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A study of the relationship between the political and social conditions in Russia from 1850 to 1910 and the music of the Russian "five"

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A Ikes is
Presented to
the Faculty of the School of Education
University of Southern California
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Science in Education
Harriet Pidduck
June 1940
UMI Number: EP53897
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Dissertation PtubiiaNng
UMI EP53897
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T h is thesis, w r it t e n u n d e r the d ir e c t io n o f the^
C h a ir m a n o f the ca n d id a te ’s G u id a n c e C o m m i t ­
tee a n d a p p r o v e d by a l l m em bers o f the C o m ­
m itte e , has been p resen ted to a n d accep ted by
the F a c u lt y o f the S c h o o l o f E d u c a t io n in p a r t i a l
f u l f i l l m e n t o f the re q u ire m e n ts f o r the degree o f
M a s t e r o f Science in E d u c a tio n .
M .9...................
Guidance Committee
M* M* Thompson
Wm. G-. Campbell
Ivan A. Lopatin
THE PROBLEM . . . ................................
Nature and scope of the problem
Importance of the problem • • . • .............
Review of the literature
• • • • . . . • • • •
Method of procedure • • • • • • • • • . • • • •
Organization of the report. •
Racial origins of the Russian people
• • • • • 10
Communal organization of early Russian tribes
Rise of social classes
Nobility and bourgeoisie • •
. . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .
Russia and the international scene
. . . . . .
Russian folk music • • • • • • • .
Alexander Dargomijsky
• • • • • •
. . . . . .
Michael Ivanovich G l i n k a ..............
• 11
Origin and development of serfdom • • • • • • •
Russian literature before 1850
. . .
. . . . . .
. 28
. 31
1850 to 1 9 1 0 ...................
Slavophils vs. W e s t e m i z e r s ...........
The Period of the Great Reforms (1855-1865)
• 40
Reaction after the Period of the Great Reforms •
MXLY B A L A K I R E F F ..................................
Birth and lineage • • • ..............
Early i n f l u e n c e s ..........
The formation of the F i v e ........ • • • • • •
Balakireff and Slavophilism
Musical Slavophilism vs. Musical Westernizers .
Balakireff !:s psychological crisis . . . • • • •
Later l i f e ........................
• • •57
Outstanding compositions......................
Cui as a military m a n ............... ..
Association with Balakireff
• • • •
. . . . . .
Journalistic contributions to the cause of
the F i v e .......................
Cui as a composer
.......................... 64
Heritage and early influences
. . . . . .
. • • • • • • • •
The influence of the Five on Moussorgsky • • • •
The emancipation of the s e r f s .....................71
Moussorgskyfs songs as an expression of Russian
peasant life • • • • ............................ 74
Moussorgsky as a man of the ‘s i x t i e s ............. 77
Moussorgsky as a disciple of Dargomijsky . . . .
“Boris Godunoff" and "Khowanstchina" as
social dramas • • • • • •
Moussorgsky *s later life
¥111. NICOLAI RIMSKY-KORSAKOFF.....................
Heritage and early i n f l u e n c e s ............ ..
Rimsky-Korsakoff1s introduction
Life as a naval officer • •
Early compositions • • •
to theFive .
• . .
First encounter with the censor •
Professor of composition • • • •
. . . . . . .
Inspector of Naval B a n d s ........... ..
Assistant Director of the Imperial
. . .
Chapel . . .
Creative activity from 1871-1893 ..............
Compositions from 1894-1904;...........
• * •
A hero of the revolutionary m o v e m e n t ........103
Compositions after 1905 .
Heritage and early influences • • • • • • • • •
Borodin*s association with the Five • • • • • •
Borodin as a nationalist
The folk basis of the music of the Five • .
The operas of the Five . . .
. •
.................. 120
Public recognition of the Five . . . • • . • •
S U M M A R Y ....................... ..
B I B L I O G R A P H Y ..........
. . . . .
i26 '
Art m a y b e defined as m a n 11s attempt to give ex­
pression, within the limitations of his chosen' medium, to
the ideas and emotions which seem real and significant to
What those ideas and emotions might be must necessar­
ily vary with the individual, and with the environment in
which he finds himself.
“Music should have
no other end and aim than the
of God and the recreation of the soul,”^ said Johann
Sebastian Bach, product of the Reformation, as he wrote
music which is considered by many to have reached the ulti­
mate in the expression of religious devotion.
“Music cannot help having a political basis. « . . .
It is no longer an end in itself, but a weapon in the
struggle,’1 states the contemporary Russian composer, Dmitri
Shostakovich, enthusiastic supporter of the Soviet regime.
The dissonant conflict which marks all his compositions
eloquent witness to the fact that he is attempting
1 Marion Bauer and Ethel R. Peyser, Music Through
the Ages (Hew York; G. P. Putnam11s Sons, 1932), p. 155.
^ David Ewen, “Dmitri Shostakovich.” Composers of
Today (Mew York; HE. W. Wilson Co., 1034), p. 248.
to express through his music his conceptions of the meaning
of the struggle.
It is a moot question as to whether music can convey
to the listener the ideas of a composer as he conceived
them, but there is no doubt that the ideas in the composer*©
mind as he writes determines to a large extent the product
which he brings *forth.
And as ideas are necessarily the
result, in part, of the various political, social, and econtaic forces that affect a m a n 13© life and give it meaning,
sincere art produced in a given generation, under a given
set of circumstances must necessarily differ from that
produced in a different period under varying conditions.
This point has bearing upon the teaching of music apprecia­
tion in schools.
With this conception of the forces affecting artis­
tic creation in mind, the writer has made a study of the
lives and works of a group of five Russian composers, whose
period of greatest activity occurred during the latter half
of the nineteenth century.
The names of these composers
are Mily Balakireff, Cesar Cui, Modeste Moussorgsky,, Micolai
Rimsky-Korsakoff, and Alexander Borodin.
Bound together by the common ideal of creating music
■that* should be truly Buss Ian in spirit and free from the
influence of Western European romanticism, the five men
came to be known to their countrymen as the “mogutchaia
Kutchka,“ which is variously translated as the “Invincible
Band,“ or the “Mighty Handful.*1^
Outside of Russia they
are generally known as the “Russian Five,11 or merely “The
Because of the fact that these men were, by their
own avowal, attempting to express the true spirit of Russia
in their music, it might be expected that the influence of
the political and social conditions affecting their lives
would be particularly evident in the music they produced*
With this thought in mind, the vjriter has made a
detailed study of the lives and compositions of these five
composers in an attempt to discover concrete evidences of
the way in which their artistic output was influenced by the
political and social conditions which existed in Russia
during their lives.
The problem is one suggested by the newer aspects
of the teaching of music appreciation.
During the course of the investigation, an attempt
was made to answer the following questions:
^ M. D* Calvocoressi and Gerald Abraham, Masters
of Russian Music (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926), p. 86
1. What were the most important historical events
that led up to and determined political and social conditions
prevailing in Bussia at the time of the formation of the
“Invincible Band11?
2. What political and social changes took place
during the life spans of these composers?
Were these changes
more favorable to the development of a national school of
music than those in any previous period?
3* What'had been the musical history of Russia before
the advent of the Five?
Did the conception of music as an
expression of Russian nationalism originate with the Five,
or were they influenced in their conceptions by predeces­
4# What were the tenets of the nationalistic creed
to which the Five adhered?
Did these principles develop
or change during the lives of the five composers?
If so,
what influences caused them to change?
-5. To what extent did the political and social ideals
of the Five produce uniformity of expression in their works,
and to what extent can individual differences by observed?
6. Is there evidence that the nationalism which the
Five attempted to express in their music had any effect on
nationalism in political and social thought?
Were the Five successful in their attempt to
create the artistic embodiment of Russian nationalism?
Too long have composers been considered by the aver­
age citizen to be peculiarly isolated and insulated geniuses,
oblivious to the political and social developments and up­
heavals that influence the ordinary person.
So much stress
has been laid upon the exceptional phases of their lives
and personalities that many people find difficulty in re­
garding them as human beings with normal reactions to their
Only when composers are seen in their right­
ful perspective as products of their age, and therefore
veracious interpreters of it, will the significance of music
as an aid to the understanding of an era be appreciated.
On the other hand, to the student whose appreciation
of music has been limited to the consideration of technique
and personal style of the composer, the study of the music
in relation to the era which produced it will enrich his
understanding of its peculiar characteristics.
This problem, then, is important as a small step
toward producing an integrated conception of the relation­
ship between music and life as a whole.
And this integration
is vital in the present day teaching of music appreciation
in schools.
Although the writer found no research reports direct­
ly related to the particular field being investigated, two
masters theses have been written concerning other musical
movements from the same philosophical point of view.
Marie Pihlblad has made a study of German, romantic
composers of the nineteenth century in relation to their
political and social backgrounds.
She points out that no
less than four groups of people had a definite influence on
the music of that period.
These were the composers them­
selves, their sympathetic audiences, the intellectual
leaders of the period, and the ruling monarchs of the time.
In an investigation of the cultural setting of the
works of Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Debussy, and Stravinsky,
Clarion Mode11 studied the life and works of each of these
composers as an integral part of the era in which they lived.^
^ Marie L. Pihlblad, A Study of the German Romantic
Composers of the nineteenth Century in Relation to Political
and Cultural Trends, As a Hew Technique in Teaching Music
Appreciation (Unpublished Master’s thesis, University of
Wouthern California, Los Angeles, California, 1938).
^ Clarion Mode11, The Cultural Setting of the Works
of Mozart. Beethoven. Wagner, Debussy, and Stravinsky as an
E lement in an Appreciative Study of Their Music (Unpublished
Master*s thesis, University of Southern California, Los
Angeles, California, 1938).
The present study is an attempt to present the music
of the Russian Five against their political and social back­
ground in a manner similar to that in which these two in­
vestigations have been presented.
In order to ascertain the historical background of
the period which was being considered, a> study of Russian
history from earliest times to the last half of the nine­
teenth century was made.
A similar, but more detailed study
was then made of the political and social movements in Russia
between 1850 and 1910, during which period all the major
compositions of the Five were written.
A survey of the musical history of Russia, followed
by a more intensive study of the
lives of the five musicians
with which this investigation is particularly concerned
then undertaken.
In so far as possible, autobiographies and
collections of letters were used as the most reliable sources
of information concerning the composers.
Likewise, biogra­
phies, autobiographies, and letters of the contemporary
musical rivals and friends of the Five were read for the
information concerning the Five which might be gathered from
English translations of the
texts of the songs and
operas of the Five were examined from the standpoint of
political and social views expressed.
In an effort to see
whether the Five ¥v<ere- really achieving a typically Russian
form of expression, the similarities between their music and
the natural, unstudied expression of the Russian people
were observed.
The same analysis was made for Russian
composers not belonging to the nationalistic school to ob­
tain a basis of comparison.
By thus approaching the subject from the historical,
biographical, and musical angles, the writer attempted to
form as fair and complete a picture as possible of the Rus­
sian Five against the background of their country and period.
Chapter II deals with the history of Russia prior
to 1850, with emphasis on the rise of the political and
social institutions and conditions which were of the greatest
influence in Russia after that period.
Chapter III presents a study of the musical develop­
ments during the same period, with the purpose of supplying
an understanding of the musical background from v/hich the
Five sprang.
Chapter IV is concerned with a survey of the political
and social developments during the lives of the Five.
Particular attention has been given to those developments
which were found to have a direct bearing upon the lives of
the composers being studied.
Chapters V to IX deal with accounts of the individual
careers of each of the Five.
In these chapters specific
examples of the influence of the political and social develop­
ments dismissed in Chapter IV are cited and studied.
Chapter X discusses the aims and activities of the
Five as a group rather than as individuals.
In discussing
its collective ideals, the writer has made a further attempt
to establish the relationship of the group to its political
and social environment.
Chapter XI presents a summary of the conclusions
drawn during the study.
A survey of the political and social developments in
Russia before 1850 is presented in this chapter.
For the
purpose of this investigation it is not necessary to go into
detail concerning the historical events which preceded the
era in which the Five lived.
Emphasis is placed on the ori­
gin of certain political and social institutions that'were
evolved during this early period in order to make a back­
ground for the appreciation of some of the developments which
took place in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
racial origins of the Russian people, the rise of the social
classes, and the development of the governmental system will
be discussed briefly from this standpoint.
As the liter­
ature of a country has particular influence upon the music
of its composers, supplying them with lyrics for their songs
and plots for their operas, a final section of this chapter
is devoted to the social aspects of the literary productions
of the period.
A brief exposition of Russians foreign re­
lations before 1850, insofar as they bear on the internal
developments in the country, closes the chapter.
Racial origins
of theRussian people.
The typical
modern Russian is theproduct of the blending of
diverse racial and national elements.
In his veins flows
the blood of the Slavs that invaded the Russian plains from
their home in the Carpathian mountains; of the Huns and
Tartars that made fierce inroads from the east; of the Finns,
Lithuanians and Scandinavians that descended from the north;
of the Turks and Greeks from Byzantium; together with various
lesser tribes whose members have been absorbed and amalgamated
into the Russian personality.
To be sure, the Russians are
usually spoken of as a Slavic people, but in studying the
political, social and artistic development of the nation, one
cannot ignore the other elements that are combined with the
pure Slavic strain to form the complex character of modern
Russia and its citizens.
Communal organization of the early Russian tribes.
As with the other primitive tribes in Europe, the first
Slavs to colonize Russia were governed by a sort of patri­
archal organization, whereby the eldest of the clan was its
These rulers of the various clans met in common
councils, called “vyeche," wherein they made decisions
affecting the tribe as a whole.
With the dissolution of the clan organization, the
vyeche became an assembly of householders of a given dis­
trict, not necessarily related by blood, as formerly.
"Communes,,f or ffmirs,u were established, a type of govern­
ment which existed in rural communities for many generations.
Under this system, the land occupied by a village was
considered to belong to the village as a whole.
uals were allotted temporary possession of parts of the
land in accordance with their working power..
This land
might be re-apportioned every few years by the vyeche.
With the establishment of a national government the
local organization was not materially changed, in many cases.
The commune merely paid into the imperial treasury, or to
the landlord, a fixed yearly sum, according to the number
of peasants it represented, and continued to allot the land
and collect tribute in whatever way it saw fit.
The value of the commune was recognized in the re­
form of the peasant laws in the nineteenth century, when
it was made the unit through which the peasants were given
a greater measure of self-government.
The commune is of
particular interest in this study because it was so ideal­
ized in the nineteenth century by the Slavophils, a philo­
sophical school of thought with which the members of the
Five were deeply in sympathy.
Rise of social classes.
tion within the village
The democratic organiza­
did not extend into the larger
of government,
^ W. R.
G. P. Putnam's
Morfill, The Story of Russia (Hew York:
Sons, lb97), p. 359.
2 See page
As time went on, the development
of pursuits other than primarily agricultural ones brought
about a differentiation of classes.
The result was inevi­
table conflict between the two classes.
With the rise of trade on the Black Sea, a merchant
class began to form, with interests somewhat different from
those of the agricultural peasants.
It was, of course,
necessary to protect the goods of the merchants in transit
and in storage against foreign marauders.
This need result­
ed in the formation of armed "druzhinas,11 or companies of
soldiers, for that purpose.
The nucleus of a third class
The invasion of the Varangians, or Vikings, from the
north resulted in the establishment of a more definitely
stratified society under the rule of the conquerors; and as
invasions from the Tartars, Poles, etc., continued, the
classes became even more sharply differentiated.
This dis­
tinction was largely due to the enslavement of captured
tribes by the conquerors, and to the growing importance of
military leaders who could supply necessary protection from
other marauding tribes to the agriculturalists.
Origin and development of serfdom.
Gradually a
feudal system, comparable to that established in Western
S. F. Platonov, A History of Russia (Hew York, Mac­
millan Co., 1929), p. 18,
Europe, began to develop.
Military men were awarded large
tracts of land by the conquerors of the various areas.
return for these gifts the military men guaranteed to supply
their benefactors with a certain number of soldiers in time
of need, and to pay a fixed amount of tribute annually.
The soldiers, it was expected, would be the peasants living
on the land which had been awarded to the military leader.
The tribute was ordinarily raised by a tax which the owner
levied upon the communes within his estate.
