Mikhail Glinka

From Wind Repertory Project
Mikhail Glinka


Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1 June 1804, Novospasskoye, Russia – 15 February 1857, Berlin, Germany) was the first Russian composer to gain wide recognition within his own country, and is often regarded as the fountainhead 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.

The son of a retired military officer, Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka was raised by his grandmother in an atmosphere that was to give him such a delicate constitution that he suffered the effects of it throughout his life. He received his first musical instruction on the piano, with various teachers, but he received no formal training.

While he demonstrated considerable talent in his youth -- he could play piano, violin, viola, guitar, and flute -- his father, a retired army captain, discouraged a career in music. Glinka's teenage years were instead spent in a boarding school mostly studying languages, geography, and zoology, and at age twenty his career seemed destined to languish in obscurity as he accepted undemanding employment as an undersecretary in a Russian government office.

Four years later, however, Glinka became determined to pursue music composition in earnest. He sought the best training abroad, first in Berlin and then Milan, where he immersed himself in Italian opera. Only three years after his return to Russia following these studies, he premiered what would become the seminal work of the Russian school, his opera A Life for the Tsar (1834—36).

A Life for the Tsar was the first of Glinka's two great operas, and it was a great success at its premiere on 9 December 1836. 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 4,000 rubles.

In 1837, Glinka was installed as the instructor of the Imperial Chapel Choir, with a yearly salary of 25,000 rubles, 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 rubles from the Tsar.

He soon embarked on his second opera: Ruslan and Lyudmila. The plot, based on the tale by Alexander 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. 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 performed on 9 December 1842, it met with a cool reception, although it subsequently gained popularity. Glinka left Russia and traveled throughout Europe for the remainder of his short life. Although he died in Berlin, because of his musical legacy, his body was soon re-interred in Saint Petersburg, Russia

Glinka is remembered today for his operas, A Life for the Tsar", Russlan and Ludmilla, piano music, and many songs.

Works for Winds