Dargomyzhskii, Aleksandr

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Dargomyzhskii, Aleksandr Sergeevich


Born Feb. 2 (14), 1813, in the village of Troitskoe, in present-day Belev Raion, Tula Oblast; died Jan. 5 (17), 1869, in St. Petersburg. Russian composer.

Dargomyzhskii studied voice, piano, and violin. His first compositions (art songs and piano pieces) were published in the late 1820’s and early 1830’s. His meeting with M. I. Glinka at the beginning of 1835 was of decisive importance for his musical development. During 1837–41, Dargomyzhskii wrote his first opera, Esmeralda (based on V. Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame; premiere in 1847, Moscow), which reflected the romantic tendencies characteristic of his early creative work. In the 1840’s he wrote some of his best art songs, including “I Loved You,” “Marriage Celebration,” and “The Night Zephyr.” His major work is the opera The Mermaid (based on the dramatic poem of the same title by Pushkin; premiere in 1856, St. Petersburg).

In the late 1850’s, Dargomyzhskii’s social activities on behalf of music took on broad dimensions. In 1859 he was elected to the committee of the Russian Music Society. It was at this time that he became close to a group of young composers that would subsequently gain fame as the “Russian Five.” He also worked on the satirical journal Iskra (later on Budil’nik as well).

In the 1860’s Dargomyzhskii turned to the symphonic form and wrote three orchestral pieces based on folk themes: Baba-laga, or From the Volga to Riga (1862); Kazachok (1864); and Fantasy on Finnish Themes (1867). In 1864–65 he made a trip abroad (he had been abroad for the first time in 1844–45), in the course of which some of his works were performed in Brussels. In 1866 he began work on the opera The Stone Guest (based on a work by Pushkin), with the aim of creating the first opera to have as its text a literary work taken in complete and unchanged form. This work remained uncompleted. As willed by the composer, C. Cui finished the first scene and N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov wrote the instrumental arrangement for the opera (premiere in 1872, St. Petersburg).

Dargomyzhskii, along with his predecessor Glinka, laid the foundations for a national Russian school in classical music. He developed the folk-based, realistic principles of Glinka’s music and enriched them with new features. His creative work reflected the tendencies of the critical realism of the 1840’s, 1850’s, and 1860’s. In a number of works (The Mermaid and the songs “The Old Corporal,” “The Worm,” and “The Titular Counselor”) Dargomyzhskii treated the theme of social inequality with great acuity. His lyrics are characterized by detailed psychological analysis and the revelation of complex spiritual contradictions. He favored dramatic forms of expression. As he himself stated, his goal in The Mermaid was the artistic embodiment of the dramatic elements in the Russian national character. His propensity for dramatization manifested itself frequently in his vocal lyrics as well (the art songs “I Am Sad,” “It’s Boring and Sad,” “I Still Love Him,”). Dargomyzhskii created a concrete and individualized image through the reproduction of natural speech inflections in his music. His motto was summed up in the words: “I want sound to be a direct expression of words. I want truth.” In its most radical form this principle was realized in the opera The Stone Guest, which is based almost exclusively on melodized recitative. The young generation of composers that came to the fore in the 1860’s set a high value on Dargomyzhskii’s innovations in realism, bold presentation of the social problems of Russian reality, and humanism. M. P. Mussorgsky, who artistically was closest of all to Dargomyzhskii, called him a great teacher of musical truth.


lzbr. pis’ma. Moscow, 1952.


A. S. Dargomyzhskii (1813–1869): Avtobiografiia, Pis’ma, Vospominaniia sovremennikov. Petrograd, 1921.
Serov, A. N. “Rusalka: Opera A. S. Dargomyzhskogo.” In his book lzbr. stat’i, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.
Pekelis, M. Dargomyzhskii i narodnaia pesnia: K probleme narodnosti ν russkoi klassicheskoi muzyke. Moscow-Leningrad, 1951.
Pekelis, M. A. S. Dargomyzhskii i ego okruzhenie, vol. 1. Moscow, 1966.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.