Tchaikovsky thought highly of his music to Ostrovky’s drama The Snow Maiden, writing to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck in 1879 ‘one of my favourite offspring….I think this music is imbued with the joys of spring that I was experiencing at the time’ It was an important commission for a composer who in 1873 was still establishing his reputation, and who had his first 3 symphonies and first piano concerto performed to great popular acclaim. The production of the drama was lavish, combining all three performing arts – drama, dance and music.
The premiere cost the vast sum of 15000 roubles, and though the production was stage with success (more for the music than the drama which was judged as rather static) in 1873 and 74, after 9 runs was never seen again due to the prohibitive cost. The music however was performed every now and again, but it has remained one of the composers least known works. Tchaikovsky used some of the material for his music to Hamlet in 1891, but he had always hoped to incorporate the score into an opera on the Snow Maiden story. When Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera on the same story appeared Tchaikovsky was seething with anger, and wrote to his brother Modest ‘it is as if they have taken from me by force something that is innately mine and dear to me and are presenting it to the public in bright new clothes’.
The music is characteristically colourful, especially the chorus depicting shivering birds and the procession of the carnival. It gives plenty of hints of the great ballet scores that would follow.
- Recording made in 1994, Comparatively rare Tchaikovsky repertoire performed by all-Russian forces.