16 Nov 2011

Liadov – The Enchanted Lake, op. 62

Written by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 3 flutes, 2 oboes, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, timpani, bass drum, harp, celesta, strings
Duration: 6 minutes.

THE COMPOSER – ANATOLI LIADOV (1855-1914) – Liadov’s reputation as a composer has unfortunately little to do with his slim but charming catalogue but rests more on his legendary tendency toward laziness. The most famous example of his professional indolence came late in the first decade of the 20th century, when he let an opportunity slip through his hands and into those of a colleague. That opportunity was The Firebird.     

THE MUSIC – Though not completing the ballet score that could have announced him definitively to the world in 1909, Liadov was composing one of his most popular orchestral works that year. The Enchanted Lake is a gentle yet colorful fantasy miniature that immerses the listener in the subtleties of a moonlit stillness. It is based on a fairy tale, the font from which Liadov’s ideas often flowed, but doesn’t so much tell a story as depict a state of being. What little tension there is merely disturbs the overriding calm for a few moments like a wistfully furrowed brow. The composer’s own comments on the music describe its “seeming immobility” but his natural gifts as an orchestrator shift the moods of the scene with fascinating exactness. Though woefully inactive as a composer by comparison to his contemporaries, Liadov did have their respect. Mussorgsky recognized and lauded his talents early on and Liadov’s teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, though certainly frustrated by the younger man’s lack of effort as a pupil at the Conservatory, collaborated on several projects with Liadov when he later returned there as a fellow faculty member. Even Stravinsky, who initially owed Liadov a measure of gratitude for his own fame and success, was ever a champion of his friend’s unique artistry. The Enchanted Lake gets little notice among the epic early 20th century musical pronouncements of Strauss and others but this is due only to the volume of Liadov’s voice, not its quality.             

THE WORLD – The English Channel was flown for the first time in a heavier-than-air craft in 1909. Robert Peary claimed the North Pole that year and Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf became the first female recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.  

THE CONNECTIONThe Enchanted Lake is a rare treat on any orchestra’s Masterworks season. Utah Symphony last played it in 1944 under conductor Hans Haniot.