The Snow-Maiden

Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham: composition project

This is an old Russian folk tale about the end of cold Winter and the coming of warm Spring.


Father Winter and Mother Spring have a child, the Snow-maiden. They keep her hidden in the snowy forest … yet she longs to live with humans, because she has heard their music and watched them playing. Eventually, one Springtime, her parents allow her to live with an old childless couple, who are overjoyed to have a daughter at last. But she doesn’t quite fit in! Although she is beautiful, and 16 years old, she has never been kissed. When she tries to find love, first with Lel, a shepherd, then with Mizgir, a merchant, she realises her heart is frozen. 

Meanwhile, as long as the Snow-maiden stays with the old couple, the sun refuses to shine, and the land is cold and dark. Nothing will grow and it feels as if Winter will never end.

The months pass, and at a Midsummer festival there are dances and music to try to bring the sun back into the sky. Still the Snow-maiden is sad. Everyone has someone to love except her. So she asks her mother, Spring, to help.

Mother Spring gives her the gift of love, but warns her to take care. The Snow-maiden takes no heed and kisses Mizgir, the merchant … her heart warms … and she melts completely away.

At last the sun returns to the sky, and Summer begins.


Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov wrote an opera about the story. An opera is a play set to music, a little bit like a musical. 

The Midsummer festival has a famous dance, The Dance of the Tumblers (a kind of Russian clown):



This is the “Prelude” to the opera, describing cold Winter, and warm Spring. You can hear bird song, and imagine the cold wind in the trees:

If you want to know what the Snow-maiden looks like, here’s a scene from the opera, where she tells Winter and Spring how she longs to live with real people:

This is the song that the Snow-maiden sings as she melts away:

Another Russian composer wrote music for the story as well. His name is Peter Tchaikovsky. Here is some of the music he wrote, for the dance of the Tumblers: