Rimsky-Korsakov composed his Russian Easter Festival
Overture in July and August 1888 and conducted its first performance in December of that year. He had chosen a number of themes from the Obikhod
, a collection of Russian Orthodox canticles, in order to create an overture which would contain ‘reminiscences of the ancient prophesy, of the Gospel story and a general picture of the Easter service with its ‘pagan merry-making’. Using various Biblical quotations, he put together a programme which opens with the words ‘Let God arise; let his enemies be scattered’. It goes on to tell how Mary Magdalene and others came with sweet spices to anoint the body of Christ, how they came back to the sepulchre later and found a heavy stone blocking its entrance, and how they found inside a man clothed in white who told them that he who was crucified had now risen from the dead. ‘Resurrexit’ sang the angels in heaven, to the sound of trumpets; ‘Resurrexit’ sang the priests in their temples to the sound of triumphant bells.
Rimsky-Korsakov was quite clear in his own mind about the sort of people for whom he had composed this overture, although he realized that there might not be many left with the required experience. ‘In order to appreciate my overture even to the slightest degree’, he wrote, ‘it is essential that the listener should have at least once in his life attended an Easter Morning service, and this not in a domestic chapel but in a cathedral crowded with people from all walks of life and with several priests taking part’. It was exactly this kind of experience that the composer remembered and treasured from his own childhood in the town of Tikhvin.
from notes by Peter Avis © 1990