Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) was born on June 1, 1804 in the village of Novospasskoe in the Smolensk region. His father was a wealthy retired army captain, who owned a manor. His brother, Glinkaís uncle, visited Novospasskoe quite often, and young Mikhailís first musical experience was connected with the orchestra of serf musicians which his uncle was bringing with him.
At the age of 13 Mikhail Glinka was sent to St. Petersburg, to study at a privileged school for children of nobility. In St. Petersburg Mikhail also took music lessons and visited the theater very often, where he listened to operas of famous composers. In summer Glinka worked in his uncleís orchestra.
In 1820s Glinka wrote a lot of small musical plays, such as songs and romances. He became quite well-known in musical circles, and not only musical, for he communicated a lot with such writers and poets as Alexander Pushkin, Alexander Griboedov, Vasiliy Zhukovsky, Alexander Odoevsky, Adam Mitskevich and Anton Delvig.
In 1830 Mikhail Glinka went abroad and visited Italy, Germany, and Austria. He listened to the famous operas and had a lot of new wonderful impressions, which he used afterwards in creating his own works. The two major musical influences in his life were the folk music that he grew up with in the country and the operas of Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti whom he got acquainted with personally while in Italy.
It was in Italy that an idea came to him to compose a Russian opera. He started it in 1836 upon the return to Russia. This opera that is well-known all over the world now is called Ivan Susanin. But when first composed, the opera was called Life for the Tsar. The subject of the opera was taken from the Russian history. In 1613, after the period of ďtrouble timeĒ in Russia and choosing Mikhail Fedorovich, the first Romanov, to be a new tsar, the Polish intervention was not over, and the tsar had to flee to Kostroma to be rescued for the Russian throne. The Poles spied him out and knew approximately where he was hiding. They asked a Kostroma peasant Ivan Susanin to take them to the place where the tsar was which he claimed he knew. Ivan led the way and brought the Poles to the very wild of the wild forest where he announced to them that their way was over. The Poles killed Ivan, but they could not get out of the forest and all perished there.
The first performance of Life for the Tsar took place in November, 1836 and was an enormous success. For the first time a simple peasant became the main character of the opera. It was the celebration of the Russian patriotism in which the characteristics of Russian and Polish national music are vividly contrasted.
In 1842 Mikhail Glinka started to work on his second opera, Ruslan and Ludmila, based on a fairy tale poem by Alexander Pushkin. The first performance took place in November, 1842, exactly in 6 years after the premiere of Life for the Tsar. The new opera was a success, too, though it could not be compared to the success of the first opera. Glinka was quite upset with this fact and in 1844 he decided to take up another trip abroad, this time to France and Spain.
This trip increased the European popularity of Mikhail Glinka. His personal concert in Paris was a huge success. In Spain he studied the culture, customs and language of the people, gathered Spanish folk songs and melodies, observed local holidays and traditions. These impressions were summed up in two symphony overtures Ė Jota Aragonesa (1845) and Summer Night in Madrid (1848-1851). In 1848, having nostalgia for his faraway Russia, he also created a symphonic fantasy Kamarinskaya with Russian folk motifs.
In the spring of 1856 Glinka took up his last trip abroad Ė to Berlin. He was full of creative plans but his health was damaged by constant emotional strain. Glinkaís family received his last letter on January 15, 1857. He died on February, 15 in Berlin, following a cold, and later his relatives brought his remains back to Russia. Mikhail Glinka was buried at the cemetery of the Alexander Nevskiy Lavra.
Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) was born in Tikhvin, 200 km east of St. Petersburg, into an aristocratic family. His father was a Novgorodian Vice-Governor, and then Governor of Volyn. His mother was a well educated woman. Rimsky-Korsakov showed musical abilities early, and beginning at six had piano lessons from local teachers. However, at his familyís insistence he entered the Naval Academy in St. Petersburg in 1856, and graduated from it in April 1862.
In 1861 Rimsky-Korsakov met the composer Mili Balakirev and joined a group of young composers who later became known as The Five. This group, led by Balakirev, urged Russian composers to stress their national heritage in their music.
In 1862 Rimsky-Korsakov sailed on a three-year naval cruise, during which he visited the United States. He completed his first symphony aboard ship. After returning to St. Petersburg in 1865, he revised the symphony under Balakirevís supervision. It had its first performance that same year.
In 1871 Rimsky-Korsakov left the navy and joined the faculty of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. He realized that he knew almost no music theory, and so he taught himself counterpoint, harmony and music form. He became one of the worldís greatest music theorists. He was proficient as an orchestrator and set himself to smoothing out some of the apparent crudities in the work of some of his fellow-composers. He was respected as a teacher, his pupils including the young Stravinsky.
