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Imagine if Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps had come out 30 years earlier, in reactionary, Tsarist Russia rather than cosmopolitan, jaded Paris!

"Night on Bald Mountain" is the name we usually give to an orchestral work you have almost certainly heard, Modest Mussorgsky's depiction of a wild nocturnal witches' celebration. One of the wonderful things about this work is that there are two versions to choose from: The original, written by Mussorgsky himself, and a later reorchestration by his friend Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. It is the latter version you almost always hear (such as in Walt Disney's Fantasia), but the original is worth listening to.

In 1867, Modest Mussorgsky was dismissed from the Russian civil service for drunkenness, and finding time on his hands, he decided to try making a living as a composer, beginning work on an opera based upon Nikolai Gogol's play St. John's Eve. As part of this effort, he produced a work whose title can be roughly translated as "St. John's Eve on Bare Mountain". According to Mussorgsky's notes, he actually finished the work on St. John's Eve, June 23.

Although Mussorgsky had some (cough) modest success as a composer during his lifetime, most of his work remained unpublished when he died in 1881 from the complications of his alcoholism. Although the opera Sorochintsy Fair was never finished, Rimsky-Korsakov took on the task of sorting out his friend's notes. But in the process, something happened: Rimsky-Korsakov revised everything he touched. In the case of "Night on Bare Mountain", he re-orchestrated the entire work, cutting much, "tightening" it, and perhaps tailoring it to the sensibilities of late 19th-Century Russian aristocrats. This version premiered in 1886.

How to compare the two versions? They begin with the same, blaring trumpets with woodwinds and strings suggesting immense gusts of wind, followed by the Russian folksong-derived main theme. But from that point on, the two versions are completely different. Although you will hear snatches of music that sound similar, different instruments are emphasized in the corresponding segments. Rimsky-Korsakov's rewrite can be assigned the label "symphonic poem" without hesitation: It is more lyrical, and develops like a story with a clear beginning, middle, and ending (which R-K added to banish the evil spirits at sunrise, complete with church bells ringing).

The original version is more difficult to label with one of the standard symphonic forms. It contains a section or two you may find long-winded. But what it lacks in coherence it more than makes up for in musical color and drama. It is demented, wild, and often fierce, and makes it much easier to imagine Tchemobog cavorting with Baba Yaga and her sisters (and her chicken-footed hut) around a bonfire. The rewrite presents a more conservative, bourgeois aesthetic.

Years ago, when I first heard the work, I had imagined a stormy night on top of a crag, with howling winds and crashing trees, but certainly witch-free. Perhaps I imagined a wolf, or a marmot or two cowering in a burrow, weathering the storm. I blame this on Rimsky-Korsakov's milder orchestration. For this reason, you may gather, I prefer the original version.

It's more difficult to find recordings of Mussorgsky's original "St. John's Night on Bare Mountain" than of Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic poem. But of all Rimsky-Korsakov's rewrites, this is the one work where you have a good chance of hearing the original version. I was fortunate enough to find a CD with both versions, an inexpensive Naxos recording featuring the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine led by Theodore Kuchar. Not the greatest recording, and I've heard better renditions on the radio. Still, it's nice to be able to put the two side by side.

I am a music geek and so is my adventuring companion, Maevwyn. We are also avid hikers, and have a strange idea of fun - to the point where it has become sort of a running "joking not joking" thing between us when we come up with some crazy ideas.

Last summer we were returning from an Adirondack adventure and found ourselves passing through the Old Forge area. One of the trail heads we passed was for Bald Mountain. Inevitably, there was a joke about hiking Bald Mountain at night to the Mussorgsky tune.

And then there was a brief pause.

"You know that piece takes place on Walpurgisnacht..." Says Maevwyn.

I look at a calendar.

"You know that's a Saturday night..." Says losthuskie

And thus, an idea was born.

Fast forward to this spring

Conversations about our upcoming hike starts to get exciting! Even more so when during the planning Maevwyn points out that we will be doing this on the new moon.

"Sunset hike on Walpurgisnacht, while playing 'Night on Bald Mountain', on the new moon, by two skeptics? What could possibly go wrong.."

But, just to cover our bases, we made sure our friends and family knew that if we didn't return it's most likely because the Fae took us.

We had a plan, we had our lists made, we had our headlamps ready, and the day had come. We were totally ready for the video selfie with the soundtrack in the background.

Spring in New York can be... interesting. Especially when you start to get into higher elevations. Bald Mountain is nowhere near the height of the famous high peaks, but it's still significantly higher than the rest of New York State. However, luck was on our side, and we had the most perfect day!

The Bald Mountain trail is short, only a mile to the peak and fire tower. We figured it would take us about 45 minutes, so we planned on being at the trail head between 7pm and 7:30pm, as sunset was about 8pm. The place we found to stay was about an hour away, so we needed to leave about 6. It was a plan!

Having most of the day free, we opted for a tasty brunch, and found a much closer trail to occupy our time during the day. The 5.5 miles warm up was a delightful jaunt up one side of a deep gulf and down the other. There was a lovely, happy stream at the bottom that had quite a few little waterfalls we were able to catch glimpses of! It was wonderful!

We got back to our lodgings, made a hearty dinner, and off we went!

We arrived at the trail head right on time. The weather was perfection, the sky was clear, and the sun was setting. The trail started easy, but after a little bit there was some rock scrambles - which are pretty typical for the Adirondack trails. I believe at one point Maevwyn quipped "It's not really an Adirondack hike if there isn't a scramble or few."

There were several fantastic view points along the way, and we passed three other parties making their way down the trail. Strangely, we seemed to be the only ones who thought starting this trail at sunset was a good idea. Despite the scrambles, the trail was relatively easy, and we got to the summit just as the sunset was reaching the perfect point of spectacular! We made our way to the fire tower, which I climbed, and Maevwyn decided the first tier was high enough (in all fairness, those things are pretty damn scary).

The view from the fire tower was unbelievable!! The sunset was on fire over the trees, everything glowed in the pink and orange light. What's more, I was in the middle taking a video of the 360* view when a pack of coyotes started howling. I was such an amazing experience!!! We completely forgot about playing the actual music, but being serenaded by coyotes was so much better. It was so incredible.

Then the sun was set, and darkness was creeping in. Thus began our descent.

Despite it getting rather dark fast, we made it most of the way down the scrambles without needing our headlamps. Having been outside, our eyes were adjusting to the growing dark pretty well. However with the low light, we did opt to scoot down on our backside through most of it, to be safe. The last maybe quarter mile of the trail required the headlamps. It was kind of neat, actually! Neither of us had done a night hike before, so it was an interesting experience! We were pleased to see the trail markers were reflective and numerous enough to make navigation pretty easy!

Once we made it back to the truck, we then decided it was an AWESOME idea!

And the Fae didn't take us.

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