Mikhail Glinka: Wikis


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Mikhail Glinka in 1856

Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (Russian: Михаи́л Ива́нович Гли́нка) (June 1 [O.S. May 20] 1804 – February 15 [O.S. February 3] 1857), was the first Russian composer to gain wide recognition inside his own country, and is often regarded as the father of Russian classical music. Glinka's compositions were an important influence on future Russian composers, notably the members of The Five, who took Glinka's lead and produced a distinctive Russian style of music.




Origins in Poland

Mikhail Glinka's great-great-grandfather, Wiktoryn Władysław Glinka of Maków County in Łomża Governorate, was a Polish nobleman (pol. szlachcic) from a family that bears the Trzaska coat of arms. In 1641 this Glinka received from Władysław IV Vasa, King of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, a landed estate within the Smoleńsk district (today Smolensk Oblast, a part of the Russian Federation) for his great bravery in wars of Rzeczpospolita. In 1654, when the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth lost Smolensk for the Tsardom of Russia in the Russo-Polish War (1654–1667) for Ukraine, W. W. Glinka remained on his estate, took Russian citizenship, and converted to the Russian Orthodox religion. Tsar Alexis conserved his nobility, the Trzaska coat of arms, and all his Polish endowments. Mikhail Glinka many times said "I am a Russian, but I have Polish blood".

Early life

Mikhail Glinka was born in the village of Novospasskoye, not far from the Desna River in the Smolensk Guberniya of the Russian Empire. His father was a wealthy retired army captain, as the family had a strong tradition of loyalty and service to the Tsar, while several members of his extended family had also developed a lively interest in culture. As a small child, Mikhail was reared by his over-protective and pampering grandmother who fed him sweets, wrapped him in furs, and confined him to her room, which was always to be kept at 25°C (77°F); as such, he developed a sickly disposition, later in his life retaining the services of numerous physicians, and often falling victim to a number of quacks. The only music he heard in his youthful confinement was the sounds of the village church bells and the folk songs of passing peasant choirs. The church bells were tuned to a dissonant chord and so his ears became used to strident harmony. While his nurse would sometimes sing folksongs, the peasant choirs who sang using the podgolosnaya technique (an improvised style — literally under the voice - which uses improvised dissonant harmonies below the melody) influenced the way he later felt free to emancipate himself from the smooth progressions of Western harmony. After his grandmother’s death, Glinka was moved to his maternal uncle’s estate some 10 km away, and was able to hear his uncle’s orchestra, whose repertoire included pieces by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. He was about ten when he heard them play a clarinet quintet by the Finnish composer Bernhard Henrik Crusell. It had a profound effect upon him. "Music is my soul," he was to write many years later, recalling this experience. While his governess taught him Russian, German, French, and geography, he also received instruction on the piano and the violin.

At the age of 13 Glinka was sent to the capital, Saint Petersburg, to study at a school for children of the nobility. Here he was taught Latin, English, and Persian, studied mathematics and zoology, and was able to considerably widen his musical experience. He had three piano lessons from John Field, the Irish composer of nocturnes, who spent some time in Saint Petersburg. He then continued his piano lessons with Charles Meyer, and began composing.

When he left school his father wanted him to join the Foreign Office, and he was appointed assistant secretary of the Department of Public Highways. The work was light, which allowed Mikhail to settle into the life of a musical dilettante, frequenting the drawing rooms and social gatherings of the city. He was already composing a large amount of music, such as melancholy romances which amused the rich amateurs. His songs are among the most interesting part of his output from this period.

In 1830, at the recommendation of a physician, Glinka decided to travel to Italy with the tenor Nikolay Ivanov. The route was leisurely, ambling uneventfully through Germany and Switzerland, before they settled in Milan. There, Glinka took lessons at the conservatory with Francesco Basili, although he struggled with counterpoint, which he found irksome. Although he spent his three years in Italy listening to singers of the day, romancing women with his music, and meeting many famous people including Mendelssohn and Berlioz, he became disenchanted with Italy. He realized that his mission in life was to return to Russia, write in a Russian manner, and do for Russian music what Donizetti and Bellini had done for Italian music. His return route took him through the Alps, and he stopped for a while in Vienna, where he heard the music of Franz Liszt. He stayed for another five months in Berlin, during which time he studied composition under the distinguished teacher Siegfried Dehn. A Capriccio on Russian themes for piano duet and an unfinished Symphony on two Russian themes were important products of this period.

