February 25, 2017 7:30PM
Morrison High School Auditorium
Glinka: A Life for the Tsar Overture
Mikhail Glinka: A Life for the Tsar Overture
A nation creates music - the composer only arranges it.
- Mikhail Glinka
Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857) was the first Russian composer to win international recognition; he is the acknowledged founder of the Russian nationalist school.
Glinka was born into wealth, the son of a retired army officer who left young Mikhail to the care of his grandmother and the servants while he spent his retirement redesigning his estate. A sickly child, Mikhail was easily manipulated by his grandmother to be entirely dependent on her for his well being. When the grandmother died, Glinka, aged six, was sent to live with his uncle where the lad continued with his studies in a more agreeable atmosphere where he was allowed to flourish without restraint..
Glinka first became interested in music at age 10, when he heard his uncle’s private orchestra. So taken with the sounds of the orchestra, young Glinka insisted that he receive music instruction along with his usual academic subjects. He was particularly fond of the violin and the flute, instruments he eventually played in his uncle's orchestra. He attended the Chief Pedagogic Institute at St. Petersburg (1818–22) where, like most sons of the nobility, he studied to join the civil service; at the same time, he took piano lessons with the Irish pianist and composer John Field. Following his schooling, he worked for four years in the Ministry of Communication as the assistant secretary for Public Highways, a job so undemanding that Glinka lost immediate interest in a career in government employ. The job, however, did grant Glinka much free time, which he spent frequenting drawing rooms and socializing in the cultural circles of the city.
At this time Glinka started composing music; he focused on romances that entertained rich amateurs. As a dilettante he composed songs and a certain amount of chamber music. A sojourn of three years in Italy brought him under the sway of Italian composers Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti, whose operas were the rage of the continent at the time. Homesickness overtook him, however, an
To flesh out his fledging skills, Glinka removed himself to Berlin for six months, where he studied composition under the guidance of Siegfried Dehn. Here, he began his Sinfonia per l’orchestra sopra due motive russe (Symphony for Orchestra on Two Russian Motifs). Recalled to Russia by his father’s death, he married and began to compose the opera for which he is most famous, A Life for the Tsar, produced in 1836. During this period, Glinka composed some of his best songs, and in 1842 he composed his second opera, Ruslan and Lyudmila. The exotic subject and boldly original music of Ruslan won neither favor nor popular acclaim, although Franz Liszt was struck by the uniqueness of the music. The opera is seldom staged now, but the Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila has become a popular concert piece, for its dashing rhythms and colorful orchestration.
Disgruntled, with his marriage in ruins, Glinka left Russia in 1844 for Paris. There, he socialized with the French nobility and with composers at the fashionable salons of the city. He attended the music venues where he heard Hector Berlioz conduct selections form his two operas - the first such Russian music heard in the West. When Paris became boring, he went to Spain, where he stayed until May 1847, absorbing the folk music of the country from which he wove two works noted for their Spanish influences - Jota aragonesa (1845) and Summer Night in Madrid (1848).
The year 1848 saw the creation of his most conspicuous piece of music in which Peter Tchaikovsky said lay the core of the entire school of Russian symphonic music, "just as the whole oak is in the acorn." Kamarinskaya incorporates the soul of Russian music that influenced all the composers who followed him - Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Cui, Balakeriev, Tchaikovsky...
At the outbreak of the Crimean War, he was in Russia again, working on his Memoirs in which he gives a remarkably candid self-portrait - lazy, easy-going, and constantly worried about his health. His last notable composition was Festival Polonaise for Tsar Alexander II’s coronation ball (1855).
The Overture to A Life for the Tsar has been a concert staple from the moment it was introduced to audiences. During the Soviet era, bureaucrats saw fit to change the name of the opera, and thus the Overture, to downplay the tsarist sentiments, and focus on the humbler aspects of the work - A Life for the Tsar became Ivan Susanin, to honor the peasant hero of the music drama. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the original title has been restored.
Program notes© William H Driver and Clinton Symphony Orchestra