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Mikhail Glinka who wrote an opera that wasn’t so "ba Czar"

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  Articles > Mikhail Glinka who wrote an opera that wasn’t so "ba Czar"
M.I.Glinka in a picture by I.E.Repin
M.I.Glinka in a picture by I.E.Repin
      Many musicologists suggest that Russian Nationalism started out with a composer by the name of Mikhail Glinka (1804 – 1857). It is said that the 5 act opera A Life for the Czar was the starting point and thrust behind this new movement. This opera was written in the year 1836. A Life With A Czar brought forth a “patriotic story of a heroic Russian peasant who saves the tsar’s life at the cost of his own.” An important feature during this opera was Glinka’s use of recitative and use of full and colorful orchestrations. This opera was an instant success. It was such a success that the Tsar himself gave a ring to him worth 4000 rubles and made him the Imperial Chapel Choir Director.

Sketch of the opera
Sketch of the opera "Ruslan and Lyudmila" by B.Bilinksy
      Glinka also wrote another opera Ruslan and Lyudmila, that wasn’t as successful as his first opera. This opera was based on a fairy-tale that Pushkin – a Russian Nationalistic author, had written. Pushkin battled a duel – a sword fight, to his death in efforts to keep his wife. He never did finish the libretto. So Glinka had to hire others to finish it. There were 5 librettists in all for this opera including the last one who was very drunk, by the name of Konstantin Bakhturin who in less than 15 minutes finished the libretto of this opera which nearly made it fall apart. Another main reason why this opera was not as influential or slightly less significant as the opera A Life With Czar was because of its poor stage props that it incorporated. One such prop was a very large “talking head.” However, Glinka’s music prevailed and held it together. In the famous overture of this opera, he used a descending whole-tone scale. This scale represented the dwarf sized Chernomor in the abduction of the Prince of Kiev’s daughter Lyudmila. And it was the harmonies and elements that it incorporated such as the Russian folk songs and borrowed oriental sounds (which is a procedure known as exoticism) throughout this opera, that prove to save this artwork and influence several other composers from this moment on to the present.

      A reason for the inclusion of his folk-like melodies came from the influence of spending so much time with his grandmother. She basically brought him up and had him spend much of his youth in a small room, which was kept at 77 degrees. Both the grandmother and the maid sang Russian folk songs to him. Nationalism in Russia started out with Glinka but caught on, became a staple of Russian music 50 years later with the Russian Five. These composers consisted of Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikoaly Rimsksky-Korsakov, Mily Balakirev and Cesar Cui. It is possible to see the influence of Glinka through each of these five composers if one were to listen carefully.

The composer John Field
The composer John Field
      Tchaikovsky often said {as he told about Glinka’s success to music composing}, that “Glinka blossomed in his thirty-fourth year.” Up until this time {after the two operas} what he (Glinka) wrote was trivial and bland, and he wasn’t a super star on the violin or any instrument for that matter either. Much of his success was from when he entered a new Russian Conservatory called, Kamarinskaya as where most Russian composers of that time learned. He did take only three private lessons from an English pianist and composer by the name of John Field in St. Petersburg. After these 3 lessons he continued to take a few more lessons with Carl Meyer. These lessons emphasized composition.

Russian flag
Russian flag
      Mikhail Glinka’s ideas of taking sounds of other countries (exoticism) and incorporating in into his own pieces paid off. He also wrote the Spanish Overtures Jota Aragonesa in 1845 and the Night in Madrid, later on in1848. Many composers like Ravel, Tchaikovsky and Wagner were influenced by this concept of exoticism. If one were to really investigate Mikhail Glinka, one should listen to the group of art songs that he wrote towards the end of his life. One fun fact that should be mentioned in any Glinka article is that he wrote the Russian National Anthem, which was supposedly written for and won during a contest.

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