Aleksandr Serov

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Serov, Aleksandr Nikolaevich


Born Jan. 11 (23), 1820, in St. Petersburg; died there Jan. 20 (Feb. 1), 1871. Russian composer and music critic.

Serov was the son of a civil servant. From 1835 to 1840 he studied at the School of Jurisprudence, where he became a friend of V. V. Stasov. He served in various departments of the ministries of justice and internal affairs from 1840 to 1868. Serov devoted a great deal of time to music. He played piano and cello, and he mastered the technique of composition on his own. In addition, he studied philosophy, as well as the literature on art and music. His first compositions date from the 1840’s (the unfinished opera The Miller’s Wife From Marly). From 1851, he wrote regularly as a music critic for the press. His first article was published in Nekrasov’s journal Sovremennik (The Contemporary).

From the early 1850’s, Serov participated in the musical evenings at the home of M. I. Glinka, with whom he first became acquainted in 1842. His association with Glinka played a major role in the development of his aesthetic and creative principles. In 1856–57 he became a close friend of the young composers who later formed the artistic group known as the Russian Five. Later, he severed his connection with them. During trips abroad beginning in 1858, Serov met Liszt, Berlioz, Wagner, and other composers. He was a supporter and propagandist of Wagner’s creative work and musical dramatic principles. In 1861 he and his wife, V. S. Serova, published the journal Muzyka i teatr (Music and Theater).

Most of Serov’s compositions are operas. Serov advocated realism, as well as a broadening of operatic subject matter and the assimilation of new genres, such as operas based on historical legends, and folk spice-of-life operas. He was distinguished for his knowledge of the principles of musical dramaturgy and for his ability to combine music with stage action. However, eclecticism and a certain lack of consistency characterized his musical style. Serov wrote the operas Judith (based on the biblical story, staged in 1863 at the Mariinskii Theater), Rogneda (based on Russian history; staged in 1865 at the Mariinskii Theater), and The Power of Evil (based on A. N. Ostrovskii’s play You Can’t Always Live as You Like; completed by Serova and N. F. Solov’ev; staged posthumously in 1871 at the Mariinskii Theater). Serov also composed symphonic and choral works.

Serov is one of the most important representatives of Russian classical music criticism. An advocate of realism, he combined in his writings on music an aggressive, publicistic approach with masterful aesthetic analysis and evaluations based on historical scholarship. In many respects, he followed the principles of V. G. Belinskii, but his views were sometimes inconsistent and contradictory. Among Serov’s works were studies on Glinka, including An Attempt at a Technical Critique of the Music of M. I. Glinka (1859), in which he established the composer’s significance as the founder of a national school of Russian music. However, Serov did not understand the originality of the dramatic art in Glinka’s opera Ruslan and Liudmila. He also wrote on A. S. Dargomyzhskii, Mozart, Beethoven, and Wagner. Characteristic of Serov were straightforward opinions, a literary temperament, a polemical approach, and brilliant, sharp explanations.


Kriticheskie stat’i, vols. 1–4. St. Petersburg, 1892–95.
lzbr. stat’i, vols. 1–2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950–57.


Serova, V. S. Serovy, Aleksandr Nikolaevich i Valentin Aleksandrovich [memoirs]. St. Petersburg, 1914.
Khubov, G. Zhizn’ A. Serova. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.
Kremlev, Iu. Russkaia mysl’o muzyke, vol. 2. Leningrad, 1958.
Livanova, T. N. Opernaia kritika ν Rossii, vol. 2, fases. 3–4. Moscow, 1969–73.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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