Fragments from the opera “A Life for the Tsar. To the 220th birth anniversary of M. Glinka

Mikhail Glinka is a unique phenomenon in Russian music; it is so original that it overshadowed the previous musical era and its centuries-old traditions. "Music is my soul," said the future composer at the age of 10, and devoted his life to it, contrary to the popular opinion that the profession of musician is not worthy of a nobleman.

The composer did not like noisy music. "Pearls on velvet" – this was his aesthetic requirement for art. "I...came to an important conclusion for myself...to write in Russian", at the same time the composer appreciated European music, and his sensitive ear selected in it what was close to the peculiarities of the original Russian musical narration and naturally merged with it.

Mikhail Glinka wrote the first national Russian opera, “A Life for the Tsar”, became one of the founders of Russian romance and figured out how to combine different rhythms in one work.
"Elevated the folk tune to tragedy", – wrote Vladimir Odoyevsky about the music of “A Life for the Tsar”.

The composer's talent was praised by his contemporaries Vasily Zhukovsky and Alexander Pushkin.
The critic Vladimir Stasov wrote: "In many ways Glinka is as important in Russian music as Pushkin is in Russian poetry. Both are great talents <...>, both created a new Russian language – one in poetry, the other in music".

From variations to the first national opera: the story of “A Life for the Tsar” creation.
In the spring of 1826, Mikhail Glinka became fascinated by the poetry of Vasily Zhukovsky and wrote two romances to his poems. Glinka met the poet himself two years later: the composer was introduced to him by his friend Prince Golitsyn. At this period, the musician composed almost every day. He wrote romances, serenades, small pieces for piano, quartets for stringed instruments. In 1835, the composer attended Vasily Zhukovsky's evenings at the Winter Palace every week. The creative elite gathered at the poet's house; regulars included Alexander Pushkin, the critics Pyotr Pletnev and Pyotr Vyazemsky, and the writers Nikolai Gogol and Vladimir Odoyevsky.

At one of the evenings, Mikhail Glinka voiced the idea of writing a national Russian opera. Zhukovsky immediately proposed a plot – the story of the peasant Ivan Susanin, who led a Polish-Lithuanian detachment into the forest and thus saved the Tsar from death. The poet liked Glinka's idea so much that he himself wanted to write the lyrics and soon composed "Ah, not to me, to the poor stormy wind". However, career matters prevented him from completing what he had started – Zhukovsky asked his friend, Baron Georg von Rosen, to help the composer with the libretto for the opera.

"As if by magic, the plan for a whole opera was suddenly created, as well as the idea of contrasting Russian music with Polish music. Finally, many themes and even the details of the development, all of this at once flashed through my mind."
Mikhail Glinka, "Notes"

The composer wrote quickly: in the spring of 1835, the drafts of not only the first and second acts, but also most of the themes were ready. Baron Rosen wrote the poems to the music, taking into account its tempo and timing. At the beginning of 1836, the opera was completed. Rehearsals soon began – they wanted to open the new season of the St. Petersburg Bolshoi Theatre with this performance. Rumours about the first national opera quickly spread throughout the capital: open rehearsals were held with full halls. Nicholas I came to one of the previews. Mikhail Glinka decided to dedicate the opera to the Emperor and called it “A Life for the Tsar”. The premiere took place on December 9, 1836.

"Last night my wishes were finally fulfilled, and long hours of travail was crowned with the most resplendent success. The public received my opera with extraordinary enthusiasm, the actors were going wild with eagerness... the Emperor was pleased to call me into his box, took me by the hands, thanked me and talked to me for a long time. The Heir, Empress and Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna also honoured me with flattering reviews of my music."
Mikhail Glinka, letter to his mother dated December 10, 1836

Nicholas I liked the opera so much that he presented Mikhail Glinka with a gift: a topaz ring surrounded by three rows of diamonds. And the composer's friends, Alexander Pushkin, Pyotr Vyazemsky, Vasily Zhukovsky and Mikhail Vielgorsky, decided to congratulate the composer with a mock song "for four voices". Each composed a quatrain.

To mark the composer's 220th anniversary, we have prepared a musical compilation made up of the opera “A Life for the Tsar” fragments. The tracks have been digitised from music records stored in the museum Collection Repository.

The biography of M. Glinka is posted in the "Authors/Producers" section.

Аdapted from