Of the fifteen operas completed by Rimsky-Korsakov, mention may be made of The Snow Maiden, The Maid of Pskov, The Tale of Tsar Saltan, Christmas Eve, The Golden Cockerel, Mlada, Sadko, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and others. Many of his operas are based on Russian history and folklore.
Of the various orchestral compositions of Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio Espagnol, the symphonic suite Scheherazade and Russian Easter Festival Overture are by far the best known. Rimsky-Korsakov also wrote songs and choral music, chamber music and works for piano.
Rimsky-Korsakov died in Lyubensk in 1908, and was interred in the Tikhvin Cemetery of Alexander Nevsky Laura in St. Petersburg.
Rimskiy-Korsakov Memorial Apartment Museum
Home of the great 19th century composer; chamber music concerts
Zagorodnyy pr., 28, flr. 3
Ticket office: We-Su 11-17:30; closed last Fr of the month; M. Vladimirskaya
Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was born on May 7, 1840 in Kamsko-Votkinsk, a small town in the Vyatka province of Russia to a mining engineer in the government-owned mines and the second of his three wives, Alexandra, a Russian woman of French ancestry. The family enjoyed music and listened to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gioachino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti played by a large musical box called orchestrion. Tchaikovskyís childhood piano teacher was Maria Palchikova, a freed serf, and within a year he was able to play better than she could.
In 1850 Tchaikovskyís father was appointed director of the St. Petersburg Technological Institute. In St. Petersburg the young Tchaikovsky obtained an excellent general education at the School of Jurisprudence and refined his piano skills under the guidance of the director of the music library. When Tchaikovskyís mother died of cholera in 1854, the 14-year-old composed a waltz for piano in her memory.
After graduation, Pyotr Tchaikovsky entered the Ministry of Justice in St. Petersburg as civil servant. He was not naturally suited to such a job but remained at the Ministry of Justice for four years, bored but dutiful. He continued playing the piano and going to concerts. He joined the Ministryís own choral group, and in 1861 began to study musical theory under Nikolay Zaremba, the Head of the Russian Musical Society.
The pianist and composer Anton Rubinstein, who became the first director of the new St. Petersburg Conservatory, was the first to see real signs of talent in Pyotr Tchaikovsky. When Tchaikovsky failed to get a promotion at the Ministry, he resigned and entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory at the age of 22. He supported himself by teaching music, learned to play organ and flute and joined the Conservatory orchestra. Tchaikovskyís first orchestral score, an overture based on Alexander Ostrovskyís melancholy play The Storm (1864), is remarkable in that it shows many of the stylistic features that would later be associated with his music.
In late 1865 Rubinsteinís brother Nikolay, director of the newly established Moscow Conservatory offered Tchaikovsky a post as professor of harmony. Tchaikovsky settled in Moscow in January 1866, although he underwent a mental crisis as a consequence of overwork on his Symphony No. 1 (Winter Dreams) (1866). His compositions of the late 1860s and early 1870s reveal a distinct affinity with the music of The Five group of composers, both in their treatment of folk songs and in their harmonies. He corresponded with the leader of the group Mily Balakirev, at whose suggestion he wrote a fantasy overture Romeo and Juliet (1869).
In the mid 1870s he had another nervous breakdown, the reason being his tremendous activity in composition culminating in the Symphony No. 4 (1877) and the opera Eugene Onegin (1877-1878), based on a poem by Alexander Pushkin.
Late in 1876 Pyotr Tchaikovsky had begun correspondence with an admirer of his compositions, the wealthy widow Nadezhda von Meck. She created an annuity sufficient to allow Tchaikovsky to devote himself entirely to composition. By her wish, the two never met. This relationship apparently fulfilled a deeply felt psychological need for both.
The period of his connection with von Meck was one of rich productivity for Tchaikovsky. To this time belong his operas The Maid of Orleans (1879), Mazeppa (1883), the ballet Swan Lake (1876), The Rococo Variations for Cello & Orchestra (1876), The Violin Concerto in D Major (1878), the orchestral works Marche Slave (1876), Francesca da Rimini (1876), the overture The Year 1812 (1880), Capriccio Italien (1880), Serenade for String Orchestra (1880), the fantasy overture Hamlet (1885), numerous romances and songs.
In 1885 the composer bought a house at Maydanovo, near Moscow, where he lived until the year before his death, when he moved into the house in the nearby town of Klin. He began to travel more in Russia and vacationed twice in the Caucasus. In 1888 he undertook an important and well received foreign tour, directing his own works in Leipzig, Hamburg, Berlin, Prague, Paris and London.
This tour was the apex of Tchaikovskyís later life. From then on, despite the continuing success of his compositions, including his second opera based on Alexander Pushkin poem The Queen of Spades (1890) and his favorite ballet The Sleeping Beauty (1889), he was working his way toward another nervous breakdown. His major compositions, starting with Symphony No. 5 (1888), became more and more intense and emotional.
