Written for a large orchestra, it clearly manifests a number of contemporary influences, above all that of Scriabin, whose Poem of Ecstasy had been premiered in 1908; but also the French Impressionist composers, particularly Debussy and Ravel, and perhaps, too, the heady orchestral textures of Richard Strauss and Franz Schreker. If the latter were not direct influences, they were contemporary parallels—and for another we should remember that In the hours of the New Moon is an exact contemporary of Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird. The magical, nocturnal, Impressionistic aspects of that work derive much more from Rimsky-Korsakov, of whom there are few traces in Roslavets’s score. In purely Russian terms, therefore, Roslavets here shows himself the more cosmopolitan composer.
The work has a clear ternary form, beginning and ending with slow-moving but lustrous Lento music. The initial quiet brass chord, of two perfect fourths separated by a tritone, is the harmonic foundation of the piece. The rustling string figurations, tremulous flutes, rising trumpet-calls (shades of Poem of Ecstasy) are joined by shimmering harp and celesta in a sonic fabric of remarkable delicacy, showing Roslavets’s sure command of a large orchestra. Ostinato figures build to a tumultuous but harmonically static tutti climax, which then dissipates into a languorous episode centred around woodwind solos, especially from the cor anglais. This gives way to an Allegro, soon increasing speed to Presto, which forms a central scherzo-like episode. This is certainly a dance (of elves, moon-sprites or more sinister figures) in a lively 3/8 time—the most Impressionistic music in the work but reminiscent particularly of Debussy’s ballet Jeux (1912), a work Roslavets presumably could not have known. There is a return to the opening Lento material, its various elements heard now in similar but slightly different relationships, rising once again to an overwhelming climax, a varied intensification of the climax in the first section. It is broken off abruptly; the quiet, hushed conclusion unwinds back to the soft brass chord with which the work began.
For all the picturesque and free-form aspects of this piece, it has a firm structural basis and indeed much of Roslavets’s output is concerned with his personal treatment of sonata-based genres.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2006