Personalities | Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka | Early Romantic | Classical
(Mekh’-a-il E-va-no’-vich Glin’-ka) 1804–57
Known as the ‘father of Russian music’, Glinka was the initial force behind nineteenth-century Russian nationalism. He grew up in a cosseted environment, and his early exposure to music was confined largely to the folksongs sung by his nurse, the traits of which were later absorbed into his melodic style. After a couple of years in Italy, Glinka went to Berlin in 1833 to study with the distinguished teacher Siegfried Dehn, but the news of his father’s death in March 1834 sent him back to Russia. He then embarked on his two most celebrated works, the operas A Life for the Tsar (1834–36) and Ruslan i Lyudmila (‘Ruslan and Ludmilla’, 1837–42). These works demonstrate a fusion of Russian and Western styles, with the melodic and rhythmic shapes of Russian folksong permeating the music, which is nevertheless built on the Western tradition. In creating works that had a distinctive Russian flavour, he was a profound influence on Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev (1837–1910) and other members of ‘The Five’, as well as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–93), all of whom openly acknowledged their debt to Glinka.
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