Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Nationalist Era > Symphonic Poem, Thamar (Balakirev)
Symphonic Poem, Thamar
Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev
The composer Balakirev belongs to the New Russian School of which César Cui and Rimsky-Korsakov were the founders and the ardent champions, but his music is not so well known in the Western world as that of some of his associates. "Thamar" is his work which was made the deepest impression. Its story is taken from a poem by the Caucasian poet Lermontov and is one of the favorite Russian myths. Briefly, Queen Thamar, a beautiful creature but a demon of cruelty, dwells in a tower overlooking the river Terek. It is her habit to invite passing travellers to her banquets, and the next day their bodies may be found in the Terek. Among them is her lover.
The music begins with passags describing the roar of the river in the distance, followed by phrases indicating the warning voices of spirits and in which is now and then heard the call of sweet, far-away voice. New themes in folksong style are introduced to represent the responses to the queen's call. These themes are repeated and intensified, at last reaching a fortissimo climax in which the full orchestra joins. The roll of drums announces the approach of a warrior who is attaracted by the weird melodious strain of Thamar's song. Passages follow describing the revelry at the banquet and the ominous silence as it dies away. The roar of the river is hard again, and through it the Queen's farewell, followed by a theme which tells of approaching happiness when the warrior and his love shall meet again. Through "Thamar" is purely program music, it is strictly constructed, but notwithstanding this conventionally of form it is infused with the lavish color and Oriental spirit which characterized nearly all the works of this school.