In order that the landholder might know exactly how
many men he could supply the ruler, a system of registering
peasants was evolved, and measures were taken to force the
peasantry to remain on the land on which they were regis­
Peasants thus forcibly restrained from migrating
were known as "bound peasantry."
The organization of the
communes was also favorable to the development of bound
peasantry, for in order to apportion the tribute levied
by the landlord equitably among its members, it was neces4
sary to have a comparatively stable population.
By the end of the sixteenth century serfdom had
definitely evolved as the basis of the Russian state.
Ibid., p. 119.
Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revo­
lution (Hew York: Simon and Schuster, 1922; p. b.
It is to Peter the Great (1682-1725), however, that
credit must be given for the final establishment of the
hierarchy of the social classes under the autocratic rule
or the Tsar, which existed virtually unchanged until the
time of the revolution of 1917#
In return for the support
given him in establishing his absolute rule as Tsar, Peter
the Great created a great many new members of the nobility
from the leaders of his army, thus raising the number of
titled families, or gentry, from 2,985 in the year 1700
to 100,000 in 1737.
With the granting of each title went
a gift of land, with an appropriate number of peasants in­
This arrangement of course, produced a new privi­
leged class, possessing most of the land in Russia, and
personally loyal to the ideals of the autocratic Tsar.
the same time the number of free peasants was reduced still
more, and practically all were brought under the yoke of
The census of 1783 reported that some 12,000,000
members of the male population were rural peasants; about
400.000 were burghers and merchants; and approximately
300.000 belonged to the tax-exempt privileged classes, con­
sisting of the nobles, clergy, and state officials.
Carlton J. H. Hayes, A Political and Cultural
History of Modern Europe (Hew Yorks Macmillan Co., 1924),
other words, 94.5 per cent of the population belonged to the
rural peasantry; 3.1 per cent carried on the trade in the
cities; and 2.4 per cent belonged to the privileged classes.
Of the peasant class, approximately .6 per cent were free­
holders and freedmen; 44.4 per cent were state peasants
(that is, paying direct tribute to the government), and
55 per cent were bound peasants belonging to private in7
In 1803, during the reign of Alexander I, a law was
passed which gave the landlords the right to free their
serfs, provide them with land, and make ,fFree Agricultural­
ists" out of them.
But this law had little effect.
than 50,000 peasants had been freed in this manner by the
end of Alexander I^s reign in 1825.
With the permission of Alexander's successor, Micholas
I, Count Kiselev, Minister of State Properties, improved
the lot of the state peasants by increasing their powers of
self government through the communes.
But the serfs on
private estates were practically untouched by social or
economic reform.
At the same time, the general economic and social
Alexander Kornilov, Modern Russian History (Hew
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1917) p. 25.
S S. F. Platonov, on. cit.. p. 314.
progress of Bussia was beginning to have the effect- of mak­
ing serfdom unprofitable for the landholders.
The large
feudal estates- with, their hundreds of dependents were be­
coming a burden to their owners, who began to question the
merits of an institution which had been outmoded in Western
Europe for many generations.
The problem of what to do with the serfs had become
uppermost in the minds of all thinking Russians by the close
of the first half of the nineteenth century.
The nobility and bourgeoisie.
The status of the
nobility and bourgeoisie had also undergone various changes
since its establishment.
It was to this group that the Five
When Peter the Great created his new gentry from the
military class he was careful to exact comparable service
in return, and granted very few privileges.
During the
reign of the Empress Elizabeth (1741-1761) the nobility
was made an exclusive aristocracy.
Regulations were made
that only nobles might own estates, and that only those
were noble who had noble lineage.
In 1785, during the rule of Catherine the Great, a
charter was given the nobles which exempted them from com­
pulsory state sergice, the payment of taxes, and army con­
A noble was recognized as having absolute right
of ownership over his land and all that was on it, including
the peasants*
He was exempt from corporal punishment, and
could he tried only in special courts for nobility*
At the
same time he was given an enlarged share in the administration
of the government*
During no other period in the history of
Russia were the power and privileges of the Russian nobility
so aggrandized as they were during the reign of Catherine
the Great#
In the reign of Catherine |!s successor, Paul, these
privileges ?/ere somewhat curtailed, but they were restored
with the accession of Alexander I in 1801*
During the reign of Alexander I (1801-1825) the
nobility became very much interested in the liberal intel­
lectual and political movements which were rife in France,
and began to lay plans, secretly, for the establishment of
a limited monarchy, or even a republic, by means of a revo­
The sudden death of Alexander in 1825, and the
following uncertainty as to whether Nicholas or Constantine
should ascend the throne, convinced some that it was time
to bring about this change. Thus the famous Decembrist
. ,
uprising took place* In this abortive revolution several
hundred of the nobles in the army appeared in the square
before the Senate house and refused to take the oath of
The name "Decembrist11 is derived from the fact
that the revolt took place on December 14, 1825.
allegiance to Nicholas I, who had finally been named as
Alexander I IJs successor.
With the aid of loyal troops the
uprising was soon put down.
As a result of trials of the
leaders that followed, five were executed, and more than a
hundred nobles were sent into exile and forced labor.
With the Decembrist uprising as an introduction to
the office of reigning monarch, Nicholas decided that the
nobility were politically unreliable, and supplanted their
dominance in the government v/ith a bureaucracy of officials
directly responsible to him, and largely recruited from the
As a result the nobles became hostile to the
reigning monarch, withdrew from public life, presented a
silent opposition to his measures of reform, and devoted
themselves to philosophical and literary pursuits as a
substitute for the political life they had once known.
This part of the Russian nobility came to be known
as the "intelligentsia," and their philosophical and liter­
ary activities are of particular interest in this study be­
cause they formed the roots of many of the ideas cherished
by the Five.
Russian literature before 1850.
In Prince Kropotkin's
book, in v-rhich he traces the development of Russian liter­
ature, he says:
The reason why literature exercises such an influence
in Russia is self-evident.
There is no open political
life, and with the exception of the few years at the
time of the abolition of serfdom, the Russian people
have never been called upon to take an active part in
the framing of their country*s institutions.
The con­
sequence has been that the best minds of the country
have chosen the poem, the novel, the satire, or liter­
ary criticism as the medium for expressing their aspi­
rations, their conceptions of national life, or their
It is not to blue-books, or to newspaper lead■ ers, but to its works of Art that one must go in Russia
in order to understand the political, economical, and
social ideals of the country— the aspirations of the
history-making portions of Russian society. H
So it is with particular care that the literary back­
ground from which the Five drew so freely has been examined.
Vladimir Stasoff, the man who was most closely asso­
ciated with the Five, and who suggested many of the plots
for their operas, was the author of a book called MThe
Origin of the Russian Byliny” (epic songs).
In this book
he pointed out that the epic folk tales of Russia are
largely traceable to Eastern tales of Persian and Arabian
It will be seen how freely the Five drew upon
this contribution from the Orient.
In addition to the Oriental influence there are the
folk tales and folk songs of the Scandinavian invaders and
other tribes, changed and re-cast into a typically Russian
Mould as the years progressed.
The folk influence persisted
Prince Kropotkin, Ideals and Realities in Russian
Literature (Rev/ York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1915)
Ibid., p.10
in Russia long after the Western European countries had
become more sophisticated in their literature, and in the
nineteenth century bards could still be found in the remote
Russian villages, re-telling the tales that had come down
to them through countless generations#
The first Russian writer to establish a national
literary tradition was Pushkin (1799-1837).
He occupies
somewhat the same position of respect and authority in
Russian literature as Shakespeare does in the history of
English literature.
Born into an aristocratic family in
1800, the first literature with which he came in contact
were the folk tales of his old nurse and his grandmother,
and these stories he later put into such beautiful literary
form that he completely vanquished the critics who at
first maintained that Russian folk tales had no possibil­
ities for the artist.
As a young man Pushkin came in contact with the
liberal thinkers of his day and was constantly under sus­
picion of the Russian bureaucracy.
Several times he was
exiled to remote villages to minimize the danger of his
writings, and he probably owed his life to the fact that
he was currently under supervision at his small estate at
Mikhailovskoye at the time of the Decembrist revolt,—
else he would probably have been one of those doomed to a
life of exile in Siberia.
Killed in a duel at the age of thirty-seven, Pushkin
nevertheless left certain definite traces on Russian litera­
ture that determined its future progress.
He did away with
the theatrical and pompous style of writing that had hereto­
fore been the fashion, couching his thoughts in an elegant
but straightforward style.
In his prose writings he was a
profound realist, which realism became characteristic of
later Russian literary productions, and he struck the note
of humanitarianism which was also to become the keynote of
Russian literature.
"The devil," he cried, "has caused me
to be born in this country with a talent and a heart.*1^
The poet Lermontoff (1815-1843) occupies a place
in Russian literature second only to that of Pushkin.
Pushkin he spent various periods of his life in exile, due
to his too outspoken criticism of the existing regime, and
was killed at the early age of twenty-six in a duel.
suimning up his influence on Russian literature, Kropotkin
Lermontoff was, above all, a humanist,— a deeply
humanitarian poet. . . . . Lermontoff deeply loved
Russia: not the crushing military power of a father­
land which is so dear to the so-called patriots . . . .
What he loved in Russia was its country life, its plains,
Milivoy S. Stanoyevich, Editor, Slavonic Nations
Yesterday and Today (New York: H. W. Wilson Co., 1925),
the life of its peasants. He was inspired at the same
time vd-th a deep love towards the natives of the
Caucasus, ?/ho were waging their bitter fight against
the Russians for their liberty* 3A
A third great Russian literary figure was Gogol
A native of the Ukraine, he eventually became
a member of Pushkin1s circle in St. Petersburg.
Gogol wrot&
of Russian rural life in a manner that has never been sur­
He it was v/ho introduced the social element into
Russian literature and first attempted social criticism
based upon the analysis of the conditions v/ithin Russia itself.15
The works of these three writers formed part of the
literary background of the members of the Russian Five, as,
indeed, they did of all the intelligentsia of that period.
Rimsky-Korsakoff, while deploring his lack of reading
in his youth, says, M0f literary artists I had read all of
Pushkin, Lermontoff and Gogol while at school, but had not
gone beyond that.M Moussorgsky once wrote, "Glinka and
Dargomyjsky, Pushkin and Lermontoff, Gogol and Gogols .and
again Gogol (there f;s no one to balance him) •11
Prince Kropotkin, op. cit..
p. 56.
Ibid., p. 85
Nicolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakoff, My Musical
Life (Hew York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1924), p.33.
M. D. Calvocoressi and Gerald Abraham, Masters
of Russian Music (Hew York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936), p.. 227.
Thus it is evident that a literature of distinctly
Russian characteristics had been established in the first
half of the nineteenth century on which the Five could draw
for inspiration in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Russia and the international scene.
The position of
Russia in international politics will be surveyed only brief­
ly here, and purely from the standpoint of the effect it had
upon the internal situation in Russia.
Until the time of Peter the Great (1682-1725) Russia
had been very much occupied with internal affairs, and had
practically disregarded Western Europe.
Peter the Great,
however, was deeply interested in Western Europe, especially
after his travels there in 1697.
Discovering that the
Russians were extremely backward in a great many fields, he
determined to remedy the situation at once.
He insisted
upon the adoption of European dress, took measures to en­
courage the growth of manufacturing and cities, and ordered
translations of European books made.
In the matter of (
government he seemed to see no need for aping the west, how­
ever, and took no steps toward modifying his autocratic
form of government to conform with the growing trend toward
constitutional monarchies in Western Europe.
Through various
wars Peter the Great enlarged the Russian territory, gain­
ing a "window to the west" in the provinces of Estonia and
Finland on the Baltic.
His most eminent successor, the German-born Catherine
the Great, pushed farther his territorial conquests and con­
tinued his insistence on .the adoption of western culture
in Russia.
She participated in the heartless dismemberment
of Poland, in co-operation with Frederick the Great of
Prussia and Maria Theresa of Austria, thus obtaining valu­
able new territory.
Through a war with Turkey she wrested
from that country lands around the Blac3$: Sea, including the
Herself a student of the French Philosophers Vol­
taire and Montesquieu., she promoted the study of Russian
history and philosophy, and largely as a result of her en­
couragement there was a flowering of literature in Russia.
-As in the case of Peter the Great, not once did she enter­
tain the idea of forsaking her despotic form of government,
but she cherished the ambition to be regarded as an "en­
lightened despot,*1 as were her contemporaries, Frederick II
of Prussia and Joseph II of Austria.
Perhaps the most stimulating foreign contact came at
the time of the Napoleonic Wars, When Alexander I was reign­
Whereas Russia had originally been friendly toward
France, the ruthless policy of Napoleon in Central Europe
turned Russian sentiment against him and his country.
antagonism eventually culminated in a definite break, and
in 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia.
The story of his steady
advance into the country and the equally consistent retreat
of the Russian army before him; his arrival at Moscow; the
burning of the city on the night of his arrival; and the
miserable-retreat from Russia of the remnants of his army,
has assumed legendary proportions not only in Russia, but
throughout the world.
It has been said that the flames of
Moscow set on fire the patriotism of the Russian people,
and instilled in them a love for and a pride in their country
which they had totally lacked heretofore.
At the same time the foreign campaigns that followed
in. Western Europe in 1813 and 1814 against Napoleon had a
powerful effect on the intellectual development of the
Russian nobles who took part in them.
Whereas before, the
Russians had seldom traveled beyond their own borders, their
military campaigns showed them new lands, and introduced
them to new ways of thinking,— lands and thoughts of which
they had been totally ignorant.
As Platonov puts it, "they
returned home with boxes crammed with books, heads full of
ideas, and hearts aching over the shortcomings and backwardness of their own country."
In fact, the intelligentsia,
with which the Five can be classed, may be regarded as re­
ceiving their strongest impetus as a result of this con­
tact with Western culture.
Russia, a nation of an exceedingly diverse
18 S. F. Platonov, pp. eft., p. 334.
racial background, had developed into a rigidly stratified
society under the rule of an autocratic tsar by 1850.
ty-five per cent of the population were peasants, with no
rights as citizens whatsoever.
Less than three per cent
belonged to the privileged classes.
Feudalistic relation­
ships existed between peasants and landlords, with the
latter having almost unlimited power over the serfs on their
The village commune was the only organization in
which the peasant had any political voice whatsoever.
During the reign of various tsars the influence of
the nobles in the government was alternately increased and
diminished, according to the strength or political con­
victions of the reigning monarch.
Smoldering dissatisfaction with the government on the
part of both nobles and peasantry was fanned by contact with
Western European democratic sentiments.
One of the most
important of these contacts was brought about by the
Napoleonic Wars.
The tsar, at first sympathetic to these
liberal movements, eventually became fearful of the power
of the people and even more autocratic in his rule.
democratic movements were driven underground, except for
their manifestations in the literature and art of the period.
In the following chapter a survey of the musical de­
velopments of this historical period will be presented.
This chapter presents a study of the musical history
of Russia before the advent of the Five*
The origin and
characteristics of Russian folk music are analyzed, followed
by a study of the influence of the introduction of foreign
musical elements into Russia*
The chapter closes with a
presentation of the contributions of Glinka and Dargomijsky,
the two most important artistic fore-runners of the Five.
Russian folk music*
Before the nineteenth century
virtually the only indigenous music that existed in Russia
was the folk song and the music of the Orthodox Church*
While Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, and scores of lesser
composers were making tremendous strides in the advancement
of art music in Western Europe, Russia remained practically
untouched by these developments*
In view of her history, such a state is easily under­
It will be remembered that Russia was almost
oblivious to western influences until the time of Peter the
Harassed by internal strife, both peasantry and
nobility were too much occupied with problems of wresting
a living from the soil, and protecting themselves against
marauding invaders, to think much about the development
of music as a fine art.
In an unsophisticated populace, however, such as the
peasantry of Russia, the meaningful experiences of the lives
of the people are transformed into songs which they sing at
work and at play.
These songs become as much a part of them
as the clothes they wear, and the food they eat.
In this
music of the people are expressed all the Joys, sorrows,
and fears of their every day lives.
With the spread of edu­
cation there seems to come a corresponding diminution of
spontaneity and natural creativeness.
The populace becomes
self-conscious and inexpressive, and the work of artistic
creation is confined to a select few.
Thus the mere fact of Russia*s having remained un­
affected by the cultural strides of the west resulted in
the preservation of her folkv/ays, and caused her to enter
the nineteenth century with a living wealth of folk music
which was destined greatly to affect the music of her
artistically educated composers when they finally appeared.
