The students finished their work early, I had nothing new planned, and it appeared that the majority were playing games, reading books, or counting the spots on the ceiling tiles. So, in honor of the season, I inquired how many were familiar with “Night on Bald Mountain” from Fantasia. Less than half.
So I asked if they wanted to see it. They did, so I turned on the projector, called up the video, and turned out the lights.
There’s a lot more in that thirteen minutes of movie than I remembered.
The title of the piece in English isn’t complete. The selection we hear now is only part of a longer tone poem, St. John’s Eve on Bald Mountain. The goings on westerners tend to associate with the eve of All Hallows, or Samhain (which would have been later in November, but anyway), in Central and Eastern Europe take place on the night of the Feast of St. John, in June (Walpurgisnacht), as well as in late autumn.
Watching Disney’s version after having written the Alexi stories, and after studying the Wild Hunt and some other things, adds to the spookiness, as well as showing just how much Disney borrowed from all over. The demonic spirit in the mountain is pretty close to both the traditional depiction of the Devil, and Chernobog. Mussorgsky himself used elements of the original tone poem later, in a scene where witches are venerating Chernobog, and yes, I did borrow from both in the Alexi stories. The mountain itself looks a bit like the Eiger, which translates “ogre.”
But watch the ghosts and evil spirits dancing around. We have the typical figures in what seem to be white sheets. And skeletons, and little demons and devils. But also ghostly warriors and hunters on skeletal horses. One bony female figure rides a boar, which is an old symbol of fertility and magic going back to the Bronze Age and probably far, far earlier than that. These are things associated with the Wild Hunt, with Walpurgisnacht and the gathering of the witches on the Brocken in the Harz Mountains in eastern Germany. The three seductive fire dancers are another element in witchcraft and magic and what have you, as well as several traditions of three-aspect goddesses, the three Graces of Greek mythology, and a few other things. They are turned into a pig, a goat, and something else, and the goat is almost always associated with witchcraft, fertility, Satan, but also the god Thor and a number of fertility deities male and female.
Then comes the wild swirl of a gorgon, harpies or Furies (or yes), traditional ghosts, female spirits of some kind, and demons and sprites of various forms.
And sunrise, and the crowing of the cock that breaks the power of darkness and sends everything back into its grave, and the mountain returns to being “only” a craggy mountain.
I have no idea what the students thought of the scene. The animation is not modern animation. The sound quality on the video isn’t the greatest, but I wanted to have it run straight through instead of breaking it. But it still has impressive moments, especially when watched in near darkness on a big screen.