September 7, 2019

Gleaning Glinka

On her CD Touria, Tomoko plays a mazurka composed by Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka. Not as well known as other Russian composers, Glinka significantly influenced the famous Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, and later Tchaikovsky.

Mikhail Glinka was born in 1804 to a noble family who lived near Belarus. He grew up listening to local folk songs, church choirs, and serf orchestras. While at boarding school in St. Petersburg, Glink studied piano and violin, and he networked with orchestral musicians. Glinka entered civil service, but due to an illness, his doctor recommended spending time in Italy. That time extended to three years as Glinka became more acquainted with Italian opera and began composing operatic airs. From there he traveled to Berlin and Vienna, discovering his need to write in his own Russian musical vernacular. Thereafter, Glinka returned to Russia, where he was commissioned to write a Russian opera, which featured peasant folk song motifs. The opera’s success led to his appointment at the Court Chapel Choir, during which time he composed church music, a set of twelve songs, incidental music, and piano pieces. In 1842 he composed his second opera Ruslan and Lyudmila, which had a magical theme and tone that became an evocative mainstay up to Stravinsky’s Firebird. Later, Glinka would travel to Paris where he worked with Berlioz and then to Spain where he was influenced by that country’s folk music.  He continued to travel in Europe, dying in 1857.

Glinka’s musical legacy consists of laying the groundwork for Russian musical nationalism. He soaked up a variety of European techniques and assimilated them into a Russian idiom. 

Glinka’s “Mazurka in C minor” was influenced by Chopin, one of Tomoko’s favorite composers. This piece, written in 1843, is more refined and intimate than his earlier mazurkas, with its sinuous sensibility. His lifelong thread of songs and music for solo piano plays well to Tomoko’s own predilections.

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