What were the characteristics of this Russian folk
As might be expected, because of Russia's close
association with the East, there is a strong Oriental cast
to much of it,— a tendency toward the use of half and quar­
ter tones, with many interpolations of passing tones.
the same time the influence of the Greek Orthodox church is
noticeable in the frequent use of the old modal scales that
originated in ancient Greece, and which were transmitted
through the medium of the Church ritual to Russia.
rhythm of the Russian folk song is based on the rhythm of
the language, resulting in unconventional divisions of time,
such as 5/4, 7/4, and 11/4 measures.
Intensity of feeling
is another characteristic of Russian music.
When it is sad,
it is enveloped in a cloak of gloom through which it seems
no ray of happiness could pass; when joyful, it is fairly
intoxicating in its wild abandon.
As the members of the Five were all ardent admirers
and assiduous collectors of the folk songs of their country,
it is to be expected that the characteristics of Russian
folk music would make their way into the works of these
Foreign musical influences.
With Peter the Great’s
attempts to westernize his country came the inevitable in­
troduction of the music of western Europe into Russia.
1735, during the reign of Queen Anne, an Italian opera com­
pany, under the direction of Francesco Arayo, was engaged
for performances at the Imperial Court, and in succeeding
years a vogue for Italian opera set the style for the
tastes of the Russian nobility.
Musically gifted students
were sent to Italy for study, and returned to Russia thor­
oughly imbued with the Italian ideals of the florid style
of writing.
Catherine the Great encouraged the composition
of operas written in the Russian tongue and using Russian
plots, and even wrote some librettos herself.
But, except
for the occasional interpolation of a Russian folk song, the
music was all based unmistakably on Italian, not Russian
musical foundations.
During the reign of Alexander I, Italian influence
was somewhat superseded by the French.
As was the case in
the early development of art music in both England and the
United States, the introduction of highly-trained foreign
musicians caused the people to be rather ashamed of the music
produced by their unlettered masses, and made them strive
after a slavish imitation of these foreign masters.
Thus, at the opening of the nineteenth century, we
find the Russian nobility confining their secular musical
experiences almost wholly to performances of Italian and
French operas, or imitations of them by Russian composers.
Concurrently the "un-Westernized" peasantry continued sing­
ing the songs of toil and love and joy which had been evolv­
ing since the dim centuries of Russia's past.
Michael Ivanovich Glinka.
The man who laid the foun­
dation for the Russian national school, which reached its
peak in the works of the Five, was Michael Ivanovich Glinka
Rosa Newmarch calls him the "first inspired
M. Montagu-Nathan, A Short History of Russian Music
(London: William Reeves, 1918) p.5,
interpreter of Russian nationality in music.**
Glinka was a typical member of the society hB -repre­
The son of a retired army officer, he received a
conventional education, conceived a dilettantefs interest
in music, secured employment in a government department,
which he later abandoned as his interest in music grew.
trip to Western Europe afforded him musical training in
Italy and Germany, and, at the same time, gave him an oppor­
tunity to view his native Russia in a perspective which had
heretofore been denied him.
He became dissatisfied with
his attempts to compose music in the Italian style.
wrote in his memoirs, "Homesickness gradually led me to
the idea of writing in Russian."
Aflame with the idea of writing truly Russian music,
he returned to St. Petersburg, there to become a member of
one of the intellectual circles that were so prevalent in
those days.
The circle which he joined numbered among its
members the greatest literary men of the day, among them
Pushkin and Gogol.
In Glinka*s ideas these writers saw
the musical exemplification of their literary and political
Rosa Newmarch, The Russian Opera (New York: E. P.
Dutton and Co., 1905). p. 164.
^M. D. Calvocoressi and Gerald Abraham. Masters of
Russian Music (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936;. p. 101.
4See page 21.
They encouraged him in his nationalistic ambition,
and before long he had produced the opera, "A Life for the
Tsar.*11 This was the first significant opera in which an
attempt was made to break away from the Italian tradition
and to express Russian ideals in a Russian idiom*
The plot,
which tells of a loyal peasant *s sacrifice of his own life
for that of the Tsar, naturally received the approbation
of Nicholas X, the reigning monarch of the time,
was given a magnificent diamond and topaz ring as a token
of the Tsa r rs approval, and, in addition, was appointed
Director of the Imperial Chapel, one of the most important
musical posts in the country*
Thus the cause of nationalism
in music was launched in the glow of official sanction,
though the music critics, schooled in the Italian tradition,
sneered at "A Life for the Isar,f as being "musique des
coshers,11 or coachmen's music*
In this phrase they were
doubtless referring both to his use of actual folk-songs
in the various scenes, and the strong folk flavor of the
original music*
But Glinka ,?s music had apparently achieved
his avowed object of making his fellow-countrymen "feel at
home” when they heard it, for his opera achieved tremendous
success with the public.
A later opera, "Russian and Ludmilla," based on a
more fantastic plot, diverged even farther from the Italian
style, and introduced for the first time the Oriental
element that was to become so strong a characteristic of
much of the music of the Five#
In summing up Glinka^s influence on Russian music,
Mbntagu-Mathan says:
The life work of Glinka is the outcome of a yearning
to endow his fatherland with a musical treasury that
it could really call its own. • . . » The tradition
founded by Glinka is not simply a tradition ordaining
the use of folk-tunes and native subjects in Russian
It is that of putting the very Soul of Russia
into her music.
If Glinka did not himself ^.achieve as
much as this, it is he who showed the way.'-'
A few years before Glinka died he was introduced to
the young Balakireff, who was later to become the leader of
the Five.
In Balakireff, Glinka recognized one whose views
more closely resembled his own than did the view© of any
other musician of the younger generation.
Glinka often
that he counted on Balakireff to continue the Russian tra­
dition which he had begun.
He was not disappointed.
Alexander Dargcomilskv.
In the history of the devel­
opment of Russian music before the Five, one other composer
stood out from the others, as one whose works were based on
a strong nationalistic spirit.
That composer was Alexander
I)argomij sky (1813-1869} •
Remembered particularly for two operas, "The Roussalka," and f,The Stone Guest," DargomijskyfIs principal
K. Kontagu-ffathan, Glinka (London: Constable and
Co., Ltd., 1916), p. 72.
contribution "to the cause ofJ Russian music was the develop­
ment of a distinctive type of recitative, in which he en­
deavored to make every nuance reflect the meaning of the
In one of his letters he made the statement, f,I. want
the note to be the direct equivalent of the ¥/ord.
X want
truth and realism."
Dargomijsky was considerably in advance of his time,
as was evidenced by the cold reception of his works, and
now his music is no longer played.
Thus his greatest in­
fluence is felt indirectly through the works of the Five,
with whom he was in close association during the writing of
"The Stone Guest," and by whom he was regarded with the
greatest respect.
A particularly striking exemplification
of his principles is found in the works of Modeste
Russian nationalistic musical expression
is rooted in the songs of the peasantry and the music of the
Greek Orthodox Church.
Because of Russia"s isolation,
Russian music preserved its national characteristics long
after the folk music of Western Europe had taken on more
cosmopolitan characteristics.
Peter the Great's introduction of Western culture
Rosa Hewmarch, op. cit.. p. 129.
caused the Russian composers of the eighteenth century to
ape the Italian and French styles of music and neglect
their own Russian musical ‘background.
Glinka was the first to utilize the rich possibil­
ities of Russian music in his opera, ,fA Life for the Tsar.M
Dargomijsky, also departing from foreign models, introduced
the recitative style of writing, in which the music followed
the inflection of the words, rather than the traditional
florid style of the Italians.
Both Dargomijsky and Glinka
had direct personal influence on the Five.
A study of the political and social developments that
took place during the lives of the Five is presented in this
No attempt has been made to give a complete chron­
ological account of all happenings, but phases of certain
epochs have been selected for study because of their signif­
icance in the lives of various members of the Five.
First, an exposition of the tenets of the two philo­
sophical trends of thought represented by the "Slavophils"
and the Westerners" is presented.
It is followed by a
study of the Period of the Great Reforms, which name has
been given to the decade between 1855 and 1865.
The third
section of the chapter is devoted to an account of the
governmental reaction which set in after the Period of the
Great Reforms, culminating in serious revolts against
governmental authority.
Slavophils vs. Westernizers.
As was noted in Chapter
Two, the nobility enjoyed repeated extensions of power until,
at the accession of Nicholas I to the throne, these powers
were abruptly curtailed as a result of the Decembrist
It was pointed out that, although deprived of
actual powers, the nobles were nevertheless maintaining their
interest in political and social affairs.
Repressive meas­
ures had merely driven their activities underground.
intelligentsia formed "circles” which met for the purpose
of discussing in friendly conversation the artistic, polit>ical, and philosophical trends of the day.
The writings
which were used as a basis of discussion were those of
Western European authors, which had first been introduced
as a result of Russia's participation in the Napoleonic
wars •
By the year I860' there had come to be evident two
opposing trends of thought.
The proponents of one were
known as "Slavophils,"— the others as "Westernizers."
The Westernizers believed that only since the intro­
duction of Western European ways into Russia, i. e., since
the reign of Peter the Great, had Russia become a civilized
They urged the necessity of Russia's uniting with
the nations of the West in producing a truly international
Deploring the .centuries of stagnation in Russia
before Peter the GreatBs reforms, they devoted their energies
to the further "Europeanization" of Russia.
Their philo­
sophy exalted Western materialism and rationalism as the
necessary basis for the Russian state.^
The Slavophils, on the other hand, based their
^ S. F. Platonov, History of Russia (Hew York:
MacMillan Co., 1929), p . 359•
philosophy on that of the German mystics, expecially that
of Hegel.
They exalted intuition and instinct as opposed
to materialism and rationalism as guiding principles.
Interpreting Hegel "s maxim, "All reality is reasonable,"
to mean that all existing institutions are justified, they
initiated a cult for the glorification of all things Rus­
sian, in opposition to the reforms that were being intro­
duced through the impact of Western culture on Russian
They held that every nation had its. own individual
life, based on a "national spirit."
When one had once
discovered the essence of this spirit, one could evolve a
guiding■principle for the future development of the nation.
Searching through Russian history for evidences of this
national spirit, they believed they had found it in three
separate institutions,— the absolutism of the Tsar, the
Greek Orthodox Church, and the principles of the patriarchal
They maintained that, whereas in the West people
lived by rationalism and personal freedom, the Russians lived
by faith and community interest.
The peasant mir, or commune
was held up as an example of the functioning of this
^ Bernard Pares, A History of Russia C Mew York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 193.7), p. 334.
^ Prince Kropotkin, Ideals and Realities in Russian
(Hew York: Alfred A. Knopf^ 1915), p. 268.
principle of community interest.*^
The Slavophils attributed the current political and
social evils to the introduction of Western culture by Peter
the Great, and maintained that only through a return to the
old institutions of early Russia would the nation fulfil
its destiny.
As Pokrovsky observes,
They went into raptures over the traditional Russian,
dress and about the fact that the Russian peasants let
their beards grow. Everything, in a word, was admirable,
except the autocracy of Nicholas X, and some of them
extended their admiration to include even that.1^
"Whatever their differences in principles, the West­
ernizers and the Slavophils were agreed on some points.
Both condemned unequivocally the miserable conditions of
the serfs and the distrustful attitude of the government
toward the public.
Both suffered from the police and censor,
who looked askance at these half-secret organizations.
Balakireff, the leader of the Five, was an ardent
Slavophil, and through him the artistic consequences of
Slavophilism were made most evident.
The Period of the Great Reforms (1855-2865).
death of Micholas I and the succession of Alexander II to
the throne in 1855 ushered in the "Period of the Great
^ See page 11.
^ M. H. Pokrovsky, A Brief History of Russia (Hew
York: International Publishers, 1933}, p. 175.
Reforms.11 Alexander was considerably more liberal than his
father had been, and at once began to devote himself to
the problem of domestic reforms.
Xn conversation with some
nobles he once made the remark that it would be, “better to
abolish serfdom from above than wait till it abolishes, it­
self from below.**6
Accordingly he called for the help of
the nobles in accomplishing the task of emancipating the
They responded with tremendous enthusiasm, Slavo­
phils and Westerners alike, forgetting their philosophical
differences for the nonce.
The problems of emancipation were many.
peasants be freed with or without land?
be paid to their former masters?
Should the
Should compensation
These and other questions
caused much discussion, but by 1861 the details were ’
w orked
out sufficiently so that Alexander II was able to issue a
manifesto putting an end to the institution of serfdom.
During this period enthusiasm for, and idealization
of, the peasant reached almost hysterical proportions.
peasant,!s sufferings, his innate nobility of spirit, and
the injustice of his lot were topics on everyonev& tongue.
Me became a symbol of suffering humanity, rather than an
individual with ordinary virtues and faults.
He was a
rallying point around which all humanitarians gathered.
6 S. F. Platonov, op. cit^_, p. 368.
The so-called “Narodnichestvo11 school in Russian
literature and politics arose, deriving its name from the
Russian word “narod,“ which means,
“people.11 The Narodniks
were impressed with the idea that the intelligentsia were
enabled to enjoy the benefits of culture only at the expense
of the peasants.
This conception brought about the problem
of paying back to the peasants the debt which the intelli­
gentsia owed to them.
be accomplished varied.
Theories as to how that purpose should
It was advocated that the educated
go into the villages and instruct the peasants in ways that
would make their lives easier.
Other plans involved inciting
the peasants to a revolt against the authorities and the
destruction of the state by means of a violent revolution.
The phrase, “Go to the people,” became the motto of the period.
The ideas and idealism of this epoch of Russian
history are most faithfully reflected in the works of Modeste
Reaction after the Period of the Great Reforms.
hot only had the lot of the peasants been improved during
the first part of the reign of Alexander II, but new laws
enlarging the privileges of self-government for all classes
had followed.
In the place of the old class tribunals a
judiciary system was created in which all classes were
supposed to be equal before the law.
Educational oppor—
tunities had been enlarged, and greater freedom had been
granted to the press.
It seemed for awhile as though all
that the reformers had hoped for was being accomplished*
But gradually the wave of enthusiasm was replaced
by a feeling of disillusionment.
It was discovered that
the emancipation of the serfs did not solve all social
problems, but, in many cases, produced even more compli­
cated ones.
The small nobility were financially ruined,
forced to sell their estates, and move to the cities.
the same time many of the peasants, divested of their tra­
ditional homes, formed a new stratum of discontented, dis­
illusioned society*
Alexander II, sensing the unrest and dissatisfac­
tion, was yet.unwilling to abandon the autocracy in favor
of the constitutional monarchy or republic which the popu­
lace was demanding as a new remedy for all evils.
In 1866,
when an attempt was made upon his life by one of the gentry,
the advocates of conservatism used the event to convince
Alexander II that he had given the nobles more freedom than
was good for them*.
Repressive measures were taken.
The teachings of
the schools and universities were restricted to an almost
wholly classical program, to prevent the spreading of dan­
gerous social doctrines, and the freedom of the press was
greatly curtailed.
Thus once again the liberal movements
were driven underground, and despair and disillusionment
followed "the period of elation and optimism.
In 1881 Alexander II was assassinated, and was suc­
ceeded by his son, Alexander III.
Hot a literal by nature,
the violent death of his father was enough to convince
Alexander III, once and for all, that a liberal government
led only to licence and destruction.
Therefore, during his
reign he devoted himself to strengthening the autocracy and
suppressing all revolutionary movements.
It was a period
of reaction in government, while doctrines of social reform
were surreptitiously circulated more and more widely among
the people.
The Tsar, aware of these movements, made par­
ticularly sevemrestrictions on the schools and the press.
Student clubs were forbidden, children of the lower classes
were excluded from the secondary schools.
A n attempt was
made to transfer the primary schools from the control of
the comparatively democratic municipal governments to the
Orthodox Church, which was thoroughly impregnated with ab­
solutist doctrines.
However, the priests were so ignorant,
so evidently incapable of carrying on educational activities,
and the people were so indignant at the proposed changes
that they were never put m
In the meantime, Russia was being transformed from
an agricultural country to one with large industrial
^ Bernard Pares, op» cit., p. 396.
Many of "the peasants who had seen liberated in
1861 had found occupation in mines and manufactories, with
the result that industrial centers were springing up in the
With the industrialization of Russia came the
birth of a new factory class, with attendant problems of
housing, working hours, etc.