When word reached Mikhail Glinka of his father's death in 1834, he left Berlin and returned to Novospasskoye.

Middle years

Glinka in the 1840s, portrait by Yanenko

While in Berlin, Glinka had become enamored with a beautiful and talented singer, (for whom he composed Six Studies for Contralto). He contrived a plan to return to her, but when his sister's German maid turned up without the necessary paperwork to cross to the border with him, he abandoned his plan as well as his love and turned north for Saint Petersburg. There he reunited with his mother, and met the acquaintance of Maria Petrovna Ivanova. After courting her for a brief period, the two married. The marriage was short-lived, as Maria proved to be utterly without tact and uninterested in his music. Although his initial fondness for her was said to have inspired the trio in the first act of opera A Life for the Tsar (1836), his naturally sweet disposition coarsened under the constant nagging of his wife and her mother. After separating, she would remarry, while Glinka moved in with his mother, and later his sister (Lyudmila Shestakova).

A Life for the Tsar was the first of Glinka's two great operas. It was originally entitled Ivan Susanin. Set in 1612, it tells the story of the Russian peasant and patriotic hero Ivan Susanin who sacrifices his life for the Tsar by leading astray a group of marauding Poles who were hunting him. The Tsar himself followed the work’s progress with interest and suggested the change in the title. It was a great success at its premiere on December 9, 1836, under the direction of Catterino Cavos, who had written an opera on the same subject in Italy. Although the music is still more Italianate than Russian, Glinka shows superb handling of the recitative which binds the whole work, and the orchestration is masterly, foreshadowing the orchestral writing of later Russian composers. The Tsar rewarded Glinka for his work with a ring valued at 4000 rubles. (During the Soviet era, the opera was staged under its original title Ivan Susanin).

Ilya Repin's portrait of Glinka was painted thirty years after the composer's death

In 1837, Glinka was installed as the instructor of the Imperial Chapel Choir, with a yearly salary of 25,000 roubles, and lodging at the court. In 1838, at the suggestion of the Tsar, he went off to Ukraine to gather new voices for the choir; the 19 new boys he found earned him another 1,500 roubles from the Tsar.

He soon embarked on his second opera: Ruslan and Lyudmila. The plot, based on the tale by Pushkin, was concocted in 15 minutes by Konstantin Bakhturin, a poet who was drunk at the time. Consequently the opera is a dramatic muddle, yet the quality of Glinka’s music is higher than in A Life for the Tsar. He uses a descending whole-tone-scale in the famous overture. This is associated with the villainous dwarf Chernomor who has abducted Lyudmila, daughter of the Prince of Kiev. There is much Italianate coloratura, and Act 3 contains several routine ballet numbers, but his great achievement in this opera lies in his use of folk melody which becomes thoroughly infused into the musical argument. Much of the borrowed folk material is oriental in origin. When it was first produced on 9 December 1842 it met with a cool reception, although subsequently it gained popularity.

Later years

Grave of Mikhail Glinka on Tikhvin Cemetery in Saint Petersburg

Glinka went through a dejected year after the poor reception of Ruslan and Lyudmila. His spirits rose when he travelled to Paris and Spain. In Spain, Glinka met Don Pedro Fernandez, who remained his secretary and companion for the last nine years of his life. [1] In Paris, Berlioz conducted some excerpts from Glinka’s operas and wrote an appreciative article about him. Glinka in turn admired Berlioz’s music and resolved to compose some fantasies pittoresques for orchestra. Another visit to Paris followed in 1852 where he spent two years, living quietly and making frequent visits to the botanical and zoological gardens. From there he moved to Berlin where, after five months, he died suddenly on 15 February 1857, following a cold. He was buried in Berlin but a few months later his body was taken to Saint Petersburg and reinterred in the cemetery of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. Glinka is known world wide for many great works.


Statue near Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg

After Glinka's death the relative merits of his two operas became a source of heated debate in the musical press, especially between Vladimir Stasov and his former friend Alexander Serov.

In 1884 Mitrofan Petrovich Belyayev founded the "Glinka prize", which was awarded annually. In the first years the winners included Borodin, Mily Balakirev, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Cesar Cui and Lyadov.

