A slow, evocative theme in the Dorian mode transposed (‘It was not the wind’) is used as an introduction and epilogue, and two fast dance themes are employed in the main, sonata-form Allegro moderato. ‘It was not the wind’ gives a feeling of epic antiquity and is felicitously repeated and developed in differing surroundings in a manner to be used by Tchaikovsky in the original version of the first movement of his second symphony, much influenced by this work. The two folk dance themes, one in the major and the other in the minor mode, are bridged by a version of ‘It was not the wind’, which also recurs in combination with them in the development section, so that it is totally integrated into the structure in a manner which gives intellectual as well as poetic satisfaction. A new, original melody serves to flesh out the material, occurring towards the end of the exposition and in the recapitulation.
The work finishes as it began, but with the addition of the first dance theme which is ingeniously incorporated in the slow closing bars creating, in the end, a magic caught only for a moment before its elusive aural fragrance fades. The creative imagination displayed by Balakirev is of a very high order, and he was right to be proud of this seminal and beautiful composition.
from notes by Edward Garden © 1998