The doctrines of Marx were
circulated among the. factory workers, and soon organizations
sprang up among them to further their interests according
to principles which Marx had laid down.
Strikes for shorter
hours and better working conditions were conducted with some
In 1894 the death of Alexander III brought his son
Nicholas II to the throne.
Although there was no change
in the repressive policy of the government, it was soon
evident that Nicholas II lacked a great deal of the force
of chara.cter and will power which his father had possessed.
The government was confided more and more to reactionary
ministers, with the result that the revolutionaries worked
with even greater zeal for the overthrow of the government.
The waging of the unpopular and unsuccessful RussoJapanese War in 1905 led to student riots in the universities,
and general strikes in industry, which paralyzed the govern­
The tsar made insincere promises for greater represen­
tation of the people in the government henceforward.
This study is not concerned with the ultimate results
of this dissatisfaction*— the revolution of 1917* and the .
establishment of the Bolshevik regime.
The last important
work of the Five was finished in 1908, at which time the
political disturbances were growing ever more distressing*
but had not yet resulted in the full-fledged proletarian
The music of Rimsky-Korsakoff, which was written
during this period gives unmistakable evidence of the rebel­
lious sentiments that were flaring up as a result of the
reactionary measures that were taken after the Period of
the Great Reforms.
The cult of Slavophilism, which exalted
all things Russian, as opposed to all things of Western
European origin, caused the creative thinkers and artists
of the day to examine anew the heritage of
and traditions.
si an customs
For the first time Russian life was con-'
sidered seriously as source material for a distinctly nation­
al contribution to civilization.
The Period of the Great
Reforms, which may b e :.traced in its origin partly to the
philosophical tenets of Slavophilism, focussed the attention
of the intelligentsia on the peasant.
This centering brought
about the idealization of the peasant in the minds of many
members of the upper classes.
The reactionary measures that
were later imposed on those who were working for the level­
ling of classes and a democratization of the Tsarist
autocracy failed to stamp out liberal sentiments.
trialization of Russia, with the resultant establishment of
a labouring class, brought about the beginning of a prole­
tarian revolution.
In the ensuing five chapters studies of the lives of
each of the Five, will be presented.
Specific evidences of
the political trends cited in this chapter will be pointed
out and the effect on the individual composers will be shown.
Mily Balakireff was the teacher of the other members
of the Five, and the one who first inspired them with the
ideals of Russian musical nationalism.
For ten years he
acted as their philosophical leader and their musical' cribic.
Therefore a study of the influences that played upon
his life and personality is of great importance in this
inv estigati on.
Birth and lineage.
Balakireff was born on December
twenty-first, 1836, in the ancient town of Hijni-Hovgorod.
His father belonged to the class of small land-owning gentry,
and held a minor government position.
The Balakireffs
traced their ancestry back to one Andrei Balakireff, who
had received a grant of land from the Grand Duke of Moscow
in 1613 for services rendered.
Thus it can be seen that
Mily Balakireff came from a family steeped in the traditions
of the Russian gentry, and firmly rooted in Russian soil.
Early influences.
Having shown at an early age a
definite disposition toward music, he was given piano lessons
by the best teachers available in the vicinity.
One of them,
Karl Eiserich, was conductor of a small orchestra maintained
in the country home of Alexander Oulibisheff, a biographer
of Mozart,.
Through Eiserich 's influence Balakireff was
soon engaged by Oulibisheff as assistant conductor and
pianist for the orchestra.
At the age of sixteen Balakireff
succeeded his teacher as chief conductor.
As there were
no books on the theory of music available in Russia at the
time, Balakireff received all of his training for composi­
tion through practical experience with the music which the
orchestra played.
This practice of using "live examples"
for study, instead of texts on theory, was one which
Balakireff later used with his pupils, including* the mem-
bers of the Five.
At the same time, during his employment
by Oulibisheff, he was surrounded by the music of the peas­
ants on the estate, with the result that he necessarily
became thoroughly imbued with the spirit and style of the
Russian folk music.
In 1855, when Balakireff was eighteen, Oulibisheff
took hiim to St. Petersburg, where he made his debut as a
pianist and composer.
Possessed of a charming personality,
and enjoying the distinction of being a protege" of the
influential Oulibisheff, he found no difficulty in being
introduced to the musical and social circles of St. Peters-
^ M. D. Calvocoressi and Gerald Abraham, Masters of
Russian Music (Hew York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936;, p. 101.
^ Rosa Kewmarch, "Balakireff.11 Grove1s Dictionary of
Music and Musicians. 3d edition, I, 199.
Pupils presented themselves to him, and he became
quite firmly established as a power to be reckoned with in
the musical life of the city.
The formation of the Five.
Cesar Cui, one year
Balakireffrs senior, was the first of the Five to become
Balakireff's pupil, in 1866.
Modeste:Moussorgsky followed
in 1857, with Rimsky-Korsakoff and Borodin joining the
group in 1861 and 1862, respectively.
It was only natural
that, in conformity with the tendency of the day for form­
ing circles, these talented young men should band together
under their teacher for discussion of music and mutual
criticism of each other's works.
There is no doubt that Balakireff was the predomina­
ting influence in the g;roup during the flsixties.
Korsakoff, the youngest of the Five, gives us a vivid pic­
ture of Balakireff's personality at the time.
He describes
him thus:
Young, writh marvellously alert fiery eyes, with a
handsome beard,— unhesitating, authoritative and straight­
forward in speech; ready at any moment for beautiful
piano improvisation, remembering every music bar familiar
to him, instantly learning by heart the compositions
played for him, he was bound to exercise that spell as
none else could. Though valuing the slightest proof of
talent in another, he still could not help feeling his •
own superiority; nor could that other, too, help but
feel it. His influence over those around him was
boundless; and resembled some magnetic or mesmeric force.
. . . He despotically demanded that the tastes of his _
pupils should exactly coincide with his own. The slightest
deviation from his taste was severly censured by him.3
Of Balakireff's general culture and wide reading there
is concrete evidence, for Rimsky-Korsakoff tells us that from
him he learned,
"for the first time in my life, that one
must read, must look after onefs own education, must become
acquainted with history, polite literature, and criticism-.11
Balakireff and Slavophilism.
As to politics,
Balakireff was greatly interested in the cult of Slavo­
philism, which was so prevalent in Russia at the time.
will be remembered from the discussion in Chapter Two that
the Slavophils subscribed to the principle of the superiority
of the Slavic people and institutions over the people and
institutions of Western Europe, and deplored the "contamina5
tion" of Slavic culture with western influences.
firmly believing in the principles of Slavic superiority,
strove to express his devotion to this ideal in a practical
and artistic way.
He made a collection of Slavic folk songs which he
harmonized, using many of them as themes in original compo­
sitions written later for various occasions.
In 1862 he
3 Nicolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korasakoff, My Musical
Life (New York: Alfred*"A. Knopf, 1924) , p. 25.
^ Ibid.9 p* 35.
3 See page 37.
composed the symphonic poem,
"Russia," to commemorate the
one thousandth anniversary of the inauguration of the Russian
empire by Rurik.
In it he used three of the folk songs from
his collection, endowing each one of them with a peculiar
historical significance.
The first song he used to symbolize
the pagan Russia of early history, the second the Muscovite
state, and the third the quasi-democracy of ancient Russia.
In the development of these three themes he attempted to
depict the struggle between these elements of Russian history.
Later, in 1867, he., was inspired to write an overture
on Czech thQmes, in anticipation of the visit of Slavic guests
to St. Petersburg in the interests of Pan-Slavism.
He sug­
gested to Rimsky-Korsakoff that he write a similar overture,
using Serbian themes.
In his memoirs Rimsky-Korsakoff re­
marks that he himself was not at all carried away by Slavism,
but rather by the delightful themes Balakireff had selected
for him.
In view of the attitude with which Rimsky-Korsakoff
approached the writing of his "Fantasia on Serbian Themes,"
it is interesting to note that the critic Abraham charac­
terizes his composition as a "clever attempt to make bricks
Gerald Abraham, Studies in Russian Music (London:
William Reeves), p. 53.
Kicolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakoff, pp. crt.,
p. 65.
without straw.,r Whether the necessary “straw11 would have
been supplied by an enthusiasm for the ideology of Slavo­
philism such as Balakireff possessed is problematical.
M usical Slavophilism v s . Musical Westernizers.
Balakireff strove to make various compositions the musical
embodiment of Slavophilism, so the ideals of the "Westernizers1* found musical expression in the activities and works
of the brothers Anton and Nicholas Rubinstein.
A brief
examination of the activities of the two Rubinsteins is
necessary at this point to throw light on Balakireff*s sub­
sequent activities.
These brothers emphasized the universality of musical
expression and scoffed at the possibilities of the develop­
ment of a distinctive type of musical expression in Russia.
In an article written for a German newspaper Anton Rubinstein
“Every attempt to create a national musical
activity is bound to lead to one result— disasterJ“
Anton Rubinstein returned to Russia from extensive study
in Western Europe in 1848 he succeeded in obtaining powerful
royal patronage in the person of the Grand Duchess Helen.
In 1857 he founded the Russian Musical Society, which, in
Gerald Abraham, op* cit.« p.64.
Rosa Newmarch, The Russian Opera (New York; E. P.
Dutton and Co., 1905), p. 164.
1862, established the Petersburg Conservatoire,— -the first
institution of its kind in R u s s i a ^
Staffed almost com­
pletely with German musicians, it endeavored to spread the
doctrine of musical eclecticism as opposed to Balakireff*s
theories of nationalism as a basis of composition.
Vitally interested in spreading his doctrines through
instruction as well as through composition, Balakireff im­
mediately set about founding a rival institution that v/ould
instruct promising young musicians in the so-called “nation­
alistic" school of thought.
A benefit concert was given,
the proceeds of vdiich were devoted to the establishment of
such an institution, and in the spring of 1862 the Free Music
School was established in St. Petersburg under the guidance
of Balakireff and Gabriel Lomakin, choral conductor in
Count Sheremetievfis court.
Whereas the school maintained by
the Rubinsteins was aristocratic in nature, charging tuition,
and drawing its pupils largely from the gentry, the school
founded by Balakireff eschewed all tuition, and admitted
students from all social classes.
Students clamoured for
entrance to the Free Music School, and it was remarked by
Count Sheremetiev,
on Sunday."
"This is like people rushing to church
M. D. Calvocoressi and Gerald Abraham, pp. cit.,
p. 118.
p. 119.
, ^
Nicolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakoff, pp. cit . ,
In the next five years, twelve concerts were given,
during which time, Balakireff, as conductor, was given the
opportunity to present the works of the Five,
His programs,
while presenting the works of his colleagues, also included
the compositions of foreign composers, as he felt that an
all-Russian program might indicate a fear that Russian'works
would suffer in comparison with compositions of Western Euro­
Though very successful as far as numbers and calibre
of students, the Free School of Music was in continuous
financial difficulty.
Its concerts, by which it supported
itself, were in direct opposition to those of the Petersburg
Conservatoire, and as the latter had the support of the
aristocracy, as well as a government subsidy, its competition
was well-nigh insuperable.
In 1872 the last of a series of
five subscription concerts had to be cancelled, because of
the lack of financial support.
nevertheless, Balakirefffs musical activities had
brought him sufficient recognition to result in his being
appointed conductor of the rival Russian Musical Society,
on the resignation of Anton Rubinstein in 1868.
His too
ardent patriotism, combined with a lack of tact, brought
him many difficulties in his new position, however.
refusal to converse with the German musicians in anything
Oskar von Riesernann, Moussorgsky (Hew York: Alfred
A. Knopf, 1929), p. 57.
but Russian, his rejection of an offer of money from the
Grand Duchess Helen to enable him to study music abroad,—
these and various other difficulties forced him to resign
in 1869.
Balakireff1s -psychological crisis.
These difficulties
had the effect of bringing on an acute psychological crisis.
Balakireff withdrew from the society of his friends, took a
position as a railway official at a small salary, and for
several years became almost a stranger to the circles which
he had heretofore frequented.
From a skeptic, and almost
an atheist he became an ardent follower of the most reaction­
ary branch of the Greek Orthodox Church.
He came under the
influence of a professional soothsayer, from whom he sought
council concerning the trends of Russian music.
This excursion into mysticism, though if may be hard
to explain is not atypical of the Russian personality.
ilar periods have been evidenced in the lives of the novelists
Gogol, Dostoyevsky, and Tolstoy. The most remarkable thing
M. D. Calvocoressi and Gerald Abraham, pp. cit.,
p* 125.
Ibid.. p. 127.
' 15
Rosa Newmarch, MBalakireff.M Grove1s Dictionary of
Music and Musicians. 3d edition, I, 199.
about- it is that this phase of his life did not produce any
music expressive of his religious experience.
Gradually his religious obsession became less violent
and Balakireff returned once more to the society of his
friends in the early part of the ,feighties.
By this time,
however, the members of the original Five had become influ­
ential composers in their own right, and had ceased to have
the deference for his opinions which they possessed when
they first came to him as students.
Balakireff, deposed as
their leader, was unable to take his place gracefully among
them as an equal, and the unity of the "Invincible Band"
was never regained.
Later life.
On the accession of Alexander III to
the throne in 1881 there were many changes in the personnel
of the bureaucracy pointing toward a more conservative
Count Shermetyeff, whom Rimsky-Korsakoff de­
scribes as being "not even a dilettante in the art of music,"
was appointed chief of the Court Chapel, merely because he
was a staunch supporter of autocracy.
Because of his de­
vout Orthodoxy and ardent Slavophilism, which the bureau­
cracy interpreted to include a strong sentiment in favor of
autocracy, Balakireff was made superintendent of the Chapel.
p. 315.
Nicolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakoff, pp. cit.,
Ke invited Rimsky-Korsakoff to be his assistant, and the
two together worked conscientiously for the advancement of
the church music of the Court.
In 1895 Balakireff retired on a pension from the
It enabled him to devote his entire time to
composition, but the works produced in this period of his
life show-no discernible growth or change from his earlier
Abraharn, in noting that Balakireff's compositions
are divided into an experimental first period, and a con­
cluding last period, with an intervening twenty years of al­
most complete silence as far as creative composition is con­
cerned, remarks,
"In Balakireff ,(s music we have the dawn
and sunset of genius with little of its full day."
Outstanding compositions.
Iiever a prolific composer,
Balakireff's compositions which have stood the test of time,
and are played today, are few.
Two of them, the piano
fantasia., "Islamey,11 and the symphonic poem, "Tamara," show
his fascination for the Orient, which predilection so many
other Russian compoers share.
The three themes of "Islamey"
are derived from Armenian and Caucasian sources, while the
first theme of "Tamara" is an oriental melody which Balakireff
heard in the barracks of the Imperial Escort.
Gerald Abraham, op. cit.. p. 315.
The symphonic
poem,"Russia, 11 which was previously mentioned, completes
the list of the compositions which find comparatively fre­
quent performance on concert programs today.
The effect of the philosophy of Slavophil­
ism is particularly evident in the works of Balakireff.
Mis collections of Slavic folk-songs, and his abundant use
of them in his own compositions attest to the artistic
influence of this intellectual movement on his works.
The formation of the Invincible Band under his leader­
ship' is a manifestation of the tendency of the intelligent­
sia to meet together in small unofficial groups to discuss
political, social and artistic theories.
Balakireff rs chief importance as a member of the
Five lay in his influence on the other members of the group,
rather than in his own accomplishments as a composer.
It was who imbued the Five with the crusading spirit for
Russian nationalism.
For the richest artistic fruits of
his philosophy we must turn to the works of Moussorgsky,
Borodin, and Rimsky-Korsakoff.
Cesar Cui, the first of the four men who gathered
around Balakireff to form, the Russian Five, occupies an
anomalous position in the history of the group *
Born in
Vilna, in 1835, of a French father and a Lithuanian mother,
Cui probably had no Russian blood in his veins*
Yet, judg­
ing from his writings concerning the principles of music
upheld by the Five, one would conclude that he was the
most ardent supporter of the Russian nationalistic view­
At the same time his music gives an entirely op­
posite impression, being quite eclectic in nature*
graphical material concerning Cui, though scanty, is
presented in this chapter, together with an evaluation of
his contribution to the cause of musical nationalism.