Outside Russia several of Glinka's orchestral works have been fairly popular in concerts and recordings. Besides the well-known overtures to the operas (especially the brilliantly energetic overture to Ruslan), his major orchestral works include the symphonic poem Kamarinskaya (1848), based on Russian folk tunes, and two Spanish works, A Night in Madrid (1848, 1851) and Jota Aragonesa (1845).

Glinka also composed many art songs, many piano pieces, and some chamber music.

A much lesser work that received some attention in the last decade was Glinka's "The Patriotic Song", supposedly written for a contest for a national anthem in 1833; the music was adopted as the national anthem of Russia during 1990–2000.

Three Russian conservatories are named after Glinka:

  • Nizhny Novgorod State Conservatory (Russian: Нижегородская государственная консерватория им. М.И.Глинки) [1]
  • Novosibirsk State Conservatory (Russian: Новосибирская государственная консерватория (академия) им. М.И.Глинки) [2]
  • Magnitogorsk State Conservatory (Russian: Магнитогорская государственная консерватория) [3]

Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Chernykh named a minor planet 2205 Glinka in his honor. It was discovered in 1973.[2]


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  1. ^ Grove Music Online "Glinka"
  2. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (5th ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. pp. 179. ISBN 3540002383. http://books.google.com/books?q=2205+Glinka+SU4.  
  • http://www.biografija.ru/show_bio.aspx?id=25537 (Glinka Mikhail Ivanovich, biographic encyclopedia, in Russian)
  • Brown, David (1974). Mikhail Glinka, a biographical and critical study, Oxford University Press.
  • Glinka, Mikhail by Richard Taruskin, in 'The New Grove Dictionary of Opera', ed. Stanley Sadie (London, 1992) ISBN 0-333-73432-7
  • ed. John Knowles Paine, Theodore Thomas, and Karl Klauser (1891). Famous Composers and Their Works, J.B. Millet Company.

External links

Simple English

[[File:|right|frame|Mikhail Glinka]]

Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857) was a Russian composer, regarded as the first to become very famous.

Russia is a very large country. In the 18th century there was a lot of music in Europe, but Russian people had not yet heard it. A lot of them were very poor and modern transport did not exist. By the time Glinka was born Russian people in the large towns like Saint Petersburg were becoming very interested in European music.

Mikhail Glinka was born in a little village called Novospasskoye. His father was a rich landowner. Glinka was brought up by his grandmother who looked after him very carefully. She was always afraid he would be cold, so she wrapped him up in a fur coat in a room which was kept at 77 °F. He was not often allowed to play in the fresh air. Later in his life Glinka was always worrying about his health.

It was a long way to the big cities from where the child lived. There was no radio in those days, and no CDs. The only music he heard was the church bells, and the singing of the peasants (the simple people who worked on the land). They sang folksongs and made up harmony underneath the tunes.

After his grandmother died he was allowed to travel 6 miles to his uncle’s home. His uncle had a group of musicians who played music by European composers like Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. He had never heard such music before.

When he was 13 he went to school in St Petersburg. Now he could hear lots of music and meet some good musicians. He had piano lessons and spent a lot of time at parties. He started to compose some songs.

In 1830 he went to Italy. Italy was famous for its music, especially for opera. Glinka met famous composers like Mendelssohn and Berlioz as well as Italian composers like Donizetti and Bellini. He like their music, and decided he wanted to write opera as well, but he wanted to make his music sound very Russian.

Glinka went back to Russia. He wrote two great operas. The first one was called Ivan Susanin. The story of the opera, set in 1612, is about a poor peasant Ivan Susanin who dies to save the life of the Tsar (the Tsar was the ruler of Russia, like a king or emperor). The Tsar liked the opera and thought that it should be called A Life for the Tsar. It was a big success when it was first performed in 1836.

He soon wrote his second opera: Ruslan and Lyudmila. The story comes from a tale by the famous Russian poet Pushkin. The man who wrote the words for him did it very quickly while he was drunk, so the story is a bit muddled, but the music is wonderful. It is a fairy tale about a nasty dwarf Chernomor who has taken away a princess called Lyudmila. In the end Ruslan, the hero, rescues her. Some of the music sounds quite oriental. The overture that starts the opera is very famous.

Glinka also wrote piano music, songs and chamber music.

Glinka’s music is important because he was the first Russian composer to write music that sounded Russian. Later composers like Tchaikovsky were influenced by his music.


  • David Brown: Mikhail Glinka, a biographical and critical study London OUP1974

ISBN 0-19-315311-4

Other websites

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