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Mikhail Glinka: Overture to Russlan and Ludmila

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A discussion of noted Russian composer Mikhail Glinka's overture based on Pushkin's poem composed at the time of Pushkin's death.

Mikhail Glinka

The son of wealthy landowner, Mikhail Glinka attended school in St. Petersburg and later studied composition in Italy and Germany. Given that the Russian composers prior to him were either amateurs or strongly influenced by foreign schools, Glinka is regarded as the founder and father of Russian music. In his reliance upon Russian folksongs as a source of inspiration, he was the first to give Russian music a language of its own. Furthermore in his nationalistic approach to composition, he came to exert a profound and freely acknowledged influence upon Balakirev (1837-1910) and Tchaikovsky (1840-1893).

The fairy-tale poem Russlan and Ludmila established the twenty-one-year-old Pushkin's success virtually overnight. Pushkin was attracted by Glinka's project for an opera based on the poem, but he had hardly begun to arrange the libretto when he died as the result of a wound incurred in a duel. Glinka then employed no less than five librettists to complete the adaptation of Pushkin's already complete tale. The opera premiered on December 9, 1842, at the Bolshoi Theater in St. Petersburg.

Alexander Pushkin

The overture was written in clear classical form; its material is mainly drawn from the opera's final scenes. It begins with the full orchestra playing fortissimo chords to then introduce the main theme in D major played by violins, violas and flutes; after a brisk passage of woodwinds, the cellos violas and bassoons announce the secondary theme in F major, a graceful melody of folk-like character. Following a repeat of the orchestral fortissimo, a third theme taken from one of Russlan's arias then makes its appearance. Afterwards, all this thematic material is briefly developed; with the repeat of the exposition comes a rousing coda in which a whole-tone scale descending bass (employed in the opera as a motif for the villain) is prominent. Climactic brilliance and excitement mark the overture's final passages. Glinka's colorful orchestration and transparent texture firmly establish the Russian tradition which was to be followed by Rimsky-Korsakov and Prokofiev.

 

Monument to Mikhail Glinka the Theater Square, St. Petersburg

* Author's addendum:

* The cover image is Ilya Repin's 1887 portrait of Glinka.

* The audio file embedded above is an archival vinyl recording of Glinka's overture from 1963 by the USSR Bolshoi Theater Orchestra.  It is always nicely authentic to have a recording of ones countrymen performing a great composer's music, and this is played in true 19th-century Russian style.  Unfortunately, filming in 1963 and obtaining any video from Russia wasn't all that easy.   There are too many recordings of this to pick out a single one, but as always, I'd recommend a professional level Russian orchestra for purchase.  These are only examples.  Please support working artists by purchasing music and art legally.  Thank you.

7 comments

Ileen Zovluck
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Posted on Jul 13, 2011
Antony
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Posted on Jul 13, 2011
Ileen Zovluck
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Posted on Mar 6, 2011
M 5446
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Posted on Mar 6, 2011
Ileen Zovluck
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Posted on Mar 5, 2011
James R. Coffey
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Posted on Mar 5, 2011
Ron Siojo
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Posted on Mar 5, 2011

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Ileen Zovluck

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