Priest and His Servant Balda, The

From Wind Repertory Project
Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich (ed. Bibergen)

This work bears the designation Opus 36.

N.B. "Servant" in the title is also transliterated as "Workman," and Balda is transliterated as "Blockhead."

General Info

Year: 1934
Duration: c. 19:03
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Unknown


1. Overture – 1:36
2. Prelude: A Fair – 1:54
3. Balda's March – 0:55
4. The Priest's Daughter's Dream – 2:16
5. The Bell-Ringer's Dance – 2:18
6. Carousel II – 2:05
7. The Meeting of Balda and the Priest – 1:30
8. The Metropolitan Priest (Tea Drinking) – 1:18
9. The Bear's Dance – 2:24
10. The Priest's Dance with the Devil – 1:07
11. Balda's First Job – 1:30


Instrumentation varies with the movement. The Overture lists:

C Piccolo
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
B-flat Trumpet I-II
String Bass


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

The poet Alexander Pushkin originally set the Russian fairy tale The Priest and His Servant Balda to verse in 1840. The tale was turned into a full-length animated opera film by Mikhail Tsekhanovsky in 1934, with music by Dmitry Shostakovich. However the movie and most of the music was destroyed during world War II. Shostakovich also assembled a suite from the music, designated Opus 36a. Some material was discovered by Shostakovich's student Vadim Bibergan (b. 1037). In 1980 the project was realized as an opera in two acts directed by Sofia Khentova, based on Shostakovich manuscripts and the parts.

The fairy tale tells the story of a priest who is looking for a worker to do all the farm and housework, but to a cheap price. At the market he meets Balda. Balda is willing to work for the priest, but only if he as payment may smack the priest three times over the forehead at the end of the year. The priest is tempted and hires Balda.

At the farm, Balda is indispensable. The priest's wife is satisfied, his daughter is in love and his little son calls him daddy. Only the priest is dissatisfied as he just thinks about payday. Then his wife has a clever suggestion: The devils have promised to pay the priest an annual fee as long as the priest is alive, but they have not paid for the last three years. Balda is sent to collect the debt, and if he doesn't succeed, the priest is free from his obligations. Balda listens to the mission, walks to the lake where the devils live, throws in a rope and starts to make waves. The old devil appears and demands to know what this is all about. Balda tells him that he will rock the lake until the devils pay their debt to the priest. The devils try to trick Balda by challenging him for a race around the lake against a little devil boy. The winner keeps all the money. Balda answers that he doesn't care to compete against this devil boy and wants his little brother to do it. In the forest he catches two rabbits and at the race-start he presents one of them to the devil boy and says that this is his brother. The race starts, the devil boy runs at full speed around the lake, but the rabbit runs straight into the forest. When the devil boy crosses the finish-line, Balda sits there and pads his "little brother", the other rabbit, and thanks him for a good race.

The devils try a second time to get away from the payment and propose a new exercise, but then Balda says that this time he will set the conditions. The devil boy has to lift a grey horse and carry it for half a mile. If he succeeds the devils get the money. The devil boy manages barely to lift the horse, but collapses after a few feet. Balda says that he will hold the horse between his legs and carry it like that. He gets on the horse and rides for a mile. Now the devils realize they are defeated and pays Balda what they owe. Balda returns to the priest, carrying the bag full of money. The priest is terrified when he sees Balda return and tries to hide, but Balda wants his payment. The story ends when Balda gives the priest three blows to the forehead which results in the priest losing his mind. The final line is, "You shouldn't have gone rushing off after cheapness."

-Program Note from liner notes of CD for Nanset Wind Ensemble, WASBE 2007, Killarney, Ireland

An extended version of this work (1:29:00) was performed as a puppet-based opera at the 2007 WASBE Conference in Killarney, Ireland, by the Nanset Wind Ensemble, Odd Terje Lysebo, conductor.


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • University of Toronto (Ont., Can.) Wind Ensemble (Gillian MacKay, conductor) - 3 December 2016

Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

  • Waltz No. 2 (Flex instrumentation) (arr. Brown) (post 1956/2021)

All Wind Works