Mikhail Glinka

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Glinka, Mikhail Ivanovich


Born May 20 (June 1), 1804, in the village of Novospasskoe, in present-day El’nia Raion, Smolensk Oblast; died Feb. 3 (15), 1857, in Berlin. Russian composer. Founder of Russian classical music.

Born into a landlord’s family, Glinka lived in St. Petersburg from 1817. He was a student in the Nobles’ Pension attached to the Main Pedagogical School, where his tutor was the poet and Decembrist W. K. Küchelbecker. He took piano lessons from J. Field and C. Meyer and violin lessons from F. Böhm; later he studied voice under Belloli and composition theory under Z. Dehn. In the 1820’s, he was well known among music lovers in St. Petersburg as a singer and pianist. From 1837 to 1839 he was choirmaster of the Court Choir. Glinka visited Italy (1830-33), Berlin (1833-34, 1856-57), Paris (1844-45, 1852-54), Spain (1845-47), and Warsaw (1848 and 1849-51). Mastery of native and world music traditions, the influence of progressive ideas that spread during the Patriotic War of 1812 and the preparation for the Decembrist Uprising, and contact with outstanding literary figures, including A. S. Pushkin and A. S. Griboyedov, as well as ties with artists and critics, contributed to the broadening of the composer’s outlook and the development of the innovative aesthetic principles of his creative work. Realistic and based on folk influences, Glinka’s creative work influenced the entire course of Russian music.

In 1836 the St. Petersburg Bolshoi Theater presented Glinka’s historical, heroic-patriotic opera Ivan Susanin. In spite of the fact that the opera reflects the concepts of political orthodoxy that were imposed on the composer (the libretto was composed by Baron G. F. Rosen in a monarchist spirit, and it was entitled A Life for the Tsar at the insistence of the court), Glinka managed to emphasize the folk basis of the opera by glorifying the peasant-patriot and proclaiming the greatness of character, the courage, and the unswerving steadfastness of the people. In 1842, the premiere of the opera Ruslan and Liudmila was held in the same theater. This work combined colorful images of Slavic life with the fantasy of fairy tales and vivid expressions of the national culture of Russia with oriental motifs. (In this work the foundation for orientalism in Russian classical opera was laid.) Having injected new meaning into the playful, ironic, youthful poem by Pushkin, which was the basis for the libretto, Glinka sought above all to impart majestic images of ancient Rus’ and the bogatyr spirit and to incorporate broad and emotionally rich lyrics into the work. Glinka’s operas laid the foundation for and indicated the course of the development of the classic Russian opera. Ivan Susanin is a folk music tragedy on a historical topic, with an intense, effective musical-dramatic development. Ruslan and Liudmila is an enchanting opera-oratorio, with a regular alternation of large-scale and self-contained scenes for vocal and symphonic performance, and it is dominated by epic and narrative elements. Glinka’s operas confirmed the world significance of Russian music. In the field of music for the stage his incidental music to N. V. Kukol’nik’s tragedy Prince Kholmskii (produced in 1841 at St. Petersburg’s Aleksandrinskii Theater) has great artistic value.

Glinka’s music is characterized by its comprehension of life in all its diversity, the presentation of artistic images in a pointed and clear manner, masterful architectonics, and the spirit of a bright affirmation of life. His orchestral writing, which combines transparent and impressive sounds, is brightly picturesque, with splendor and abundant color. His masterful orchestration was more fully revealed in his music for stage (the overture to Ruslan and Liudmila) and his symphonic pieces. The Valse-Fantaisie for orchestra (originally for piano, 1839; orchestral versions, 1845, 1856) is the first example in classical music of the Russian symphonic waltz. His Spanish Overtures (Jota aragonesa, 1845, and Summer Night in Madrid, 1848, 2nd ed., 1851) laid the foundation for the incorporation in international symphonic music of musical elements from Spanish folklore. The scherzo for orchestra Kamarinskaia (1848) synthesizes the wealth of Russian folk music with the highest achievements of professional craftsmanship.

The lyrics of Glinka’s vocal music are distinguished by the harmonious feeling they convey. Diverse in form and themes, they incorporate elements of Russian song culture—the basis for Glinka’s melodies—as well as Ukrainian, Polish, Finnish, Georgian, Spanish, and Italian motifs, intonations, and genres. Glinka’s art songs to Pushkin’s words are outstanding. Among them are “Do Not Sing Thy Songs of Georgia, My Beauty, in My Presence,” “I Remember the Wonderful Moment,” “Fire of Longing in My Blood,” and “Night Zephyr.” He also wrote art songs to words by Zhukovskii (the ballad “The Midnight Review”), Baratynskii (“Do Not Tempt Me Needlessly”), and Kukol’nik (“Doubt” and the cycle of twelve art songs Farewell to St. Petersburg). Glinka wrote nearly 80 works for voice and piano (art songs, songs, arias, and canzonets), as well as vocal ensembles, études, exercises, and choruses. He is also the author of chamber-instrumental ensembles, including two string quartets and the Trio Pathétique for piano, clarinet, and bassoon (1832).

Subsequent generations of Russian composers, who enriched Russian national music through innovations in content and expressive techniques, were faithful to Glinka’s basic artistic principles. It was under his immediate influence as a composer and voice teacher that a Russian vocal school took shape. Singers who took vocal lessons from him and prepared opera parts and chamber repertoire with him included N. K. Ivanov, O. A. Petrov, A. Ia. Petrova-Vorob’eva, A. P. Lodii, S. S. Gulak-Artemovskii, and D. M. Leonova. A. N. Serov wrote down Glinka’s Remarks on Instrumentation (1852, published in 1856). Glinka left his memoirs (Memoirs, 1854-55, published in 1870).


Literaturnoe nasledie, vols. 1-2, Leningrad-Moscow, 1952-53. (Vol. 1: Avtobiograficheskie i tvorcheskie materialy; vol. 2: Pis’ma i dokumenty.)


Kuznetsov, K. A. Glinka i ego sovremenniki. Moscow, 1926.
Asafev, B. (Igor’ Glebov). Glinka, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1950.
Serov, A. N. Izbrannye stat’i, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.
M. I. Glinka: Issledovaniia i materialy. Edited by A. V. Ossovskii. Leningrad-Moscow, 1950.
M. I. Glinka: Sbornik materialov i statei. Edited by T. Livanova. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.
Kann-Novikova, E. M. I. Glinka: Novye materialy i dokumenty, fases. 1-3. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950-55.
Odoevsikii, V. F. Izbrannye muzykal’no-kritiche skie stat’i. Moscow-Leningrad, 1951.
Stasov, V. V. Izbrannye sochineniia, vol. 1. Moscow, 1952.
Asafev, B. V. Izbrannye trudy, vol. 1. Moscow, 1952.
M. I. Glinka: Letopis’ zhizni i tvorchestva. Compiled by A. Orlova. Moscow, 1952.
Larosh, G. A. Izbrannye stat’i o Glinke. Moscow, 1953.
Glinka v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov. Edited by A. A. Orlova. Moscow, 1955.
Livanova, T., and V. Protopopov. Glinka [vols. 1-2]. Moscow, 1955.
Tsukkerman, V. “Kamarinskaia” Glinki i ee traditsii v russkoi muzyke. Moscow, 1957.
M. I. Glinka: K 100-letiiu so dnia smerti, 1857-1957. Edited by E. Gordeeva. Moscow, 1958.
Pamiati M. I. Glinki. Moscow, 1958.
Protopopov, VI. “Ivan Susanin” Glinki: Muzykal’no-teoreticheskoe issledovanie. Moscow, 1961.


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