient prophesy, the narration of the Gospels and the Easter liturgy is paired with pagan merrymaking. Or is it not the case that the dance of the Biblical King David before of the ark of the covenant perhaps derives from the same atmosphere as pagan ritual dances?; do not the orthodox chimes have a dance character?; and the priests, in their white garments and sleeves, singing with resonating beards and such like, do they not evoke in our imagination pagan times? (…) I wanted to depict in my overture this side of the festival which is pagan and reaching into legends, the transformation from the bleak and secretive Saturday evening to the untrammelled Sunday morning pagan merry making.”