In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Complete Edition
  • Biographies
  • Glinka’s Creative Process
  • Glinka as Performer and Teacher
  • Reception
  • Collections of Essays

Music Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka
Albrecht Gaub
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0228


Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (b. 1804–d. 1857; first name also spelled Michail, Mihail, or Michel; patronymic Ivanovič, Ivanovitch, or Iwanowitsch) has long been known as the “father of Russian music,” although who coined this epithet is unclear. For the aristocracy of 1830s Russia, into which Glinka was born, musical composition was a pastime rather than an occupation. However, an extended stay in Italy (1830–1832) and an intensive five-month course in composition with the renowned Berlin teacher Siegfried Dehn on his return trip to Russia enabled Glinka to develop his technique to the extent that he was able to write an opera (A Life for the Tsar, 1836), that was immediately hailed as the cornerstone of a new tradition of Russian national music. Many view Glinka’s second opera, Ruslan and Lyudmila (1842), as his masterpiece, although its success on the stage has always been limited. A third seminal work is the orchestral fantasy Kamarinskaya (1848), comprising variations on two Russian folksongs. After 1850 Glinka practically stopped composing. As recent scholarship has emphasized, Glinka has always been a mythological rather than a historical presence in historiography. The desire to elevate the composer to iconic status was already evident in the press campaign surrounding the first production of A Life for the Tsar. After his death, influential writers such as Vladimir Stasov harnessed Glinka to the promotion of their own agendas. Glinka was declared a genius grown from the Russian soil, virtually independent from foreign traditions. Late Stalinist musicology of the 1950s, which left its mark in the West as well, added more falsifications, such as Glinka’s appropriation as a “Decembrist” revolutionary. Only after the collapse of the Soviet Union did this canonized image became subject to deconstruction. Glinka’s allegiance to tsarist autocracy and his debt to Italian models and traditions are now widely accepted. On the other hand, his Zapiski (Memoirs), written in his final years, and his meager epistolary legacy remain stumbling blocks for attempts to reevaluate his spiritual world. Boris Asaf’yev claimed that Glinka’s most important letters were evidently lost, and that the shallowness of his memoirs served to disguise his real views—because the canonized Soviet Glinka simply had to be a great thinker, and a “progressive” one in the Marxist sense of the word (see Asaf’yev 1947, under Biographies). Such claims, never supported with evidence, are now mostly discredited; current scholarship debates once again the apparent paradox between Glinka’s sophisticated music and his rather disappointing literary output.

General Overviews

Glinka is, and has always been, far less popular abroad than in his native country. Consequently, most of the relevant (and also most of the irrelevant) literature on him is in Russian. Among English-language histories of Russian music, Maes 2002 is most readily available; opinions on it vary widely, but Maes’s treatment of Glinka is less controversial than other aspects of his book. Frolova-Walker 2007, while one of the most important recent publications in the field, especially with respect to Glinka, is not a history in the usual sense, but rather an assembly of case studies. Asaf’yev 1953, the English translation of a Russian book originally published in 1930, retains its value, as it comes from a scholar whose erudition and knowledge of Russian music were supreme at the time; however, it lacks the additions and critical apparatus found in the 1968 Russian edition of the same book, and especially in the German edition of 1998—which from a scholarly point of view are clearly preferable. Redepenning 1994 is part of a discourse still under the late Soviet spell. Lobankova 2014 seems to mark a new departure in Glinka studies: the book mines, on a vast scale, studies from other disciplines (sociology, history, philosophy, and study of literature) hitherto neglected by musicology. Among the few general surveys trying to embed Russia in an international narrative, Taruskin 2005 takes first place, thanks to the author’s profound knowledge of Russian music.

  • Asaf’yev, Boris [Vladimirovich] (Igor Glebov). Russian Music from the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century. Translated by Alfred Swan. Ann Arbor, MI: American Council of Learned Societies, 1953.

    Russian original published in 1930; later Russian edition 1968 (with additions, also included in the German translation by Ernst Kuhn [Berlin: Ernst Kuhn, 1998]). Treatment of Glinka is quite critical and contrasts favorably with Asaf’yev’s later monograph (Asaf’yev 1947, under Biographies). Promotes Ruslan and Lyudmila as Glinka’s most significant work.

  • Frolova-Walker, Marina. Russian Music and Nationalism from Glinka to Stalin. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.

    Dismisses commonly held opinions about the inherent Russianness of Russian music as myths. The book’s defiant abstinence from theorizing has provoked criticism (see Lobankova 2014), but also acclaim (see Albrecht Gaub’s review in Die Musikforschung 63 [2010]: 199–203). The lack of interaction with contemporary scholarship that disagrees with the author’s constructivist stance (such as Gasparov 2005, under Ruslan and Lyudmila) is disappointing.

  • Keldïsh, Yury, Aleksey Kandinsky, and Ol’ga Levashova, eds. Istoriya russkoy muzïki v desyati tomakh. Vol. 5. Moscow: Muzïka, 1988.

    Volume 5 of a quasi-official 10-volume textbook on the history of Russian music issued between 1983 and 2012. The time of publication stretches the demise of the Soviet Union, and the later volumes mirror the resulting ideological changes. Chapters on composers qualify as independent essays, some of them the length of a monograph. Because of this, Ol’ga Levashova’s chapter on Glinka is referenced under Biographies.

  • Lobankova, Yekaterina Vladimirovna. Natsional’nïe mifï v russkoy muzïkal’noy kul’ture: Ot Glinki do Skryabina; Istoriko-sotsiologicheskiye ocherki. St. Petersburg: N. I. Novikov, 2014.

    An “answer” to Frolova-Walker 2007, sociologically informed. Explains Glinka’s historiographical presence as a product (myth) of his surroundings. Demonstrates how influential artists, philosophers, and journalists within the St. Petersburg aristocracy collaborated in the effort to canonize A Life for the Tsar, beginning their campaign during the work’s gestation.

  • Maes, Francis. A History of Russian Music: From Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar. Translated by Arnold Pomerans and Erica Pomerans. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

    Originally written in Dutch and published in 1996. Emphasizes the political context in which Russian nationalist music developed. Condemns rather than criticizes Soviet policies and publications. Thanks to the championing of Richard Taruskin, whose footsteps Maes follows closely, the book was translated and promoted as a standard work.

  • Redepenning, Dorothea. Geschichte der russischen und der sowjetischen Musik. Vol. 1. Laaber, Germany: Laaber-Verlag, 1994.

    A synoptic history written for a German audience. It heavily relies on Soviet sources and tries to reconcile Soviet scholarship with Western traditions, rather than attacking and dismissing it. Compared to the writings of Richard Taruskin (especially Taruskin 1997, under A Life for the Tsar/Ivan Susanin, and Taruskin 1997, under Orchestral Music) and his “school” (Maes 2002, Frolova-Walker 2007), the book is simply tame.

  • Taruskin, Richard. The Oxford History of Western Music. Vol. 3, The Nineteenth Century. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    Situates Glinka, his aesthetics, and his achievement (especially as a composer of operas) in a European context.

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