Cui as a military man*
After a childhood spent in
Vilna, Cui was sent to St. Petersburg School of Military
Engineering at the age of fifteen.
There he distinguished
himself in his studies to such a degree that, on his grad­
uation in 1857, he was appointed to a teaching position in
the school.
In the same year Cui married a Miss Bemberg,
then a pupil of Dargomijsky.
In order to eke out their
rather slender income, they established a preparatory school
of engineering, which they operated very successfully, and
apparently without undue interference with C u i 15s musical
Subsequently Cui became famous as a writer of
authoritative manuals on the science of fortification, and
numbered among his pupils many students who later became
famous military leaders.
At the time of his death. Cui
possessed the title of Lieutenant-General#
Association with Balakireff#
Cui l;s friendship with.
Balakireff began in 1856, when he was twenty-one and Bala­
kireff was nineteen.
Admiring Balakireff lfs skill and orig­
inality in composition, Cui became his pupil, devoting his
leisure time to his musical studies.
As time progressed,
the lessons in composition became less formal, and devel­
oped into long evenings spent together in discussion and
mutual criticism.
Cui and Balakireff were later joined
in these evening conferences by the junior members of the
group which came eventually to be known as the Five.
Although Balakireff never deserted his position as
teacher and adviser to the group, he came to regard Cui as
more nearly his intellectual equal than any of the others.
Rimsky-Korsakoff remarks in his autobiography:
They complemented each other, but each, in his own
way, felt mature and grown up# But Borodin, Musorgski
^ M. Montagu-Nathan, A Short History of Russian Music
(London: William Reeves, 1918), p. ??#
and I— we were immature and juvenile'. Obviously, toward
Balakireff and Cui, we were in somewhat subordinate
relations; their opinions were listened to uncondition­
ally, we “smoked them in our pipes" and accepted them.^
When one examines C u i ,ss compositions of this period
one is rather at a loss to explain this apparent harmony
between Balakireff and Cui.
The compositions of the latter
are far from, being the exemplification of the ideals of the
C u i ‘'s first opera, “The Mandarines Son" (1859) was
more French in style than Russian.
His second opera, “The
Prisoner of the Caucasus," completed in the same year,
possessed few nationalistic traits, though based on a text
by Pushkin.
Perhaps the explanation is to be found in the
fact that Balakireff felt little inte'rest in the opera as
a form, and, possessing small skill in it himself, did not
realize to what an extent C u i ns music was really a negation
of the principles to which the latter gave such vociferous
Journalistic contributions to the cause of the Five.
In 1865 Cui became the musical critic of the St. Petersburg
There he gave literary expression to the ideas
which. Balakireff had inculcated in the minds of the Five.
He loudly denounced both the German and Italian opera vogue,
^ Mikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakoff, M y Musical
Life (Mew Yorks Alfred A. Knaps, 1924), p. 56-.
^ M. Montagu-Mathan, on. cit.. p. 78.
severely criticised the Russian eclectics who were influenced
in their compositions by Western European models, and praised
the compositions of his colleagues as enthusiastically as
all other critics derided them.
An idea of his style of criticism, may be gained from
a few quotations from his writings.
Concerning Wagner11s
"Tristan and Isolde" he wrote:
If one were to make a door grate on its hinges for
three and a half hours (the time taken by a performance
of "Tristan") and were to listen to its grating with
the same devout concentration an is given to Wagnerrs
opera, one would get the same impression and the same
nervous stimulus.
Anton Rubinstein, leader of the eclectic Russian
school of composers he dismissed with the remark:
It would be a serious error to consider Rubinstein
as a Russian composer; he is merely a Russian who com­
poses; his music is allied rather with that of Germany,
and even when he utilizes Russian themes the nature and
spirit of Nationalism are always absent.5
Of Tschaikovsky*© second symphony he wrote:
The Introduction and the first Allegro are very weak;
the poverty of Tchaikovsky*& invention displays itself
every moment. The March in the second movement is rough
and commonplace. The Scherzo is neither good nor bad;
the trio is so innocent that it would be almost too
infantile for a "Sniegourotchka." The best movement is
the finale, and even the opening is as pompously trivial
as the introduction to a pas de deux, and the end is
^ Arthur Pougin, A Short. History of Russian Music
(London: Chatto and Windus, 1915), p. 209.
5 M. Montagu-Mathan, op. cit.. p. 263.
beneath all criticism.0
On the other hand, Cui seldom failed to write in the
most glowing terms concerning the compositions of his col­
He was the author of a pamphlet entitled, "Music
in Russia," in which he gave detailed accounts of the ac­
tivities of the Five.
This pamphlet was widely circulated
in France and Belgium, through the activities of an admirer
of his, the Countess Mercy-dl!Argenteau.
The result was that
the music of these two countries was the first to exhibit
the influence of the nationalistic ideals cherished by the
Cui as a composer.
But of all the musical compo­
sitions which were written by Cui in the eighty-two years of
his life, one fails to find a single important one in which,
the composer has shaken off all European influences and
produced a genuinely Russian contribution to the art of
music, in the sense that his colleagues did.
For the most
part one is confronted with elegant salon pieces, or operas
set to texts by Heine, Victor Hugo, Maupassant, and other
Western Europeans.
In his later life he set several songs
to texts by Pushkin, Lermontoff and Nekrasoff, but these
were apparently not of sufficient vitality to live after him.
^ Modeste Tchaikovsky, The Life and Letters of Peter
Ilich Tchaikovsky. (New York: John Lane Co., 1906), p. 148.
A study of the effect of political and
social movements on artistic production shows little evidence
of such influence in C u i *s compositions.
One is led to the
conclusion that either he was not completely sincere in his
writings concerning the ideals of the Five, or his musical
genius was not equal to the task of following his intel­
lectual convictions.
C u i ffs greatest service to the cause of nationalism
in music lay in the use of his position as an influential
music critic to promote an understanding of the work of his
colleagues on the part of the public.
Modeste Moussorgsky, conceded by a majority or crit­
ics to be the greatest creative genius of the Five, is
perhaps the most thoroughly Russian of them all.
the forty-one years of his life he never set foot outside
his native land.
In a brief but intense life his physical
and spiritual existence seems to have been more directly
affected by the social changes that were taking place in
Russia than those of any of his colleagues.
Heritage and early influences.
Mouseorgsky was born
into a family belonging to the petty nobility of the prov­
ince of Pskov in. 1839,
He traced his paternal ancestry
back to Rurik, the conquering Varangian prince who came to
Russia in 862.
But, mingled with the blue blood of the
aristocracy was that of his grandmother, who had been a •—
serf, and who was legally married to his grandfather only
after the birth of a son, who became the composervs father.
Thus, in Moussorgsky‘'s ancestry we find a blending of the
two seemingly irreconcilable elements in the Russian, social
structure,— the nobility and the peasantry.
Oskar von Riesemann, Moussorgsky (Hew York: Alfred
A. Knopf, 1929), p. 4.,
The first' ten years of Moussorgskyns life were spent
on the country estate of the family at Kareva-,
In his
autobiography, which he wrote in the third person, he re­
“Under his nurse,!s influence he became familiar with
Russian fairy-tales, and it was mainly this contact v/ith
the spirit of the life of the people which, impelled him. to
improvise music before he had learned even the most elerneno
tary rules of piano playing.11^ Thus we find Moussorgsky
getting his inspiration from the very first in his external
surroundings,, rather than from an introspective source, a
characteristic which, prevailed until the latter part of
his life.
At the age of ten he was taken with his brother to
St. Petersburg to enter the gymnasium.
In 1852 he enrolled
in the Guardns Cadet Academy, and upon graduating in 1856
entered the historic Preobazhensky Guards, which were first
established by Peter the Great.
During this period he
studied piano, and, though evidently very gifted both in
performance and composition gave little evidence of the
more profound turn which his talents eventually were to take.
Alexander Borodin, who was to become one of the
members of the Five, six years later, met him at the home
^ M. D. Calvocoressi and Gerald Abraham, Masters of
Russian Music (Mew York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936), p. 178.
©f a mutual friend, and gives us this description:
Musorgsky was then a veritable ,ffop,'f very elegant,
a fine type of young officer;, his well-fitting uniform,
all spick and span; his feet, small and shapely; his
hair carefully brushed and pomaded, his hands well cared
for like the hands of an aristocrat* His manners were
exceedingly refined; he spoke mincingly, and he was
lavish with his French, phrases. He had a light- touch
of conceit, but not too much; his education.and good
■ breeding remained conspicuous; the ladies were charmed
with- him. He v/ould sit at the piano, and, 'with elegant
gestures, play portions of Trovatore or Traviata;. around
h i m the company exclaimed in chorus; — ''Charming.111
YDelicious Jf,d
Thus one sees in Moussorgsky, a typical product of
the dilettantism of the Russian nobility,— charming, tal­
ented, and apparently quite superficial.
The event which acted as a turning point in his
musical development was Moussorgsky*8 introduction to
Alexander Dargomijsky by one of his military comrades.
From Dargomijsky he first heard of the principles of truth
and realism in opera, as opposed to the superficiality of
Italian opera, and he began to turn his thoughts to the
more philosophic aspects of music.
The influence of the Five on Moussorgsky.
It was
at one of Dargomijsky's musicales that he first met Cesar
Cui, who was likewise a military man.
The two struck up
a warm friendship, playing duets together, and showing each
3 M. D. Calvocoressi, Musorgsky, the Russian Musical
(Hew York: B. P. Dutton and C o . , 1919), p. 12.
other their compositions for mutual criticism,.
A t that time
Cui. was studying with Balakireff, and before long Moussorgsky
also, became Balakireff13s pupil, so that in the year 1857
three of the Five were meeting together, establishing their
practice of mutual help and criticism.
There is no doubt, that Balakireff, by reason, of his
superior training and experience was the most influential
one of the group, and as he had no scruples whatsoever about
indoctrination, one may be sure that Moussorgsky was very
thoroughly impregnated with Balakireff !:s theories both as
to music and Slavophilism.
Of only slightly less importance in the group was
the eminent Slavophil art~eritic and librarian, Vladimir
Stasoff, who found in this group the possibilities of a
concrete expression of his artistic philosophies.. Though
not a composer, he acted as a literary mentor of the group,
suggesting to them the plots of their operas, subjects for
their symphonic poems, and ehlping them with the research
they found necessary for their historical operas.
He became
a particular friend of Moussorgsky, and stood by him till
the end of the latter15s tragic career.
When, in 1859, Moussorgsky found that he was to be
transferred with his regiment to a little town in the
4: Oskar von Riesemann, on. cit., p. 31.
outskirts of S. Petersburg, he decided to resign from the
Guards, rather than leave his new associates, and to devote
his entire time to music#
Before settling down to his
creative work he took a -trip to Moscow where he was inspired
by the historic sights.
In a letter to Balakireff, he wrote;.
Moscow certainly transported me to another world,
the world of the past— a world that, though it was full
of horrors, still, I know not why, attracts me strongly#
I will tell you something— hitherto I have been a cos­
mopolitan, but now I feel a certain change at work;
everything that is Russian is becoming near and dear
to me# • . . I believe X am now beginning really to love
my country.5
Here can be observed another step in the metamor­
phosis of Moussorgsky from the dilettante Russian nobleman
with a flair for musical composition, to the serious com­
poser who was beginning to develop a philosophy which would
act as a guiding principle for his vsrork#
That the love for his country of which he. spoke did
not necessarily signify a love for the existing government
is evidenced by the first compositions he wrote on his return
to St. Petersburg.
His "Impromptu passione" was based on
a current problem-novel,
"Who is to Blame?" by Alexander
Herzen, an author who spent most of his life in exile from
Russia on account of his political beliefs.
Oskar von Riesemann, Xbid.. p. 41.
6 M. D. Calvocoressi and Gerald Abraham, pp. cit..
p• 186.
composition, written soon after, was "Schairiyl"s March,"
composed in honor of a revolutionary leader who had support­
ed the mountain tribes of the Caucasus against the Tsa r 11s
forces, and who had been forced to surrender in 1859, after
years of resistance*
Moussorgsky spent the next two years composing vari­
ous works, none of which were of sufficient importance to
live long.
He definitely avoided any attempts at systematic
instruction in the principles of composition, maintaining
that such instruction merely hampered natural creativity*
In a letter to Balakireff he remarked:
I am far from maintaining that all learning means
obscurantism.; at the same time I find the free and un­
forced development of natural aptitude, which is sure
to be radically fresh and sound, incomparably more
sympathetic than any scholastic or academic training#1'8
In von Riesemann11s opinion, this disdain for instruc­
tion typifies the Slavic peoples, who, he says, have always
been disposed to rely on direct inspiration and natural
technical brilliancy rather than on the acquisition of
fundamental knowledge and the power won by hard work.^
The emancipation of the serfs#
In February, 1861,
Oskar von Riesemann, pp. cit.« p. 44*
8 Ibid.. p. 57.
9 Ibid.. p. 51.
Alexander II issued his famous manifesto freeing the serfs.
As was the case with all the small land-owners of the period,
this change delivered a heavy blow to the Moussorgsky finances
which had not been on a very firm foundation for some time.
The family was forced to give up its St. Petersburg resi­
dence and the mother went to occupy the ancestral home at
ICarevo in Pskov.
Moussorgsky had to devote a great deal of
his time to an attempt to bring some sort of order out of
the financial chaos that reigned.
For the next two years
he was generally to be found in the offices of brokers and
magistrates trying to bring about some arrangement whereby
a degree of comfort could be provided for his mother in her
old age, and he might find an atmosphere of peace for his
It is illuminating to note that his letters to his
friends at this time record nothing but sympathy for the
lot of the peasants, and exasperation at the land-owners,
who seemed to him to have lost all integrity and virility
in the face of the loss of their serfs.
Be writes to C-ui:
Oh, these neighbours of ours, the farmers.1 These
"planters,” ratherJ . . . . Day after day they bore you
with tales of their "lost rights" and "total ruin"—
nothing but howling and gnashing of teeth, and noisy
scenes. • . • True, there are some young fellows who
are rather more decent— the "young fools" as they are
called— but one hardly ever sees them, as it is they
who negotiate with the peasants, and consequently they
spend most of their time in travelling. And this is
the fetid atmosphere in which I, poor sinner, have to
live and breathe!! It can hardly be said to be good for
the creative part of one'— a man has enough to do to
prevent the stink from hanging about and choking him-what chance has music in such circumstances as t h e s e ? ^
On Moussorgskyes return to St. Petersburg in the
autumn of 1863 it was necessary for him to find employment,
because of the reduced family income.
He was successful in
obtaining a position in the Engineering Department of the
Ministry of Communications as a clerk.
At this time he
began to live with a group of some half-dozen young pro­
gressives who shared a flat together, each having a private
bedroom, but using a common room for evenings together.
Their gospel was Chernisheffsky lfs socialistic volume, "What
Is To Be Done?” which dealt with the problems of the newlyfreed peasantry, and there can be little doubt that the eve­
ning discussions of this "Commune," as they called themselves,
had a definite influence on the twenty-four-year-old
One of the books that had impressed the "Commune"
was Flaubert rs "Salammbo," and Moussorgsky set to work to
write an opera with its plot as a basis for the action.
The oriental setting fascinated him for a time, but he soon
wearied of it, as he became more and more interested in
typically Russian subjects.
Although it was never published,
many of its numbers were used in his later compositions.
10 Ibid.. p. 65-
The death of Moussorgsky *s mother, the necessity of
selling the ancestral estate at auction, the drudgery of
his uncongenial work in the Ministry of Communications,
all conspired to produce rather a serious mental crisis in
the composer.
He became subject to fits of nervous depression,
and took to drinking a great deal.
Finally he was persuaded
to leave the "Commune1
-1 and live with his married brother,
in the interests of his health.
Moussorgsky* a songs as an expression of Russian
peasant life.
During the next two years, 1866-1868,
Moussorgskyfs musical output was slight, but the twenty songs
which he wrote during the period mirror more exactly than
any other of his works his deep sympathy for the plight of
the oppressed classes.
Almost without exception the songs
deal with peasant life in some form, sometimes describing
the misery of their lot, sometimes representing their pleas­
ures, but always dealing with them in a deeply sympathetic
and understanding way.
A n examination of the words and
music of a few of them will suffice to illustrate Moussorgsky*s attitude and approach.
"The Orphan," the words of which Moussorgsky wrote
himself, depicts a beggar boy, half-starved and half-frozen
in the streets of St. Petersburg.
have pityj" cries the boy.
