Classical Music in Russia

Updated: Feb 28

Russian classical music

One of the fastest developing places of Western music was in Russia during the 19th Century.

Previously it wasn’t allowed due to the Orthodox Church dissuading Secular music. By the time Peter I had reigned, Western composers and musicians had been frequently invited to the new westernised city of Saint Petersburg to spread the influence of music- most popularly Italian Opera across the aristocracy at the time.

The problem with this was although they were unfamiliar with the European standard rules of composition (they had travelled to Italy for training); they were virtually unaware of any russian composers.

Russian composers

The first major Russian composer to merge traditional Russian music with western secular was Glinka, writing early Russian opera such as Ivan Susanin. Folk Music especially in the Romantic period became a powerful basis for many compositions in Europe especially as it displayed a National identity. That previously of Hungarian composers including Liszt who took the Csardas and Czech composer Dvorak who had borrowed his own classic folk styles.

Glinka’s musical successor Balakirev was actually an amateur musician who had no formal training. Glinka on the other hand was much more knowledgeable yet Balakirev still took the lead role in establishing a ‘Mighty Five’ including professionals from different areas such as lawyer and chemist who happened to play instruments.

Composers (and some of their famous works): Mussorgsky (Pictures of an Exhibition), Borodin (Prince Igor, String Quartet on A), Cui (Orientale for violin), and Rimsky-Korsakov (Scheherazade). Balakirev would soon compose his Islamey for piano, which became recognisably one of the most demanding works written for the instrument.

Adapting to a more original Russian Style that was influenced by areas of French and Italian styles, new composers such as Ravel from France became influenced by Scheherazade which helped to pave the way for the nicknamed ‘Impressionistic’ style.

Russian Music Society

Around the time pianists Anton and Nikolay Rubenstein had established the Russian Music Society which had rivalled the Mighty Five. The Five became more nationalistic as the RMS more conservative. The two most famous exports of the RMS were Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov who were more linked to the Romantic era.

Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khachaturian

Towards the 20th century composers Scriabin, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich became the major composers leading music into much more Avant Garde style moving as far away from European traditions after the Russian Revolution. Under Stalin’s regime the level of experimentation was heavily controlled as Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Khachaturian became pressured to writing within strict confinement. All in all within only a matter of decades has music rapidly caught up to 400 years of tradition.

Rachmaninov Prelude Op 23 No 6 by Juan Rezzuto, Recorded by WKMT

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© 2012 by Juan J. Rezzuto. All the tracks, scores and articles you can find in here are copyright.