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Songs and Dances of Death

Songs and Dances of Death

Mussorgsky, Modest

Arr. Levesque, Craig


  • Text: Arseny Golenishchev-Kutusov
  • Language: Russian
  • Ensemble: Woodwind Quintet, Piano and Voice
  • Accompaniment: Woodwind Quintet, Piano
  • Genre: Romantic
  • Grade: 5
  • Duration: 20.0 minutes
  • Catalog Number: CRL128

Songs and Dances of Death, composed in the mid-1870s, is considered by many to be finest of example of Russian art song of the Romantic period. Each song portrays death in a poetic manner, in situations many would be familiar with – the death of a child, the accidental death of a drunken peasant, or the slaughter of a battlefield.

1.) Lullaby A mother cradles her sick child, who grows more feverish. Death appears, disguised as a babysitter, and rocks the infant to eternal sleep.

2.) Serenade Death serenades a dying woman from outside her window.

3.) Trepak A drunken peasant wanders outside into a blizzard and becomes lost. Death appears and invites him to dance the “Trepak”, a Russian folk dance. As he freezes to death, the man dreams of summer fields.

4.) The Field Marshal The figure of Death is depicted as an officer commanding the dead troops of both armies after a dreadful battle. As the dead troops parade before him, he asserts his enduring remembrance of them all.

Mussorgsky had intended to orchestrate “Songs and Dances of Death” himself, but never completed the work. The first published transcription was a collaboration by Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov, completed in 1882. The most famous arrangement is by Dmitri Schostakovich, completed for Soprano Galina Vishnevskaya in 1962. Schostakovich was heavily influenced by this experience, and continued Mussorgsky’s “too short set of songs” seven years later with his Fourteenth Symphony, for Soprano, Bass and Chamber Orchestra.

This orchestration is for Baritone, Woodwind Quintet and Piano.  In addition to the Full Score and Wind parts, there is a piano part and a Baritone/Piano part which contains selected cues.

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