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GLINKA, Mikhail  (1804-1857)

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Glinka, Mikhail (Ivanovich), great Russian composer, often called “the father of Russian music” for his pioneering cultivation of Russian folk modalities; b. Novospasskoye, Smolensk district, June 1,1804; d. Berlin, Feb. 15, 1857. A scion of a hirly rich family of landowners, he was educated at an exclusive school in St. Petersburg (1817—22); he also took private lessons in music; his piano teacher was a resident German musician, Carl Meyer; he also studied violin; when the pianist John Field was in St. Petersburg, Glinka had an opportunity to study with him, but he had only 3 lessons before Field departed. He began to compose even before acquiring adequate training in theory. As a boy he traveled in the Caucasus; then stayed for a while at his father’s estate; at 20 he entered the Ministry of Communications in St. Petersburg; he remained in government employ until 1828; at the same time, he constantly improved his general education by reading; he had friends among the best Russian writers of the time, including the poets Zhukovsky and Pushkin. He also took singing lessons with an Italian teacher, Belloli. In 1830 he went to Italy; he continued irregular studies in Milan (where he spent most of his Italian years); he also visited Naples, Rome, and Venice. He met Donizetti and Bellini. He became enamored of Italian music, and his early vocal and instrumental compositions are thomughly Italian in melodic and harmonic structure. In 1833 he went to Berlin, where he took a course in counterpoint and general composition with Dehn; thus he was nearly 30 when he completed his theoretical education. In 1834 his father died, and Glinka went hack to Russia to take care of the family affairs. In 1835 he was married; the marriage was unhappy, and he soon became separated from his wife, finally divorcing her in 1846. The return to his native land led him to consider the composition of a truly national opera on a subject (suggested to him by Zhukovsky) depicting a historical episode in Russian history: the saving of the 1st czar of the Romanov dynasty by a simple peasant, Ivan Susanin. (The Italian composer Cavos wrote an opera on the same subject 20 years previously, and conducted it in St. Petersburg.) Glinka’s opera was produced in St. Petersburg on Dec. 9, 1836, under the title A Life for the Czar. The event was hailed by the literary and artistic circles of Russia as a milestone of Russian culture, and indeed the entire development of Russian national music received its decisive creative impulse from Clinka’s patriotic opera. It remained in the repertoire of Russian theaters until the Revolution made it unacceptable, but it was revived, under the original title, Ivan Susanin, on Feb. 27, 1939, in Moscow, without alterations in the music, but with the references to the czar eliminated from the libretto, the idea of saving the country being substituted for that of saving the czar. Glinka’s next opera, Ruslan and Ludmila, after Pushkins fairy tale, was produced in St. Petersburg on Dec. 9, 1842; this opera, too, became extremely popular in Russia. Glinka introduced into the score many elements of oriental music; I episode contains the earliest use of the whole-tone scale in an opera. Both operas retain the traditional Italian form, with arias, choruses, and orch. episodes clearly separated. In 1844 Glinka was in Paris, where he met Berlioz; he also traveled in Spain, where he collected folk songs; the fruits of his Spanish tour were 2 orch. works, Iota Aragonesa and Night in Madrid. On his way back to Russia, he stayed in Warsaw for 3 years; the remaining years of his life he spent in St. Petersburg, Paris, and Berlin.
Works: STAGE: Operas: A Life for the Czar (1st perf. as Ivan Susan in, St. Petersburg, Dec. 9, 1836); Ruslan and Ludmila (St. Petersburg, Dec. 9,1842); sketches for 3 unfinished operas; Chao-Kang, ballet (1828-31); incidental music for Kukolnik’s tragedy Prince Kholmsky (1840) and for the play The Moldavian Gypsy (1836). ORCH.: Andante Cantabile and Rondo; Larghetto; 2 overtures; Sym in B-flat; Trumpet March (1828); Overture-Symphony on Russian Themes (1834; completed in 1938 by V.1. Shebalin); Valse (1839); Polonaise (1839); ValseFan taisie (1839); Capriccio brillante on the Iota Aragonesa (1845; afterward renamed Spanish Overture No. 1); Summer Night in Madrid: Spanish Overture No. 2 (1848); Kamarinskaya (1848); symphonic poem on Gogol’s Torus Bulba (unfinished; part of 1st movement only, 1852); Festival Polonaise on a bolero melody (1855). CHAMBER: Septet in F-flat (1824); 2 string quartets (1824, 1830); Trio pathetique (1827); 2 serenades (1832); Sonata for Piano and Viola (1825-28); about 40 piano numbers (5 valses, 7 mazurkas, nocturnes, etc.); much vocal music, including choral works, quartets, duets, arias, and about 85 songs with piano accompaniment, many set to poems by Pushkin and Zhukovsky.