Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka was a renowned Russian musical maestro who is revered as the father of Russian classical music and is hailed as the composer of first Russian Opera. His compositions influenced many musical composers, especially, a circle of composers called ‘The Five’ or ‘The Mighty Five’. Glinka got inspired from his uncle’s orchestra and started taking music lessons from some of the most famous musicians at that time. He travelled to many places in Europe and learned different genres of Music. However, later, he returned to Russia and pursued Russian music. Glinka’s compositions were popular throughout Russia and even across the borders. He received great appreciation in his country and his compositions are still played in many concertos. Glinka used many Russian historical stories and tunes in his composition which added to the popularity of his compositions. Read though this Biography and learn more about this great composer.
Mikhail Glinka was born to an army captain in 1804, in a village called Novospasskoye in Russia. He was born in a wealthy family with a strong tradition of loyalty and service to the Tsar. He was raised by his over-protective grandmother who always kept him inside her room, which was always kept at an optimum temperature of 25oC. This made Glinka vulnerable to health hazards. Glinka moved to his maternal uncle’s place after his grandmother’s death and thus, got exposed to his uncle’s orchestra, who ardently followed great musicians like Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. He was greatly influenced by the clarinet quintet played by the Finnish composer Bernhard Henrik Crusell. He received lessons in Russian, French, German, and geography along with piano and violin. He was sent to Saint Petersburg, the capital city of Russia and there was admitted to a school for children of the nobility. There also he got the opportunity to learn Latin, English, and Persian, mathematics and zoology, along with music. He learned music from many famous musicians like John Field, (Irish composer of nocturnes) and Charles Meyer. After schooling, in1824, he joined the Foreign office as assistant secretary of the Department of Public Highways. He practiced music while working there and composed many pieces during this period.
Glinka went to Italy in 1830 upon the recommendation of a physician. He reached Milan and met many famous musicians there. At Milan, Glinka took Music lessons at the conservatory with Francesco Basili. After spending three years in Italy, he returned to Russia and decided to concentrate on Russian music. On his way back to Russia from Italy, he travelled through Vienna and met Franz Liszt. He stayed for five months in Berlin and studied composition under Siegfried Dehn. He composed two important works during this time, ‘A Capriccio’ on Russian themes and an unfinished Symphony on two Russian themes. He returned to his home town Novospasskoye in 1834, upon receiving information regarding the death of his father.
Glinka met a beautiful and talented singer while at Berlin and got into a romantic relationship with her. However, he abandoned this relationship after some time and went to Saint Petersburg. While at Saint Petersburg, he met Maria Petrovna Ivanova. After a brief romance, they got married but the relationship did not last long as Maria had absolutely no interest in Music. After the dissolution of his marriage he went to live with his mother and later with his sister.
It was during this time that Glinka composed one of his great operas ‘A Life for the Tsar’. Composed originally in 1612, the opera depicts the story of the Russian peasant and patriotic hero Ivan Susanin. The work was named as Ivan Susanin but it was changed upon the suggestion of the Tsar, who showed great interest in this work. This work, premiered on 9th December 1836, under the direction of Catterino Cavos, became a great success. The Tsar rewarded Glinka with a ring worth 4000 rubles. Glinka joined the Imperial Chapel Choir in 1837. On Tsar’s advice, he went to Ukraine to find new singers for the choir and came back with 19 new singers. Soon after this, he started working on his second Opera ‘Ruslan and Lyudmila’, premiered on 9th of December 1842. Though his second opera achieve success instantaneously but, it gained popularity later.
Glinka went through utter disappointment when his work ‘Ruslan and Lyudmila’ received a cold reception. He then travelled to Paris and Spain and at Spain he met Don Pedro Fernandez, who then became his secretary and companion for the rest of his life. In Paris, famous musician Berlioz conducted some excerpts from Glinka’s operas. Impressed with his work, Berlioz wrote an appreciative article about Glinka. He visited Paris again in 1852 and spent two years there, leading a quiet life. He then moved to Berlin. Five months later he died on February 15, 1857 due to cold. He was buried in Berlin but later, his relics were taken to Saint Petersburg and reinterred in Alexander Nevsky Monastery cemetery.
- Glinka’s statue is erected near Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg.
- Mitrofan Petrovich Belyayev founded an annual award namely Glinka prize in 1884.
- Glinka’s works are popularly played in many concerts and recordings even outside Russia.
- A much lesser work that received some attention in the last decade was "The Patriotic Song", supposedly written for a contest for a national anthem in 1833. The music was adopted as the national anthem of Russia during 1990–2000.
- Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Chernykh named a minor planet 2205, discovered in 1973 as Glinka. A crater (depression) on the Mercury is also named after Glinka.
- There are three Russian conservatories named after Glinka – ‘Nizhny Novgorod State Conservatory’, ‘Novosibirsk State Conservatory’ and ‘Magnitogorsk State Conservatory’.