The awakening of musical art has been remarkable in all parts of the civilized world, and in many countries not previously distinguished in music composers have arisen who have embodied the rhythms and spirit of the national songs in their works, composed dramatic works upon national subjects, and so have created à national school of music. In some cases the works of these men have proven of world-wide acceptance; in others they have set in operation musical life in their own country, and have been followed quickly by younger composers working in a more cosmopolitan vein, who have created works which have been taken into the current of the world’s music and bid fair to hold an honorable position in the pantheon.
One of the most brilliant cases of this kind is Russia, that country so vast, so powerful, so mysterious. The first composer in Russia to distinguish himself and to create a national opera was Michail Ivanovitch Glinka (1803-1877), born near Selna. His first schooling was at the Adelsinstitute in St. Petersburg, where’ he distinguished himself in languages. But presently, under the teaching of Bohme upon the violin and Carl Mayer in pianoforte and theory, he showed the musical stuff which was in him. Leaving Russia for his health, he resided four years in Italy, constantly studying and incessantly composing. On his way back to Russia he placed himself for a time under the teaching of the distinguished S. Dehn in Berlin, in theory. Dehn recognized his originality and encouraged him to write ” Russian” music. His first opera, “A Life for the Czar” (December 9, 1836), was a great triumph. The subject was national, the contrast between Polish and Russian subjects in the music was brilliant, and actual or simulated folk songs gave a local coloring highly grateful to the Russian audience. The work received innumerable repetitions and still remains one of the most popular operatic works upon the Russian stage. His next work, ” Ruslan and Ludmilla,” was also successful, and Liszt, who happened to be in, Russia at the moment of its production, accorded the young composer distinguished praise. Berlioz took up the pen in honor of Glinka and of his new Russian school of music, and so the composer’s powers were widely celebrated. During the remainder of his life Glinka made long residences in the south, especially in Spain, and several orchestral works, with Spanish coloring, represent this portion of his creative career. His last years were spent in rural life near St. Petersburgh, busy with new opera projects, and especially seeking some rational .manner of harmonizing the Russian popular songs. Riemann calls Glinka ” the Berlioz of Russia,” in the originality of his invention and his clever technique; and something more, namely, that he created a national school of music for his country. The list of his works is very long, em-bracing compositions in almost every province. There are two symphonies, both unfinished, several dances for orchestra, a number of chamber compositions of various combinations of instruments, a tarantella for orchestra, with song and dance (” La Kamarinskaia “), etc. His operas, however, are his lasting monument.
The next great name in the roll of Russian music is that of the pianist, Anton von Rubinstein (1830-1894), who was born at Wechwotynez, in Bessarabia. His father presently removed to Moscow, where he carried on a manufactory of lead pencils. The boy Anton showed such talent for music under the skillful and affectionate teaching of his mother, that at the age of ten he was brought before various musical authorities in Paris for opinions concerning his talent. His concert life began almost immediately from this period. His mother went with him, and wherever there were pauses of a few days the studies were resumed, exactly as had been the case with Mozart, long before. In 1848 he found a friend and appreciative companion in the Princess Helene, and then he wrote several operas upon Russian subjects, of which two were published Dimitri Donskoi ” and “Toms der Narr.” The success of these works was such that in 1854 the composer was given a subvention for further foreign study by the Princess Helene and Count Wielhorski, upon which followed four brilliant years of incessant activity as virtuoso pianist and composer, extending as far as London and Paris. Rubinstein had already lived some years in Berlin, where he was as well known as at home. Returning to Russia in 1859, he received important appointments as musical director, founded the St. Petersburg musical conservatory, of which he remained the director until 1867, when ensued a new series of concert journeys covering Europe, and in 18721873 extending to America, where he had a wonderful success, carrying back to Russia as proceeds of the American tour the at that time unprecedented sum of $54,000.
As pianist, Rubinstein was distinguished for his grand style, broad and noble mastery of the instrument, and his consummate sympathy and innate musical quality. He was a player of moods, at times playing like a god, at other times his work disfigured by many errors, but always interesting, commanding and noble. He played best the compositions of Beethoven and Schumann, their innate depth and intense musical expression appealing to his richly gifted musical nature irresistibly. His personality was commanding and attractive. Saint-Saens relates how Rubinstein played in Paris the concertos of Beethoven and of Rubinstein, while Saint-Saens conducted the orchestra. At the close of the concerts Rubinstein desired to give yet another in which he himself would direct the orchestra, while Saint-Saens should play. It was for this occasion that the Saint-Saens second concerto was written. In his later life Rubinstein lived like a prince in a beautiful estate near St. Petersburgh. The list of his works is something enormous. Of operas and dramatic works there are twelve, several of which, such as ” The Tower of Babel,” “Paradise Lost ” and “Moses,” are biblical operas, a type of dramatico mystical work created by Rubinstein. It contains the gravity and depth of oratorio combined with the intense realism of the stage. There are six symphonies, of which the famous and several times enlarged “Ocean ” symphony is perhaps best known, a “Heroic Fantasia ” for orchestra, three character pieces for orchestra, ” Faust,” ” Don Quixote” and ” Ivan “; three concert overtures, a quantity of chamber music, compositions for piano, songs, and the like. In everything of Rubinstein beautiful melodies are found; his weakness lies in the development, which occasionally is carried too far, and with insufficient vitality of thematic work.
Even greater than Rubinstein as composer was the brilliant Peter Iljitch Tschaikowsky (1840-1893). Tschaikowsky was intended for the profession of the law, in which he took his degree. But his love for music asserted itself, and after a short career as pupil in the St. Petersburgh conservatory, he was appointed teacher of harmony in that institution, and entered upon his career as composer. Here he remained but a short time, resigning in 1877, after which he lived by turns at St. Petersburgh, in Italy and in Switzerland. Tschaikowsky was of a lyric musical nature, and in his early life his taste was entirely for Italian music. This shows to a remarkable degree in all his earlier productions, even if he had not himself published the fact so often and unmistakably. In 1869 he produced his first Russian opera, “Der Woiwode ” which was followed by eight others, of which the best known are “Eugene Onegin” and “Makula, the Smith.” Several of these are now played throughout Europe. It was in his orchestral compositions, however, that Tschaikowsky most illustrated his unexampled powers. Besides a number of brilliant and highly sensational overtures, he composed six symphonies, of unexampled sonority, rich coloring and strange musical expression. The fifth symphony of Tschaikowsky met with almost universal recognition at the hands of the leading orchestral conductors of the world; and the last, the so-called “Tragic,” only deepened the impression of the composer’s powers. Several points are unusual. The themes themselves are original, forceful and lend themselves easily to elaboration. The harmonic treatment is highly original, as if the author had found, as Bülow said, “new harmonic paths.” The instrumentation is richly colored and the climaxes are of vast power and effect. The whole is a grandly composed tone poem which even if regarded as surpassing the proper reserve of symphonic form must nevertheless be counted as one of the most valuable enrichments of the world’s orchestral repertory. In several places in his works Tschaikowsky introduces peculiarities of Russian folk music, as for example in the movement in 54 measure in the fifth (E min.) symphony. Nevertheless, the works belong to the world’s music, being in no sense provincial, narrow or limited. AEsthetically considered, they illustrate the quick technique and over-mastering energy of the race to which the composer belonged.