Disney, Folk-lore, and Music

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.

6 thoughts on “Disney, Folk-lore, and Music

  1. Ah, but in today’s politically correct world, its title has changed. It’s now “Night on a Follically Challenged Mountain”. Furthermore, due to its shocking nature, “Fantasia” has been renamed to “Fantaser”.

    Old NFO has agreed to play the part of Chernobog in the remake, provided he has to afflict only non-Naval veterans.


    • *Imagines Fantasia movie night at Texas Writers’ Posse. Imagines sound effects and ad libbing during “death of dinosaurs” scene. Imagines jokes during “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Decides not to suggest such an evening*

  2. Ah Fantasia! That film deserves every accolade it has ever received. Music video before anyone ever thought of the term and done to classical music. The second one, not so much. The animation isn’t as good, nor is the music section.

    Night on Bald Mountain is my favorite segment. The juxtapose between the wild revelry of the night followed by the calm of the morning, Ava Maria (iifc, it’s been a few years) is breathtaking. Second to that pairing, is perhaps Spring. I actually like the cutesy art used. Never mind that Spring is Vivaldi’s most piece. It is as over played at Beethoven’s 5th.

    I was not aware that Bald Mountain was only one part of a longer piece, I will have to see if I can find the entire St. John’s Eve on Bald Mountain. Thank you.

    • I’m not certain if the entire work has been recorded. It was rejected by other musicians, and so Mussorgsky put it in a drawer, took bits and pieces for other things, and Rimsky-Korsakov prepared the first arrangement of what we now think of as the main composition after Mussorgsky’s death.

      I agree on both counts. Although I can never hear “Chinese Dance” from _Nutcracker_ without seeing dancing mushrooms. 🙂 Fantasia 2000 was OK, the whales were neat and “Firebird” has some great moments, but otherwise . . . eh, I’ll stick with the original.

      • I found a copy of some of his works in our library system and put in a call to have them sent to mine so I can listen to it.

        {face palm} It was Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring, not Vivaldi’s Spring, used in Fantasia. Found the cd when I was looking for the Mussorgsky works and looked at the play list. Egg on me.

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