"Have pity, kind sir,
"Pity a poor orphan child, who
has no fire to warm.him, who weeps and suffers, hungers and
freezes, whom no one heeds, save the wind and snow*
have some pity, good, kind sir J"
Me set a cradle song to the words of the poet Hekrasoff, who has been called the !*poet of the poor, the
wretched and forsaken*"
Entitled "Yer emoushka1s Cradle
Song," it conjures up a picture of the interior of a hut
in which a poor, starving peasant woman is rocking her child
to sleep*
She tells her son of the golden future that
awaits him, and builds glorious castles in the air for him,
while the stifling atmosphere of the miserable hut scarcely
allows her enough breath to continue with her song.
It is
an interesting commentary on the censorship of the time that
a verse which the song originally possessed in manuscript
form, was omitted from the first printed edition*
verse contained the sentiment that when the Tsar became
aware of the injustice that prevailed he would be ashamed
of conditions, and would do away with them.
Moussorgsky realized that, according to the standards of
the censor, the Tsar should never be ashamed of anything,
so he omitted that verse when submitting it to the
Oskar von Riesemann, pp. cit*. p. 122*
^ Prince Kropotkin, Ideals and Realities in Russian
Literature (Mew Yorks Alfred A. Knopf, 1915} p. 174*
“Kallistratus,11 also with words by Mekrasoff, depicts
a young peasant, thinking of the songs his mother used to
sing to him as a baby, “Kallistratus, you are b o m to be
happy, free and careless#11 Me contrasts it with his actual
condition,--his wife and children in rags, and his abject
Von Biesemann points out that there is no rebel­
lion in his son, merely a quiet acceptance of his lot with
the typical Slavonic fatalistic attitude#
?The Eagamuf f in, H on the other hand, shows the peas­
ant in a different light.
The words, written by Moussorgsky,
describe a street-urchin jeering and taunting an old lady
as she hobbles down the street#
ducky.111 he cries#
“Hallo, granny J
“How charming you look you old scarecrow,
with your sharp nose and big bleary eyesi1* When she seizes
him and cuffs him his bravado ceases, however, and he cries,
"OhJ AhJ Here, don*t hit so hard J11
The music, as well as the words, demonstrate how
thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the peasant Moussorgsky
Every inflection of the voice is heightened by the
melody and harmony, and he makes use of rhythmic freedom
Oskar von Biesemann, op# cit., p. 122
Ibid. T p. 89.
15 Ibid.f p. 125.
im a way in which no composer had dared, heretofore*
this rhythmic freedom, however, in which v/e find constant
shifting of time signatures from bar to bar, he was merely
following the Russian folk-song type, which is character16
ized by the use of irregular rhythms throughout*
one finds Moussorgsky going a step beyond the mere employ­
ment of actual folk-songs, making them so much a part of
himself that he naturally used their idiom in entirely
original compositions*
Moussorgsky as a man of the *sixties*
Abraham points out that in this preoccupation with the
peasant life, Moussorgsky "s art was that of a typical “man
of the 15sixties*11 He calls to one11s attention the fact
that in Russia the f,man of the sixties1* stands for a precise
and understandable type, even as the adjectives “Elizabethan11
and “Victorian11 call to mind a certain type of Englishman.
The reader will remember that it was during the "sixties
that the liberation of the Russian serfs took place, with
its attendant wave of idealization of everything connected
with peasant life and the worship of the mujik as a type
^ Kurt Schindler, Boris Godounoff and the life of
Moussorgsky (New York; North American Review Publishing Go*,
1 9 1 3 ), p .
M. B. Calvoeoressi and Gerald Abraham,
p * 246 0
of ideal manhood*
So sincere and earnest were artists
such as Moussorgsky and Tolstoy in their new enthusiasm
that they
threw over
and endowed it
the aristocratic idea of art for ar t *8
with a humanitarian mission.
There is no evidence that Tolstoy and Moussorgsky
were acquainted with each other's theories of art, yet their
statements on the subject present a striking similarity,
worthy of examination.
his book, "What is Art,11 Tolstoy says,
Art is not as the metaphysicians say, the manifesta­
tion of some mysterious Idea of beauty or God; it is not
as the esthetical physiologists say, a game in which man
lets off his excess of stored^-up energy; it is not the
expression of man's emotions by external signs; it is
not the production of pleasing objects; and above all,
it ia not pleasure; but it is a means of union among
m e n ? joining them together in the same feelings and
indispensable for the life and progress towards well­
being of individuals and humanity.'31®
In a letter to Vladimir Stasoff in 1872, Moussorgsky
The artistic representation of beauty alone, in*the
material sense is vulgar puerility--artistic childish­
ness. The most subtle traits of man's nature and human­
ity in the mass, the investigation of these little known
regions and their conquest— that is the artist's real
In his autobiography.Moussorgsky asserts, f,Art is
^ Aylmer Maude, Tolstoy on A r t ,(Boston: Small,
Maynard and Co., 1924 )f p. 173.
p. 216.
M. B. Calvocoressi and Gerald Abraham, op. cit. T
not. a goal, but a means to talk to one's brethren*111
When one understands this point of view one realizes
that it is unfair to criticize Moussorgsky's works because
some of them lack beauty of form*
He was not striving for
Expressiveness was his only goal*
Moussorgsky as a disciple of Dargomiisky*
It was
during the years in which the aforementioned songs were
written that Bargomijsky was exercising his greatest in­
fluence on the Five*
It will be remembered from the dis­
cussion in Chapter Three of the musical fore-runners of the
Five that Dargomijsky and Glinka were the two spiritual
forefathers of the group.
Though in very poor health
and with but a few years to live, Dargomijsky was currently
engaged in writing his greatest work, "The Stone Guest*"
In it he was using Pushkin's text exactly as it was written,
eschewing all melody as such, and striving to make the
music merely a means to bring out the significance of each
The Five used to meet at his home at intervals,
listening with great respect' to his principles as exhibited
in the opera, which was being created almost before their
Gerald Abraham, Studies in Russian Music (London:
William Reeves), p. 90*
See page 34.
very eyes*
It is easy to understand why these principles of
dramatic declamation made a particularly deep impression
upon the young Moussorgsky*
He was inspired to attempt an
opera using the same principles, choosing as a subject
Gogol’s comedy, "The Marriage.11
In his attempt to follow
Dargomijsky’s example, he studied the inflections of speech
with great care in an effort to bring out the full import
of Gogol’s plot*
He wrote to Cesar Cui in July, 1868,
In my ropera dialogue v I endeavour, as far as
possible, to show up very clearly the slight changes
in intonation that occur in the course of conversation
apparently for the most trivial reasons and in the
least important words*
It is here, it seems to me,
that a good deal of Gogol’s humor lurks.21
Though Moussorgsky worked at white heat on ’’The
Marriage” during the summer of 1868, he never finished
the work, as he became obsessed with a new subject for an
However, the technique for expressing speech in­
flections in music which he developed in "The Marriage,”
and in the songs of this period, stood him in good stead
in his next venture, which proved to be his masterpiece.
’’Boris Godunoff” and ’’Khowanstchina” as social dramas•
This masterpiece was the opera ’’Boris Godunoff,” based upon
Oskar von Riesemann, pp. pit*, p. 171.
Pushkin1s drama by the same name.
The plot is concerned
with the story of Boris Godunoff, who ascended the Russian
throne in 1598, through the murder of Dmitri, the heir
The appearance in later years of a pretender
who claimed to be the supposedly murdered Dmitri, and the
final death of Boris, driven insane by the constant pangs
of a guilty conscience, form the substance of the plot.
Though receiving his original inspiration from Pushkin1s
drama, Moussorgsky delved much more deeply into Russian
history for the details of his plot than Pushkin had, with
the result that his opera is a more profound study of Boris
and the conditions of the time than is Pushkin*s play.
Although the individual characters of the plot are
vividly drawn, the thing that has impressed students of
,fBoris Godunoff11 is the fact that the real protagonist of
the plot is neither the Tsar Boris, nor the Pretender
to the throne, Dmitri.
The most gripping scenes are those
in which the masses give full rein to their feelings.
Ap ­
parently Moussorgsky realized this fact when he ceased to
call his work an opera, and characterized it as a folk-drama.
In a letter to Stasoff in 1872 he expressed his fascination
M. Montagu Nathan, A History of Russian Music
(London: William Reeves, 1918), p. 135.
Oskar von Riesemann, op. cit., p. 186.
with the -people as a whole in these words:
The masses, like individuals, present subtle traits,
difficult to fathom, not yet grasped* To distinguish
them, to learn to read them at sight, by observation
and hypothesis, to study their inmost recesses, to
feed mankind with them as with an as-yet-unknown healthgiving food— that is the task, the supreme joy*25
Boris Godunoff was first performed in 1874.*
the'young intelligentsia recognized in it an expression of
their newly-awakened humanitarian!sm is evidenced by the
reception which they gave the opera in the face of the
severest censure by the musical critics*
Stasoff, Moussorg­
sky 1s friend and counsellor reported:
The younger generation exulted and at once raised
Musorgsky on their shields* • • • • Little they recked
that the critics vied with one another in pulling
Musorgsky to pieces. * * * .
With their fresh, still unspoiled feelings they
realized that a great artistic power had created and
was presenting to our people a wonderful national work,
and they exulted and rejoiced and triumphed* Twelve
performances were given to packed houses. On several
nights a crowd of young people, collecting at the
Litelny Bridge to cross to the Viborg side, sang in
the street "the extolling of the boyars by the people"
and other choruses. The rising generation, passing
over all that was weak and unsatisfactory in the opera,
• * • • welcomed all the rest as enthusiastically as
their eldest brothers and their fathers had greeted
the finest national creations of Pushkin, Gogol, and
Ostrovsky. They understood and therefore they applauded Musorgsky as one who was genuine and dear to them. ®
Gerald Abraham, pp. pit., p. 90.
Victor Beliaev, Musorgsky11s Boris Godunov and its
Hew Version (London: Oxford University Press, 1928) , p. 23.
In the interim between the completion of “Boris
Godunoff11 and its production, Moussorgsky began another
opera based on yet another historical epoch of Russian
It was named, “Khovanstchina, “ and dealt with the
period in which there was a great schism in the church over
the exact forms that the Greek Orthodox service was to take#
As was the case in “Boris Godunoff,*1 the hero of the opera
is not to be found among the leading characters but in the
masses of the people*
This fact provides further testimony
to the fact that Moussorgsky, the man of the *sixties, was
primarily interested in the peasants, whom he depicts as
the passive, suffering part of society,— victims of a system
for which they were not responsible, and from which there
seemed to be no relief*
“Khovanstchina” had not been completely finished by
the time of Mbussorgskyfs death.
A comic opera, “The Fair
at Sorochintzy, “ on which he was also working, remained
uncompleted likewise*
Moussorgskv9s later life*
Mowever enthusiastic the
younger generation had been about “Boris Godunoff," the
critics were almost unanimous in condemning it.
Even Cesar
Cui, one of the Five, complained of the “chapped recitative
27 Oskar von Riesemann, on* cit* * p. 2b2#
and the disconnectedness or the musical thought.”
Tsehaikovsky described various parts or it as Revolting"
and h o r r i b l y ugly,” in a letter to bis famous brother,
Peter Tsehaikovsky.
The lack or understanding on the part or the majority
of the public, and even on the part of his own friends af- •
feeted Moussorgsky very deeply.
Soon after the withdrawal
of the work from the stage, Moussorgsky .began to avoid his
old friends and seek companionship in a different and less
idealistic circle,
Balakireff, the mentor of the Five, having entered
his semi-retirement two years previously, the strong bond
that held the group together had already begun to weaken.
Rimsky-Korsakoff and Borodin found companionship in a new
circle which centred around the wealthy publisher, Victor
Belaieff, but Moussorgsky was not sufficiently in sympathy
with their aims to wish to join them.
Cui*s unkind crit­
icisms of ’’Boris Godunoff11 estranged him from that friend,
and Stasoff seemed to be his only remaining confidant.
Even Stasoff, the ardent Slavophil, became impatient with
him as he saw Moussorgsky*s compositions becoming more and
more introspective, and less and less nationalistic in
M. D. Calvocoressi and Gerald Abraham, on. cit. r
p . 224 .
Victor Beliaev, on. cit., p. 25,
Moussorgsky *s two song cycles, •'Without Sunlight,11
and "Songs and Dances of Death," which were set to verses
by his poet cousin, Count Golenishtchev-Kutusov, are
examples of this new, intensely personal expression which
superseded his more objective style of writing*
The composer
was being transformed from the militant crusader in behalf
of his suffering countrymen into a disillusioned pessimist
who, though expressing himself with consummate artistry,
lacked the fire of the philosophical optimist of earlier days*
Always addicted to drinking, he became more and more
a slave to liquor*
His small salary as a government clerk
being quite inadequate, he resigned and went on a tour of
Southern Russia as an accompanist to Madame Leonova, an
opera singer long past her prime*
After the tour, which
was disappointing in its financial results, Moussorgsky
tried to make aliving as a professional musician*
He was
unsuccessful, and his death in 1881 was probably caused
b y a combination of continued privation and excessive
Moussorgsky*^ music gives evidence of the
influence of the idealism of the 'sixties, during which
30 Ibid.. p. 311.
time the peasant was considered to be the prototype of all
that was noble and misunderstood in humanity.
Writing music
which had absorbed all.the.idioms of the folk song, he was
particularly successful in presenting sincere and convincing
expressions of the peasant mind and spirit.
In his operas
the true protagonists were the peasant hordes, no matter
who might nominally be cast as the hero,
Dess interested
than his colleagues in expressing the spirit of the whole
of Russia, he was more successful than any of them in ex­
pressing the spirit of the oppressed Russian masses.
To use the words of Rosa Mewmarch, M a d the realistic
schools of painting and fiction never come into being, we
might still reconstruct from Moussorgsky*s songs the whole
psychology of Russian life#11
^ Rosa Newmareh, M o ussorgsky11 G r o v e l Dictionary
of Music and Musicians, 3d edition, III, p. 534#
Micolai Rimsky-Korsakoff, the youngest of the Five,
wrote music which has attained more universal popularity
than that of any of his colleagues*
He continued writing
significant works long after Moussorgsky and Borodin had
died, and Balakireff and Cui had ceased to write music of
During his long period of creative activity
his music passed through many phases, some attributable to
social and political forces, and some to purely intellec­
tual and spiritual forces*
Heritage and early influences*
was born in the town of Tikhvin in the government of Hovgorod
in 184.4*
Bis father, a retired governor of the Volynsky
Government, belonged to the petty nobility, but both Micolai*s
paternal and maternal grandmothers had been serfs*
as in the case of Moussorgsky, we find a blending of both
aristocratic and peasant elements in his lineage*
Micolai Rimsky-Korsakoff was surrounded by liberal influ­
ences at home is evidenced by the fact that his father freed
his serfs and hired them back as servants long before
^ M* D* Calvocoressi and Gerald Abraham, Masters of
Russian Music (Mew York:Alfred A Knopf, 1936), p* 335*
Alexander XI issued his decree of liberation in 1861.2
Nicolai spent the first twelve years of his life in
the provincial surroundings of 'fikhvin, enjoying the lire
of a normal Russian boy of the upper classes.
His family
recognized his musical ability, ana made arrangements for
h i m to be given music lessons, but these pursuits were con­
sidered to be entirely avocational.
As his older brother
and uncle had both achieved successful careers in the navy,
it was taken for granted that Nicolai would do likewise.
Accordingly, at the age of twelve he was taken to St.
Petersburg and entered in the Marine Corps.
A t the Marine Corps he lived the life of the average
School boy, hearing as much music as he could at the homes
of his friends and at concerts, and becoming especially
intrigued with Glinkafs f,A Life for the Tsar.**
Of this period
he says:
In brief, I was a sixteen-year-old child, who passion­
ately loved music and played with it. Between my dil­
ettante studeis and the real work of a young musician,
say even of a conservatory pupil, there was almost as
much of a gap as that between a child*s playing^ at
soldiers and wars, and actual military science#
2 hoc. Cit.
Hieolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakoff, M y Musical
Life (Mew York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1924), p. 8.
