Formation of Russian musical identity: "Russian Five" and Tchaikovsky

In the 19 century, Russia saw the birth of its great composers. The most significant of them were the members of the Group of Five - Mily Balakirev, Cesar Cui, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Modest Mussorgsky, Alexander Borodin and, apart, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Five and Tchaikovsky were the tops of very different poles of musical thought, which represented different concepts regarding the future of Russian music.

These two schools are represented by "Nationalists" and "Academicians". The first supported the "Five", the second - Tchaikovsky. And although each side tried to challenge the positions of opponents, proving that only their methodology is correct, ironically these different poles of thought came to a compromise, which led to the formation of Russian musical identity. It is necessary to understand the historical context of this confrontation in order to assess its significance.

Formation of Russian musical identity

The emergence of Russia as a world political and cultural power fully began after the defeat of Napoleon. After the victory in the Patriotic War, Russia seriously began to work on its national identity, because before that Russian culture in many ways tried to imitate the West European trends.

At the end of the 18 century, the music that was performed in Russia was almost entirely written by Italian or German composers. Coupled with other manifestations of the erosion of Russian identity (the excessive use of French by the aristocracy etc), a cultural crisis broke out in Russia, resulting in a debate about the need to develop their own art that would be based on a unique "Russianness" rather than imitating European culture. Regarding the development of music in Russia, this conflict is illustrated by the creation of musical conservatories, as well as the appearance of composers who admired native musical motifs for Russia.

The origin of composers

"The Russian Five" (or, as the critic Stasov called them, “The Mighty Handful”), formed during the 1856-1862 period, when Mily Balakirev met Caesar Cui. Later they were joined by Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and then Alexander Borodin. The group saw its tasks in the creation and influence on the creation of music that would carry out the ideas of Russian culture. The five had a lot in common: they were all young, all were enthusiasts who had not received formal academic music education and everyone wanted to create a special Russian musical style. The name “Mighty Handful” was introduced by critic Vladimir Stasov, who visited the All-Russian concert organized by Balakirev in 1867: “There is a lot of poetry, feeling, talent and skill in a small, but already powerful handful of Russian musicians.” The group will subsequently enter into a bitter war with supporters of an academic approach for the ideas that determine the aesthetics of Russian classical music.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky He graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory. He earned his first life from orders from the rich patron of arts Hope von Meck. Then he worked in the newly created Moscow Conservatory. From the very beginning of his career, Tchaikovsky incorporated academicism into his music, which inevitably led to its too Western sound and criticism of nationalists. As he grows up, Tchaikovsky begins to include traditional Russian motifs in his compositions.

"Academicians" against "Nationalists"

The first Russian Conservatory of Music was founded in 1862 by composer and pianist Anton Rubinstein. Three years earlier, he created the "Russian Musical Society". The purpose of these institutions was to bring a formal musical education from Europe to Russia, which was done very well. A whole generation of Russian composers and musicians got an education there. One of the first graduates was Tchaikovsky. His “conservative” origin will then be the cause of conflicts with “musical nationalists” who want to cure the “imitative” birth trauma of Russian culture. The most influential group of composers who wanted to create a powerful Russian identity in music was the “Russian Five”.

It is noteworthy that both nationalists and academics saw themselves as the heirs of Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857), the first Russian composer, who managed to gain fame outside Russia. Glinka wrote the first internationally known Russian opera. Working in this genre, he proved that Russians are capable of reaching the level of great European composers, at the same time it was a powerful statement about Russian culture. The main question of the discussion of nationalists and academics was how to bring Russian music to the world level. Academics welcomed the fact that Glinka studied music in Germany and Italy, as well as the fact that his works were written under the strong influence of Rossini and Beethoven. Nationalists pointed to the introduction of Glinka in their works of the Russian language and Russian folk melodies.

Mikhail Glinka

Education and the disintegration of the five. Musical compromise

The founder of the five was Mili Balakirev. He organized meetings of composers, and actively promoted his ideas on how music should develop, to the members of the circle. Balakirev despised the conservatory and feared that their creation would lead to the destruction of the original Russian ideas in music. Very repulsive properties of his character eventually led to the disintegration of the group and, ironically, encouraged some members of the five to continue their education in the conservatory.

To date, the music of Cui and Borodin is mostly forgotten, the works of Balakirev are occasionally performed. But Rimsky-Korsakov and Musogrgsky are widely popular in modern Russia. They were the first to leave the Balakirev circle, and they were also the most susceptible to the ideas taught at the conservatory (Rimsky-Korsakov ended his career as a professor at the St. Petersburg Conservatory) They wrote their best works either at the time of the circle’s dissolution or independently. For their works they needed the experience and ideas of the conservatory. In general, in order to fully develop their art, the two main nationalist composers needed a conservatory.

Regardless of what happened after the breakdown of the Five, all members of the group continued to write music with a characteristic Russian sound. They also put forward new ideas for Russian music and reworked existing approaches. Below are typical ideas and techniques used by the "Russian Five"

- Use all tones.
Initially, this brought into practice Glinka, and Rimsky-Korsakov began to use massively. This gives the effect of a "dreamy" sound.

- The use of octatonic scale. Rimsky-Korsakov first used this scale in his musical poem "Sadko"(Sadko) Rimsky-Korsakov Introduction “Ocean - Sea Blue” 2: 31

- Execution of chords blocks. At that time, voice liner was used to change the sound. Mussorgsky began to ignore soft transitions and simply switched from chord to chord without introductory a capella. This idea will later be widely applied Stravinsky.

- The introduction of Russian folk motifs into the composition, as well as the use of oriental notes. This was used by all the members of the five.

- Use of a five-sound scale (there are five notes in them). They are associated with primitive folk sound elements. The same scale was used by the Five to include orientalist motifs in their music.

The Russian Five and Tchaikovsky

As Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov needed a conservatory in order to fully develop their compositions, Tchaikovsky needed the nationalists. In 1868, Tchaikovsky wrote the symphonic poem "Fatum", which he performed in Moscow. Wanting to expand his audience, he sent a poem to Balakirev for performance in St. Petersburg. In the capital, the work was cool, and from Balakirev he received a detailed letter, in which he listed all the defects that he found in the music of Tchaikovsky. However, there were some words of approval.

Tchaikovsky suddenly reacted to Balakirev’s criticism and correspondence ensued between them. In the end, Balakirev suggested that Tchaikovsky make another attempt to write a symphonic poem, choosing Romeo and Juliet as the object of the narrative. Tchaikovsky set to work, incorporating into it many of Balakirev’s ideas regarding changes in musical structure.

Obviously, this poem was not the embodiment of all the ideas of Balakirev, but he had a direct influence on its writing. The end result was the writing of Tchaikovsky's first widely accepted masterpiece. The fantasy overture of Romeo and Juliet is often performed to this day, and at that time it became the first composition by Tchaikovsky, which glorified him in Western Europe.

Working with the leader of the Five, Tchaikovsky raised his skills to a higher level. They were not very close, but the aesthetics of the Five made a serious contribution to the development of the style of Tchaikovsky and his future career.

Russian musical identity

Russian music was created by composers who followed in the footsteps of Glinka, and also adopted the art of Western composers. Despite the fact that the wars of the musical aesthetics of the 12th century had quarreled with many great Russian composers, the best music that they wrote was the result of borrowing and improving the ideas of their opponents.

Having such a soil, the next generation of Russians met20-th century of music with such quantities as Rachmaninov, Stravinsky and Prokofiev.


Anton Bennen

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