Night on Bald Mountain (Russian: Ночь на лысой горе, Noch′ na lysoy gore), also known as Night on the Bare Mountain, is a series of compositions by Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881). Inspired by Russian literary works and legend, Mussorgsky composed a “musical picture”, St. John’s Eve on Bald Mountain (Russian: Иванова ночь на лысой горе, Ivanova noch′ na lysoy gore) on the theme of a witches’ sabbath occurring on St. John’s Eve, which he completed on that very night, June 23, in 1867. Together with Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov‘s Sadko (1867), it is one of the first tone poems by a Russian composer.
Although Mussorgsky was proud of his youthful effort, his mentor, Miliy Balakirev, refused to perform it. To salvage what he considered worthy material, Mussorgsky attempted to insert his Bald Mountain music, recast for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra, into two subsequent projects—the collaborative opera-ballet Mlada (1872), and the opera The Fair at Sorochyntsi (1880). However, Night on Bald Mountain was never performed in any form during Mussorgsky’s lifetime.
In 1886, five years after Mussorgsky’s death, Rimsky-Korsakov published an arrangement of the work, described as a “fantasy for orchestra.” Some musical scholars consider this version to be an original composition of Rimsky-Korsakov, albeit one based on Mussorgsky’s last version of the music, for The Fair at Sorochyntsi:
I need hardly remind the reader that the orchestral piece universally known as ‘Mussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain‘ is an orchestral composition by Rimsky-Korsakov based on the later version of the Bare Mountain music which Mussorgsky prepared for Sorochintsy Fair.— Gerald Abraham, musicologist and an authority on Mussorgsky, 1945