Regarded as the father of Russian music, Mikhail Glinka was
the first native composer to gain widespread recognition throughout his
country. Though later composers would gain much more recognition and popularity
for their works, Glinka was nevertheless instrumental in establishing a Russian
style of music that had a strong influence over the group of nationalistic composers
known as The Five.
Born in the villiage of Novospasskoye on June 1, 1804,
Glinka was the son of a wealthy retired army captain whose family had a loyal
tradition of service to the Tsar. He was raised, however, by his
over-protective grandmother and her constant coddling of him resulted in his
frail health in adulthood. Even more so, he was seldom let out of her room and
thus as a child experienced little music, save for the village church bells and
the folk songs of peasant choirs. Following his grandmother's death, Glinka
lived at his uncle's estate where he was able to experience the works of Haydn,
Mozart and Beethoven. He became increasingly interested in music and began
regular instruction on the piano and violin.
At the age of thirteen, he left his uncle's estate for St.
Petersburg to attend a school for children of the nobility. He continued his
piano lessons, which included three lessons with John Field, and began
composing. After finishing school, he took a post as an assistant secretary of
the Department of Public Highways. Glinka's workload was light and left him
ample time to compose and attend social gatherings throughout the city.
In 1830, Glinka travelled to Italy, accompanied by the tenor
Nikolay Ivanov, and settled in Milan. He took compositions lessons at the Milan
Conservatory and met both Mendelssohn and Berlioz. Though he spent three years
in Italy, absorbing its music and culture, Glinka eventually became
dissatisfied with the country and determined to return to Russia. His course
home took him first to Vienna where heard the music of Franz Liszt; then to
Berlin where he stayed for five months. His father's death in 1834, however,
hastened his departure from Berlin and he returned quickly to his hometown.
Two years later, in 1836, Glinka premiered his first opera, A Life for the Tsar. The Tsar himself
took a great interest in the opera and after its resounding success at its
premiere, rewarded the composer with an expensive ring. The next year, he was
appointed by the Tsar as the instructor of the Imperial Chapel Choir. Glinka's
second opera, Ruslan and Lyudmila,
followed quickly but suffered initially from a muddled plot. Disappointed with
its lackluster premiere in 1842, Glinka once again left Russia to travel
On this occasion, Glinka travelled to Paris and Spain, and
he even settled in the former for two years in 1852. After Paris, he moved to
Berlin in late 1856 where, five months later, he passed
away suddenly on February 15, 1857 after catching a cold.
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