4 Ibia.T
Rimsky-Korsakoff *s intr oduction to the Five*
studied piano and composition under the teacher, Kanille,
until his brother decided that he knew enough, and discon­
tinued his lessons*
But Kanille continued teaching him
free of charge, and finally brought about a meeting with
Balakireff in I860.
Balakireff evinced a kindly and cordial
interest in the compositions of Rimsky-Korsakoff, which
Kanille showed to him, and Rimsky-Korsakoff, in turn, became
a devoted admirer of Balakireff.
Me says in his autobiog­
If\Balakireff loved me as a son and pupil, X for my
part, was literally in love with him. In my eyes his
talent surpassed all bounds of possibility and every
word and opinion of his were absolute truth to me.
The adoring mind of this talented boy must have
appeared a fertile field to Balakireff in which to plant
the seeds of the nationalistic ideal of music which so
obsessed him at the time.
Life as a naval officer.
Rimsky-Korsakoff *s acquaint­
ance with Balakireff *s circle was to be cut short by the
demands of the naval profession, however.
In 1862 he grad­
uated from the Maval College, and the following fall he
sailed for a three years1’ cruise in the clipper "Almaz*11
This period of his life, though not immediately productive
5 Ibid.. p. 19
of much music, gave him a love for and understanding of the
sea, which is evidenced in many of his later compositions#
A t the same time he was afforded considerable leisure for
reading and discussion.
He reports in his autobiography:
The new ideas of the ‘sixties brushed us, too. There
were progressives and conservatives in our midst. • # # •
We read Buckle, whose works were in great vogue in the
•sixties, Macaulay, John Stuart Mill, Byelinski, Dobrolyubofr, etc. We read fiction, too# In England,
Mordovin kept buying piles of English and French books,
among them all sorts of histories of revolutions and
civilizations. There was enough to argue about. That
was the time of Herzen and Ogaryoff with their “Kolokol#11
We even used to get the "Kolokol.
The "Kolokol** to which Rimsky-Korsakoff refers, was
a publication issued in England by the celebrated Russian
socialist exile, Alexander Herzen.
It contained exposes of
corruption in the Russian officialdom, and demands for
reforms in the government.
Dobrolyuboff was a literary
critic whose attitude toward professional aesthetics was
most contemptuous, and who judged everything from the stand­
point of the good it would bring the masses#
was an art critic who turned to socialistic writing in
the latter part of his life#
So there is evidence that
Ibid# T p# 36#
Bernard Fares, A History of Russia (Mew York: Alfred
A. Knopf, 1937), p. 346.
Frince Kropotkin, Ideals and Realities in Russian
literature (Mew York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1915), p. 289.
■the young Rimsky-Korsakoff received a good dose of liberal
political idology in the three years he spent abroad*
During that period the clipper ^Almaz** was ordered to the
Baltic sea to make sure that no arms were smuggled into
Poland, which was in open rebellion against Russian rule#
Rimsky-Korsakoff remarked;
In spite of the secret sympathy within the young
hearts of some of us (the members of the midshipmen1^
cabin), for a cause that seemed righteous to us<* the
cause of a distant and kindred nationality oppressed
by her sister Russia, we were forced to set forth willynilly at the authorities11 order, to serve the oppressor
To Rimsky-Korsakoff Bs relief, the ship was never
called into action*
It was later ordered to the United
States, and then around the world, though it returned to
Russia after reaching South America, having been represented
as unseaworthy for such a voyage by the captain#
In the fall of 1865, Rimsky-Korsakoff returned to
St* Petersburg, there to renew his association with Balak­
ireff, Moussorgsky, and Cui, and to meet Borodin, who had
been added to the circle since Rimsky-Korsakoff had left
on his cruise#
Early compositions*
A symphony on which Rimsky-
Korsakoff had been working intermittently ever since he
^ Ificolay Andreyevich Rimsky—Korsakoff,
p. 39#
o p
had known Balakireff, was performed in December, 1865, by
the orchestra of the Free School of Music, under the baton
of Balakireff*
It excited considerable favourable comment,
and was hailed by Cui as the first Russian symphony.
Rimsky-Korsakoff slyly remarked, concerning this verdict,
"Rubinstein did not count J11
The subject which he chose for his next venture was
probably the outcome of both his recent seafaring experience
and the discussions of Slavonic folk-lore that took place
in the meetings of the Five.
Jt was the symphonic poem,
"Sadko," based upon the Russian folk-tale of a merchantminstrel Sadko who found his way into the submarine kingdom
of the sea, due to his impassioned playing on the native
instrument, the "guslee."
hater Rimsky-Korsakoff extended
the plot and re-wrote it as an ope ra.
A t about the same time he wrote his "Fantasy on
Serbian Themes" at the instigation of Balakireff, who was
interested in producing it at a concert for the visiting
10 I b id l. p .
K. Montagu-Hatiian, A Short. History of Russian Musie (Londons William Reeves, ISIST, p. 183
12 „
See page 52.
First, encounter with the censor.
It will he remembered
that in the late "sixties the Five were closely associated
with Dargomij sky, who was engaged at the time in writing
the opera, "The Stone Quest#1* Rimsky-Korsakoff, along with
the others of the Five, was inspired by Dargomijskyrs example
to write an opera, and chose as a subject an episode during
the reign of Ivan the Terrible#
Maid of Pskov#"
He called his opera, "The
The action of the plot hinged around the
attempt of the town of Pskov to maintain its democratic
form of government, represented by the vyeche. in the face
of tyranny, represented by the conquering Ivan the Terrible.
In view of the political situation of 1863, when
Alexander II was beginning to doubt the advisability of
many of the liberal reforms which he had made, the plot
contained potential political dynamite#
According to the
rules of the time, the libretto was presented to the censor
for his stamp of approval, and was promptly vetoed in its
original foim#
Rimsky-Korsakoff was required to change the
scene in which the democratic vyeche was introduced#
stead of a legal gathering of respectable citizens it must
be represented as a riot of irresponsible ruffians#
bureaucracy considered it dangerous to the existing forms
of government to present the slightest suggestion of the
13 see page 11.
practicabi li ty of the democratic form of government la
There was also a rule which forbade the represen. tat ion of a Russian 'Tsar in an opera#
On asking the reason
for such a rule, Rimsky-Korsakoff received the reply,
“A n d
suppose the Tsar should suddenly sing a ditty, well it
would be unseemly#“
However, Rimsky-Korsakoff was able,
through the machinations of the Secretary of the Bavy, who
had been a friend of his brother, to have the rule changed
to admit of the representation of Tsar Ivan in the opera.
Me was allowed on the grounds that Tsar Ivan was not a Ro­
manoff, and therefore his “singing of a ditty1* would not
impair the dignity of the ruling house.
The premiere of the opera took place on January 1,
T t is notable that, although the whole opera met
with favor, the second act, containing the scene of the
gathering of the rebellious vyeche, called forth the most
Whether Rimsky-Korsakoff was inspired b y the
subject to write his best music, or whether the audience
found itself so thoroughly in sympathy with the political
ideals expressed that it instinctively responded to them,
is an interesting question to ponder#
However that may be,
Micolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakoff , op. cit. ,
p. 107.
Ibid., p. 108#
Rimsky-Korsakoff reported with some complacency that “the
scene of the Pskov sol*mitsa (commonwealth volunteers)
struck the fancy of the young students, who were bawling
the song of the vol^mitsa to their hearts* content, up and
down the corridors of the Academy• "
Professor of composition*
During the period in which
Rimsky-Kor sakof f was engaged in writing “The Maid of Pskov”
he was surprised by receiving an appointment which influ­
enced his later life immeasurably*
In 1871 he was invited
to become Professor of Practical Composition and Instru­
mentation at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, which school
had been the stronghold of the Rubinstein school of “inter­
national thought1’ in music, as opposed to the nationalistic
ideas of the Five.
Although he was aware of his lack of
technical training for the position, he accepted it, upon
the urging of the other members of the Five, who were anxious
to have one of their number break into the hostile Conserv­
In looking back on that episode of his life, he
remarked, in his autobiography,
Had I ever studied at all, had I possessed a fraction
more of knowledge than I actually did, it would have
16 Ibid., p. 113
See page 53#
been obvious to me, that I could not and should not
accept the proffered appointment, that it was foolish
and dishonest of me to become a professor# • # . # I
was young and self-confident; my self-confidence was
encouraged by others, and I joined the Conservatory#
And yet, at the same time, I not only could not decently
harmonise a chorale, had not written a single counter­
point in my life, but I had hardly any notion of the
structure of a fugue; nay, did not even know the names
of the augmented and diminished intervals, of chords,
(except the fundamental triad), of the dominant chord
and the chord of the diminished seventh.
However, with characteristics of conscientiousness,
Rimsky-Korsakoff set about to remedy his lack of training.
A few years later he became so interested in the technical
aspects of his art that for a time he wrote music that was
merely a demonstration of technical proficiency, lacking his
nationalistic inspiration, and bearing much more resemblance
to the Rubinstein school of music than that of the Five.
Moussorgsky, indeed, decried him as a traitor to the cause
of the Five, and bitterly recalled the day when he had
"seized a different sort of a flag and raised it proudly
before humanity.11
However, this period of extreme de­
votion to technical perfection was merely a passing phase,
and Rimsky-Korsakoff soon returned to a viewpoint more
nearly resembling his original one#
p. 100.
A t the same time,
Hicolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakoff, pp. citg.,
M. B. Calvocoressi and Gerald Abraham, &p. cit.,
p. 115#
however, his intensive training in the fundamentals of musical
expression,— gave him a tremendous advantage over them in the
realm of technical proficiency.
Inspector of Naval Bands.
Another appointment which
afforded Rimsky-Korsakoff an opportunity to gain a more
practical knowledge of his art was Inspector of Music Bands
of the Navy Department (1874).
He attributed his appoint­
ment to this position to the influence of the same official
who had succeeded in persuading the censor to allow the repre­
sentation of Ivan the Terrible in "The Maid of Pskov.”
sky-Korsakoff took advantage of his new position to famil­
iarize himself with the construction and technique of or­
chestral Instruments, which knowledge enabled him to become
a recognized master of orchestration.
An interesting side light on the remifications of his
influence in this new post is afforded by his remark,
I am glad that while holding the post of Inspector,
I succeeded in placing, in the Naval Departments
bands,,two Russian bandmasters, • • • • whereas before
my time the leaders had been exclusively foreigners. 21
Assistant Director of the Imperial Chapel.
Nicolay Andreyevieh Rimsky-Korsakoff, op. cit.,
p. 115.
The ac-
Ibid., p. 121.
cession of Alexander III to the throne in 1883 brought
changes in Rimsky-Korsakoff1s official position.
He was
appointed Assistant Director of the Imperial Chapel, to
assist Balakireff, who was Director.
In the following year
the post of the Inspectorship of Naval Banls was abolished
im°the interests of economy.
Creative activity from 1871-1893.
For a considerable
period of time Rimsky-Korsakoff wrote little original music,
partly because of his heavy duties at the Conservatory, and
his government positions, and partly because he had under­
taken the completion and editing of the works of Moussorgsky
and Borodin, who had died in 1881 and 1887, respectively.
He seemed to lack creative inspiration for the time being,
and spent what little time he might have found for new
works in revising early compositions, making them conform
more nearly to the standards which he had set up for himself
after his study of harmony and orchestration.
Two activities probably turned Rimsky-Korsakoff*s
mind from the pursuit of purely technical proficiency, and
brought him bac£ to his original enthusiasm for national­
istic forms of expression.
These were the editing of
G l i n k a ^ opera scores, in which were found the first mani­
festations of a nationalistic style, and the compiling of
a collection of Russian folk-songs.
The results of these pursuits are found in his opera,
"May Night,11 produced in 1880.
This opera, which is based
on a fanciful story of Russian life by Gogol, is evidently
patterned after Glinka*s style, and abounds in folk songs.
His next opera, "The Snow Maiden," is based on a tale
b y Ostrovski, and is another expression of Rimsky-Korsakoff*s
enthusiasm for Russian folk lore.
He writes,
During the winter of 1879-80, when I re-read "Synegoorochka," its wonderful, poetic beauty had become
apparent to me. At once X conceived a longing to write
an opera on the subject; and the more I pondered my
intention, the more enamoured I felt of Ostrovski*s
fairy tale. My warmth towards ancient Russian custom
and pagan pantheism, which had manifested itself little
by little, now blazed forth in a bright flame. There
was no better theme in the world for me, there were no
finer poetic figures for me than Snyegoorochka, Lyel*
or Vyesna (Spring); there was no better kingdom than
the kingdom of the Byeryendyeys, with their wonderful
ruler; there was no better view of world and religion
than the worship of Yarilo-Sun.
Immediately upon read, ing it (in February, as I recall) there began to come
to my mind motives, themes, chord-passages? and there
began to glimmer before me fleetingly at first, but
more and more clearly later, the moods and clang tints
corresponding to the various moments of the subject. 22
In addition to Rimsky-Korsakoff*s two operas, written
during this period, two orchestral compositions are worthy
of attention.
The "Scheherazade Suite," based on tales from
the Arabian Nights, is an excellent example of Rimsky-Korsa­
koff *s skill in handling the Oriental element in his music.
In his "Russian Easter Overture** he made effective use of
p. 193.
Nicolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakoff, pp. cit.,
ecclesiastical themes combined with dance rhythms, by means
of which he depicted both the religious and pagan elements
which went into the celebration of the Russian Raster*
In 1892 his opera "Mlada" was produced, written on a
subject which the Five had used years before in an unsuccess­
ful attempt to collaborate on an opera*
There followed a period in his life during which he
passed through a sort of spiritual, physical and intellectual
He drifted from a study of musical aesthetics into
realms of mysticism.
He ceased to work on music entirely,
and complained of f,an extreme lassitude, accompanied by a
sort of rush to my head and utter confusion of thinking ."
Here we see an episode parallel to that^in Moussorgsky1s and
Balakireff fs lives,— a phase which has been described as a
not uncommon development in the lives of Russian creative
By the summer of 1894 Rimsky-Korsakoffrs creative
faculties had returned with full force, however.
He retired
from his position at the Imperial Chapel, and devoted the
time which his release from official duties left him, to
Ibidl, p. 193.
24 Ibid., p. 267.
Composition from 1894-1904.
His first work in this
new phase of his life was the opera, "Christmas Eve," the
production of which brought him into another altercation
with the censors.
The plot was based on a story by Gogol,
in which the Tsarina Catherine the Great played a part#
Realizing the possibility of the opera’s being censored,
because of the rule against representing the Romanoffs on
the stage, Rimsky-Korsakoff had been careful not to give
the Tsarina a name in his libretto, and had not even mention­
ed St# Petersburg as the setting for the opera.
The censor
insisted, however, that, as everyone knew the story by Gogol,
the Tsarina would be recognized at once as Gathering the
By means of intercession with courtiers who had
influence with the Tsar, Rimsky-Korsakoff was successful in
having the production sanctioned in the form in which he had
written it.
The over-zealous attempts of the Director of
Theatres to present a gorgeous spectacle in which the
Tsarina was made to look as much as possible like Catherine
the Great, and in which a magnificent back-drop representing
St. Petersburg was used, resulted in disaster, however.
Two of the Grand Dukes attending the dress rehearsal were
horrified at the unmistakable likeness of the Tsarina in
the opera to Catherine.
The representation on the back-drop
of the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul, in which their
ancestors were buried, likewise excited their indignation*
They hurried to the Tsar with loud protests.
his sanction for the presentation.
He withdrew
Finally the performance
was allowed to continue, on condition that the back-drop
be painted over, and the part of the Tsarina be changed to
that of a masculine ruler, called MHis Most Serene Highness."
Of the whole affair, Himsky-Korsakoff wrote:
It caused me, both sorrow and amusement, but a human
head is of no avail against a stone wall, after all,—
so I consented.........
I did not attend the first performance, my wife and
I staying at home.
I wished, at least thereby, to show
my displeasure at everything that had happened. 25
Rimsky-Korsakoff*s next venture was the opera "Sadko,"
based on the same theme as his early symphonic poem by that
It was submitted to the Imperial Theatre Directorate,
but after the trouble which "Christinas Eve" had caused them,
the directors were unwilling to give Rimsky-Korsakoff another
Indignantly he withdrew his opera, and resolved
never to trouble them with another opera again*
A private
company undertook the production, with reasonable success*
In the years following, Himsky-Korsakoff composed
operas at white heat.
