The Kennedy Center

The Enchanted Lake, Op. 62

About the Work

Anatoli Liadov Composer: Anatoli Liadov
© Robert Markow

The music of Anatol Liadov rarely turns up on symphony concerts. Part of this is his own fault. He has gone down in musical history as one of the laziest and most dilatory of composers, a character trait he presumably inherited from his father. Liadov's output consists mostly of short pieces, many of them for piano or voice and piano, plus a handful of choral, chamber and orchestral miniatures. Liadov very likely missed his biggest opportunity for world fame in his endless procrastination to Diaghilev's request for a ballet score for the Firebird, a commission that ultimately made Stravinsky famous. Three brief but enchanting works, all based on Russian folk tales, keep his name tenuously before the public today: Baba Yaga, The Enchanted Lake and Kikimora.

There is no specific program for The Enchanted Lake aside from the composer's descriptive subtitle, "a fairy-tale scene."  It is a mood picture in the manner of French musical Impressionism, imbued with a sense of eerie stillness and timelessness, and evocative of a mysterious world remote from any human habitation - somewhere in the vast expanses of southern Siberia, perhaps, with water nymphs playing in the depths of the dark waters. Liadov's ideal, in his own words, was "to find the unearthly in art. Art is a fairy tale, a phantom. Give me a fairy tale, a dragon, a water sprite, a wood demon - give me something that is unreal, and I am happy." The orchestration is delicate and subtle, with frequent inflections of harp and celesta, the latter made popular just a few years earlier by Tchaikovsky in his Nutcracker ballet. The premiere was given in St. Petersburg on February 21, 1909.