“The Story of the Priest and His Helper Balda”
The Suite was performed for the first time in Leningrad on 1 June 1935 in a concert during the First Leningrad International Festival of Arts by the Leningrad Philharmonic. Orchestra conducted by A. Melik-Pashaev.
DSCH Publishers, Moscow. 2005.
RNNM, f. 32 units 112, 286; Archive D.D. Shostakovich, f. 1, p. 1 unit 254; RGALI, f. 2048, op. 3 units 34 (score).
Music to the Cartoon.
Director: M. Tsekhanovsky. Moscow, at the "Soyuzmultfilm" studios. The film was not released.
"His participation encourages me. <...> A marvellous boy. Very attentive, very talented...He is considered almost a genius. He works at an incredible speed, without letting the quality suffer at all. A real artist. A real master. Now it's up to me. I have to produce a film of a quality as high as that of his music. <...>. He played firmly, precisely. It seemed that his fingers were extracting precious stones from the instrument. When turning the pages, he almost tore the paper ... he was so keen to keep the tempo going and, when he had finished, he was breathing heavily as if he'd been for a run...His commitment to his work was like that of an inspired superb artist. All this goaded me on like a whip. Now I can't do
anything mediocre or drab. The screen has to sparkle, just as brightly as the music in tempo and colours..."
The Story of the Priest and His Helper Balda
Music to the Cartoon
Tsekhanovsky wrote the script for the film based on Alexander Pushkin’s well-known story.
Shostakovich began working on the film music in 1933. The folder with the music of this opus is dated (in the composer’s hand) 1933 and kept in his depository in the Glinka State Central Museum of Musical Culture (GSCMMC). At the beginning of November 1934, he talked about this composition as being entirely complete.
On 4 January 1933, Tsekhanovsky noted: ‘I spoke to Shostakovich about the contract’. But neither in January 1933, when he apparently discussed the possibilities and problems of their upcoming joint work for the first time with Shostakovich, nor much later, was the director clear about the most important artistic and technological aspects of the concept of his new film. In particular, Tsekhanovsky could not make a final decision, first, about whether to make a cartoon or a puppet film, and second, in what sequence the film’s main components—image and music—should be done, that is, should the composer write music to the finished film (which was the usual practice in the early years of sound cinematography) or, vice versa, the film should be made to finished music based on a detailed director’s script.
Contacts with Shostakovich and his consent to immediately begin work possibly had an influence on the decision Tsekhanovsky made: first the music, then the filming.
The difficult creative circumstances and innovation of the artistic tasks required maximum mutual understanding between the director and the composer. Shostakovich became quickly carried away by the director’s innovative ideas and immediately got down to composing the music. ‘The script is magnificent, retaining the satiric piquancy and the entire diversity of Pushkin’s brilliant fairytale. The cartoon is written in the style of a knockabout folk show. It has a mass of acute hyperbolic situations and grotesque characters. The film2fairytale scintillates with spirit, lightness, and merriment,’ he says at a time when the filming was still very, very far from completion. ‘And I wrote the music for it with the same lightness and merriment.’
Shostakovich considered his music to The Story of the Priest and His Helper Balda a real success: ‘…Several pieces ... I would eagerly list among my ‘assets’,’ he said with respect to the new works for cinema. ‘This particularly applies to Balda.’
But Tsekhanovsky was unable to finish the film either in 1935 or in 1936.
In 1935 (no later than May), Shostakovich composed a seven-part Suite Op. 36a on the music to the film: 1. Overture, 2. Priest’s Servants’ Dream, 3. March of Ducks, 4. Priest’s Dance with Devil, 5. Dance of Bell2 Ringer, 6. Dance of Dead Men, and 7. Finale. The Suite was performed for the first time in Leningrad on 1 June 1935 in a concert during the First Leningrad International Festival of Arts by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by A. Melik-Pashaev and was given positive reviews.
In 1979, the six-part suite of The Story of the Priest and His Helper Balda was compiled and recorded by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky on the first disk of the ‘Dmitri Shostakovich: From the Manuscripts of Various Years’ series.
S.M. Khentova scraped together a composition of the same name to her own libretto based on the music to the film, as well as on Shostakovich’s adaptations of Russian folk songs.
In 1999, the ballet Balda was staged in Russia’s Bolshoi Theatre based on Shostakovich’s music (in the version of Shostakovich’s student, Vadim Bibergan).
Suite for orchestra from the music for the cartoon film: The Story of the Priest and His Helper Balda:
- Procession of the Obscurantists
- Dialogue between Balda and the Little Demon
- Dream of the Priest's Daughter
First Performance: September 25, 1979. Leningrad. Symphony Orchestra of the Leningrad Philharmonia. Conductor G. Rozhdestvensky.
Manuscript: Centre for Notation Materials of the Union of Composers, Moscow, No. 10558
The six-part suite of The Story of the Priest and His Helper Balda was compiled and recorded by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky on the first disk of the “Dmitri Shostakovich: From the Manuscripts of Various Years” series (Melodiya, C10214415216).