Although Mussorgsky was proud of his youthful effort, his mentor, Miliy Balakirev, refused to perform it. To salvage what he considered worthy material, Mussorgsky attempted to insert his Bald Mountain music, recast for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra, into two subsequent projects—the collaborative opera-ballet Mlada (1872), and the opera The Fair at Sorochyntsi (1880). However, Night on Bald Mountain was never performed in any form during Mussorgsky's lifetime.
In 1886, five years after Mussorgsky's death, Rimsky-Korsakov published an arrangement of the work, described as a "fantasy for orchestra." Some musical scholars consider this version to be an original composition of Rimsky-Korsakov, albeit one based on Mussorgsky's last version of the music, for The Fair at Sorochyntsi:
I need hardly remind the reader that the orchestral piece universally known as 'Mussorgsky's Night on the Bare Mountain' is an orchestral composition by Rimsky-Korsakov based on the later version of the Bare Mountain music which Mussorgsky prepared for Sorochintsy Fair.
It is through Rimsky-Korsakov's version that Night on Bald Mountain achieved lasting fame. Premiering in Saint Petersburg in 1886, the work became a concert favourite. Half a century later, the work obtained perhaps its greatest exposure through the Walt Disney animated film Fantasia (1940), featuring an arrangement by Leopold Stokowski, based on Rimsky-Korsakov's version. Mussorgsky's tone poem was not published in its original form until 1968. Although still rarely performed, it has started to gain exposure and become familiar to modern audiences.
The original Russian title of the tone poem, Иванова ночь на лысой горе, translates literally as Saint John's Eve on Bald Mountain, usually shortened to Night on Bald Mountain. However, due to several ambiguities, the composition is also known by a number of alternate titles in English.
The Russian word "ночь" (noch′) is literally "night" in English, but idiomatically this would refer to the night following St. John's Day, variously observed between 21 June (the summer solstice) and 25 June. The night before St. John's Day is usually referred to as "St. John's Eve" in English; Russian does not make this distinction.
Bald Mountain is the most familiar translation of "лысой горе" (lysoy gore) in English, and is also the most literal. The adjective "bald" is commonly used in English place names for barren hills, mountains, and other features, and so is also idiomatic. However, because the most familiar use of "bald" describes hairlessness, this part of the title is also known as "Bare Mountain". The use of "bald" to describe barren landscapes is common in European languages. In French, the piece is known as Une nuit sur le mont Chauve and in Italian Una Notte sul Monte Calvo (A Night on the Bald Mountain).