Pyotr Tchaikovsky went on further tours, including to the United States and England, where he conducted his popular Piano Concerto No. 1 (composed 1874-1875) in 1889 and his Symphony No. 4 in 1893. In 1893 Cambridge University awarded him an honorary doctor of music degree. These and other successes, including the warm reception accorded to the suite he made for concert performance from his Nutcracker ballet music (1892), did not alter the decline in his mental condition, which was aggravated in 1890 when Nadezhda von Meck suddenly ended both their correspondence and the annuity.
In August, 1893 Tchaikovsky completed his Symphony No. 6 (Pathetique) which was his last and which he regarded as a masterpiece. On October 28 he conducted its first performance in St. Petersburg.
On November 6, 1893 Ė shortly after the premiere Ė Pyotr Tchaikovsky suddenly died of cholera. He was buried in the Alexander Nevskiy Lavra in St. Petersburg.
Sergey Rachmaninov (1873-1943) was born in Semyonovo, near Velikiy Novgorod. His parents owned several estates, his maternal grandfather Arkadiy having served as an army general and cadet school director. Both Rachmaninovís father Vasiliy and mother Lubov were amateur pianists, and it was Lubov who gave Sergey his earliest music lessons. Aware of their sonís talent, the Rachmaninovs hired St. Petersburg musician Anna Ornatskaya, from whom Sergey received personal instructions.
Sergey Rachmaninov was guided by Ornatskaya for three years, until the family home had to be sold to settle debts. The Rachmaninovs moved to St. Petersburg, where Sergey was granted a scholarship by the local conservatory. A diphtheria epidemic soon broke out in the city, killing his sister Sofia; his parents also separated, leaving their three remaining children in motherís custody. Not surprisingly, Sergey failed all of his general exams in the spring of 1885. His mother followed advice from faculty and moved her 12 year old son to the conservatory in Moscow, where he began studies with Nikolay Zverev. It was Zverevís work ethic that helped Rachmaninov to steady his musical career.
Besides piano lessons from Nikolay Zverev and Alexander Ziloti, Rachmaninov studied harmony under Anton Arensky and counterpoint under Sergey Taneev. Zverevís home was also frequented by Tchaikovsky and amongst Rachmaninovís classmates was Alexander Scriabin. Rachmaninov became a valued student, completing his piano studies one year earlier in 1891. To finish his composition course with Arensky in a single year, he wrote the one-act opera Aleko, which premiered at the Bolshoy Theater in 1893. Rachmaninov accepted the Moscow Conservatoryís Great Gold Medal, only the third person to receive that honor. Rachmaninovís conservatory works entered the repertoire almost immediately: besides Aleko, works such as his Piano Concerto No. 1 and Prelude in C-Sharp Minor for solo piano have become revered.
Sergey Rachmaninov was an active composer until March, 1897, when his Symphony No. 1 received a disastrous premiere and was trashed by critics. Rachmaninov fell into a deep depression. Unable to compose for nearly three years, the composer consulted Dr. Dahl, a pioneer Moscow hypnotherapist. Dr. Dahl succeeded in restoring Rachmaninovís self confidence, and the result was the most successful and much loved Piano Concerto No. 2, composed in 1900 and dedicated to Dr. Dahl. The piece was very well received at its premiere, at which Rachmaninov was soloist.
Rachmaninovís spirits were further bolstered when, after years of engagement, he was finally allowed to marry Natalia Satina. After several successful appearances as a conductor, Rachmaninov was offered a job as conductor at the Bolshoy Theater in 1904, although political reasons led to his resignation in March, 1906, after which he stayed in Italy until July. He spent the following three winters in Dresden, Germany, intensively composing, and returning to the family estate of Ivanovka every summer. His works during this time included the Fifteen Songs (1906) for voice and piano, Symphony No. 2 (1908), and Piano Sonata No. 1 (1908).
Sergey Rachmaninovís first performance tour of the United States came in 1909, for which he specifically wrote his Piano Concerto No. 3. This successful tour made him a popular figure in America. Nevertheless, he loathed the tour and declined offers of further American concerts.
The 1917 Revolution meant the end of Russia as the composer had known it. With this change followed the loss of his estate, his way of life, his livelihood and essentially the world. In December, 1917 he left St. Petersburg for Helsinki with his wife and two daughters on an open sled, having only a few notebooks with sketches of his own compositions. Sergey Rachmaninov was forced to start his career over as a concert pianist, dividing his time between Europe and America, where he composed and gave concert tours. Fortunately, his brilliance brought him fresh fame and success internationally. If anything, the long years in exile and the aching nostalgia he felt for his Russian homeland added a depth and strength to his music that made it more effective.
Sergey Rachmaninov remained in exile for the rest of his life. He died of melanoma at his home in Beverly Hills, California on March 28, 1943, just four days before his 70th birthday.