In 1898 ‘Mozart and Salieri" was
produced; in 1899, "The Tsar*s Bride"; in 1900, "The Tale of
25 Ibid.. p. 303.
2® See page 92.
the Tsar Saltan”; in 1902, "Servilia” and "Pan Voevoda";
in 1903, ,fKitej*M
Hone of these is of particular importance
in this study.
4 hero of the revolutionary movement.
In 1904 came
the Russo-Japanese War with its disastrous consequences for
As corruption and inefficiency in government and
military circles became evident to the populace, riots and
mass demonstrations of disapproval became widespread through­
out Russia.
By January of 1905, St. Petersburg was practi­
cally in a state of revolution, with students taking the
lead in many of the demonstrations against the administration.
The students at the Conservatory where Rimsky-Korsa­
koff was
teaching were no exception.
They soon found them­
selves in direct conflict with the existing authorities.
The reactionary members of the Russian Musical Society,
which had controlled the Conservatory since its inception,
took repressive measures against the rebellious students,
exhibiting what Rimsky-Korsakoff considered to be gross and
wilful misunderstanding of the students* viewpoint.
In the
meetings of the faculty and directors which were called to
discuss the situation, Rimsky-Korsakoff appeared as the
champion of the students.
He openly expressed disapproval
of the attitude of the Russian Musical Society and of Bernhard, the director of the Conservatory.
He advocated the
deposing of both, and the adoption of a more liberal attitude
toward the students.
As a result, Himsky-Korsakoff was dis­
missed from the Conservatory.
He retorted in an open letter
to the Directorate of the St. Petersburg Branch of the
Imperial Russian Music Society, and resigned his honorary
membership in the Royal Music Society, as a gesture of pro­
As a result Rimsky-Korsakoff became, overnight, a
hero of the revolutionary movement in Russia, much to his
own amazement.
He described it thus, in his autobiography,
Then something incredible occurred. From St. Peters­
burg, Moscow and every corner of Russia^ there came
flying to me from every variety of institution and all
sorts of people, both connected with music and having
no connection with music, addresses and letters bearing
expressions of sympathy for me and indignation at the
Directorate of the Russian Musical Society. Deputations
from societies and corporations, as well as private
individuals kept coming to me with declarations to the
same effect. Articles discussing m y case began to
appear in all the papers; the Directorate was trampled
in the mud and had a very difficult time of it. • • .
To cap it all, the students set their minds on giving,
at Mm. Kommissarzhevskaya*s Theatre, an operatic per­
formance consisting of my "Kashchey11 and concert numbers.
"Kashchey11 had been rehearsed very finely under
Glazunofffs direction. At the conclusion of "Kashchey'1
something unprecedented took place:
I was called be­
fore the curtain, addresses from various societies and
unions were read to me, and inflammatory speeches were
delivered. The din and hubbub after each address and
each speech were indescribable. The police ordered
the iron curtain to be lowered and thereby ^stopped
further excitement. The concert portion did not
Such exaggeration of my services and quasi-extra­
ordinary courage may be explained only by the excite­
ment of Russian society as a whole, which desired to
express, in the form of an address to me, the pent-up
indignation against the general regime. 27
As a result of the disturbances at the production of
"Kashchey,11 the St. Petersburg police suppressed the next
Russian Symphony concert, and a ban was placed on the per­
formance of any of Rimsky-Korsakoffrs works in the capital
The prohibitive measure was lifted after a few months,
however, and Rimsky-Korsakoff1s works consequently became
more popular than ever.w
Kad Rimsky-Korsakoff been a younger man at this time,
instead of sixty-one years old, he might conceivably have
become a potent political force in the liberal movements
that were permeating Russia.
Instead, his sudden fame as
the artistic embodiment of the ideals opposed to autocracy
discomfited, rather than elated him.
He withdrew from St.
Petersburg, and devoted himself to writing his autobiography,
complaining that the events at the Conservatory had com­
pletely destroyed any creative powers for the time being.
Compositions after 1905.
Two compositions were to
emerge as a direct result of these political disturbances,
One was the setting of the revolutionary song,
Hicolay Andreyevich Rimsky—Korsakoff, pp. cit.,
p. 347.
,/M. D. Calvoeoressi and Gerald Abraham, pp. cit.,
p. 413.
"Doobinooshka," which is translated as "Little Cudgel."
This cudgel the workmen intended to use against their
The words of the opening verse show the
sentiment expressed:
I have heard songs that in my country ring;
They do not tell of joy, but grief and pain.
But one is graven deeper on my brain
Than all those songs— the song the workers sing.
E i , do ob inooshka, oukhni ern.
For years it was the rallying song of the young
revolutionaries and was banned by the governmental author­
The second work was "The Golden .Cockerel," the libret­
to of which was based on a satire of autocracy written by
In this opera the Emperor was represented as a
sensual and stupid nonentity, duped by the seductive Queen
Chemakhansky, who eventually caused his death. As was to
have been expected, the opera failed to pass the censor, and
was not produced in Russia until May, 1910, after the com­
p oser’s death.
In the interim between his resignation from the con­
servatory, and the censorship of "The Golden Cockerel,"
29 Feodor Chaliapin, Man and Mask (Hew York: Alfred
A. Knopf, 1932), p. 204.
M. Montagu-Nathan, pp. cit., p. 231.
however, Rimsky-Korsakoff was in Paris, supervising and
assisting in a series of five Russian orchestral concerts
which were presented by Diaghileff.
At that time, Russia
was very much interested in courting F r a n c e ^ favor, and
the concerts were looked upon as a means of creating great­
er understanding between the two nations* ,Rimsky-Korsakoff ,
though considered dangerous and revolutionary in his own
country, was honored as an influential cultural emissary
by the Russians in Paris*
Completely indifferent to the
political phase of his work, Rimsky-Korsakoff refused in­
vitations to various functions given by members of the
Imperial family who were in Paris, and exhibited great
disdain for the machinations of the government*
Returning to Russia, he took up residence on a
country estate on Lake Pesno, where he died of angina
pectoris on November 8, 1908.
The early adoration of Rimsky-Korsakoff
for Balakireff and his philosophical principles gave the
former a strong predilection for nationalistic expression*
Yet, because of Rimsky-Korsakoff *s later training, his
works exhibited a mucfc more polished and facile expression
of these traits than did those of his colleagues*
Korsakoff1^ experiences in the Russian navy provided him
with a background for particularly fine music descriptive
of the sea*
The phase of Russian nationalism which he was
most successful in depicting was the Oriental element*
Achieving more prestige as a composer during his
lifetime than did the others of the Five, Rimsky-Korsakoff
came into direct conflict with the Russian autocracy more
Of a liberal turn of mind, he insisted on writing
operas based on plots that were distasteful to the govern­
As a result, though not possessing the crusading
spirit to the extent that Houssorgsky, Cui, or Balakireff
did, Rimsky-Korsakoff nevertheless found himself regarded
as a champion of the working classes at the end of his life.
Discomfited, rather than elated at this reputation, HimskyKorsakoff avoided both governmental and revolutionary
circles, maintaining that his mission as an artist was
solely that of expressing the spirit of his country as he
felt it*
Borodin has been called the supreme justification.
of the amateur in music.
Endowed with an equal enthusiasm.
for music and chemistry he was able to pursue both lines of
development with outstanding success.
Scientists have
studied his treatises on “The Solidification ox Aldehydes,**
and “Researches upon the Fluoride of Benzole,** with as much
respect as that with which musicians listen to his brilliant
handling of the Polovetzian dance music in his opera, “Prince
A great humanitarian, as well as a scientist and a
musician, he worked untiringly for the admission of women
into the medical profession, and saw his efforts crowned
with success before his death.^
Heritage and early influences.
Possessing the dis­
tinction of being the only one of the Five to have come from
an urban, rather than a provincial background, Alexander
Borodin was born in St. Petersburg in 1833.
He was the
1 Gerald E. B. Abraham, Borodin, the Composer and
His Music (London: William Reeves), p. 205.
2 M. Montagu-Nathan, A History of Russian Music.
(London: William Reeves, .1918) p. 87.
3 Ibid., p. 107.
illegitimate son of Prince Luke Ghedeanoff, a Georgian
prince, but was registered as the son of Porphyri Borodin,
one of his father's serfs#
The location of the province
of Georgia at the gateway to Asia, and the Oriental cast to
Borodin's features give basis for the generally accepted
opinion that there was a considerable amount of Oriental
blood flowing in Borodin's veins#
The Oriental flavor of
much of his music gives further credence to the speculation#
By the time Borodin had reached seventeen years of
age he had learned to play the piano and flute, had taught
himself to play the 'cello, had written a concerto for flute
and piano, a trio for two violins and a 'cello, and had
acquired enough scientific knowledge to matriculate at the
Academy of Medicine and Surgery in St# Petersburg.
In 1856 he was appointed assistant to the professor
of pathology and therapeutics, and in May, 1858, he received
his degree of Doctor of Medicine.
In 1859 Borodin was sent
abroad at the expense of the Russian government to continue
his scientific work.
For three years he studied in Germany,
Italy, Switzerland, and France#
Always alert to musical
developments, he heard a great many concerts and operas,
and became familiar with the musical diet of WTestern Europe,
^ M. B. Calvo cores si and Gerald Abraham. Masters of
Russian Music (Hew York: Alfred A. Khopf, 1936>, p. 155.
though he undertook no systematic studies of harmony or
On this same trip he met the talented Russian
pianist, Catherine Prohopopova, whom he later married,^
Borodinas association with the F i v e ,
In 1862 he
returned to Russia and accepted an appointment as assistant
lecturer at the St, Petersburg Academy of Medicine.
this same year he met Mily Balakireff, and enrolled as his
It is of interest to note that Borodin, the last one
to join the Five, did so at the age of twenty-nine, after
having travelled considerably and having made a conspicuous
success in another field.
Although an enthusiastic admirer
of Balakireff, and thoroughly in sympathy with his national­
istic ideals, Borodin*s rational and scientific mind never
came quite so completely under the spell of Balakireff *s
personality as did those of the members of the group who
had joined at a less mature age.
As a result, there is
less of the crusading spirit expressed in Borodinas work,
and more evidence of spiritual poise and equanimity. One
evidence of this control is the fact that Borodin was the
only one of the Five who could sumit himself to the restric­
tions of the classic symphonic form and produce really
5 IbidlT p. 158.
® Gerald E. H. Abraham,
cit.., p. 178.
great music within its limitations*
Because of the demands which his scientific duties
made upon him, Borodin seldom had much time for composing,
and, as a result, his compositions are few in number.
one time he wrote to a friend, 11In winter X can only compose
when I am too unwell to give my lectures.
So my friends,
reversing the usual custom, never say to me,
*1 hope you are
well} but «X do hope you are ill. *M
Borodin as a nationalist.
Five years after Borodin
came to Balakireff for lessons he managed to complete his
first symphony, which was performed with considerable success
by the orchestra of the Free Music School, under the baton
of Balakireff, in 1869.
In 1876 he finished his second and
last symphony, which Felix Weingartner, the eminent German
conductor, considers to be the most important production of
modern Russian music.
Two string quartets also rank high
in the opinion of the critics.
Despite the fact that Borodin, in writing his sym­
phonies and string quartets, used the classical form which
had reached its highest expression in the works of the
8 Gerald E. M. Abraham, op. cit.f p. 178.
^ Rosa Mewmarcb, The Russian Operar (Mew York: E. P.
Dutton and Co., 1905), p. 2 6 H
8 Gerald E. E. Abraham, op. cit., p. 34.
German composers, there is an essential difference in the
style of composition of Borodin f& works, which prevents them
from being labelled as offshoots of Western European in­
In analyzing this influence, Abraham points out
that, whereas the basis of musical construction in Western
Europe is the logical development, of germinal ideas, such
progressive thinking is foreign to the Russian mind.
Russian mental process, he maintains, is more akin to brood­
ing, Ma continual turning over of ideas in his mind, viewing
them from different angles, throwing them against strange
and fantastic backgrounds, but never evolving anything from
Whereas the forward impulse in a symphony by
Beethoven or Brahms comes from the logic of his music,
Abraham maintains that with Borodin the underlying rhythm is
the only mean© used to give a sense of continuity.
themes are not to be dissected and re-compounded, but rather
to be observed through the changing orchestral and harmonic
colours which he choose© to play on them.
With this thought
in mind we can understand Felix Weingartner*s statement that
Borodin's Second Symphony "conveys a perfect picture of
Russian life and character" in spite of its being one of
the comparatively few pieces of music by the Five which
^ Gerald Abraham, Studies in Russian Music (London:
William Reeves), p. 12.
10 Ibid.I, p. 111.
does not, ostensibly deal with a nationalistic subject.11
The composition in which Borodin shows most obvious­
ly the influence of the nationalist sentiments of the Five,
however, is the opera, “Prince Igor.,f The plot, which is
based .on Russian history, deals with an encounter of Prince
Igor and his son with one of the Polovetzian tribes that
had been raiding his territory.
The dramatic interest of
the opera is slight, merely forming a flimsy thread on which
are strung scenes that abound in dazzling color.
composition received the hearty approval of the Five.
Borodin records;.
It is curious to see how all the members of our set
agree in the praise of my work. While controversy rages
amongst us on every other subject, all, so far, are
pleased with ‘Igor.e Moussorgsky, the ultra-realist,
the innovating lyric-dramatist, Cui, our master, Balakireff, so severe as regards form ana tradition, Vladimir
Stasoff himself , our valiant champion of everything that
bears the stamp of novelty or greatness
Rosa Mewmarch, the critic, says;
‘Prince Igor*1 comes as a serene and restful inter­
lude after the stress and horror which characterise many
Russian national operas. Hor is it actually less national
because of its optimistic character. There are two
sides to the Russian temperament; the one overshadowed
b y melancholy and mysticism; prone to merciless analysis;
seeing only the contradictions and vanities of life,
the mortality and emptiness of all that is., . • • The
other side of the Russian character is really more
It shows itself in the popular literature.
11 Gerald E. B. Abraham, Borodin, the Composer and
His Music (bondon: William Reeves), p. 34,
3-2 M. Montagu-Rathan, op. cit., p. 99,
folk-songs and bylini are not. all given up to resentful
bitterness and despair# We find this healthier spirit
in the masses, where it takes the form of a desire for
practical knowledge, a shrewdness in making a bargain
and a co-operative spirit that properly guided would
accomplish wonders.
It shows itself, too, in a great
capacity for work which belongs to the vigorous youth
of the nation and in a cheerful resignation to inevitable
hardships. Borodin was attracted b y temperament to
this saner aspect of national character#13
Gerald 'Abraham expresses somewhat the same conviction
when he writes:
O n e *8 prevailing feeling as to Borodin is a strong
conviction of his unfailing fundamental sanity! Me is,
for all that, more accurate in his expression of the
Russian mind and soul than any of the excitable neurotics,
and while their paroxysms are merely repellent to the
sober Western mind, we are able to enjoy Borodin even
when he is depicting the most frightful traits of national
character# To wield this power, as well as to create
the most pure, unsullied beauty, is only the gift of a
very great artist,.and as such we must consider
Alexander Borodin#1'4
“Prince Igor,11 like all the other compositions of
Borodin, suffered from the lack of time which Borodin had
to spend on composing, and was not finished at the time of
his death.
Rimsky-Korsakoff and his pupil Glazounoff under­
took to complete it, and the form in which they finally cast
it is the one which is heard today#
A few songs of undoubted meritj a tone—poem, “On the
Steppes of Central Asia, M which was written for a projected
Rosa Mewmarch, dp# cit#, p. 263#
14 Gerald E. H. Abraham, op. cit., p. 206.
celebration of the silver jubilee of Tsar Alexander II; a
few works written in collaboration with other members of
the Five; and some minor piano works, complete the list of
Borodin*s compositions.
Certainly it was the most limited
output of any of the Five.
But the prestige of the group
would have been considerably lessened, had not their band
included Alexander Borodin*
In studying the effect of political and
social developments on Borodinfs music, there is less ev­
idence of their direct influence in his works than in those
of most of his colleagues.
He was not obsessed with
Balakireff *s gospel of Slavophilism; he did not feel the
direct results of Alexanderll's liberal reforms as did
SCoussorgsky; his work was not continually being censored by
the government, as in the case of Himsky-Korsakoff*
both his scientific profession and musical avocation congenial
and satisfying, he pursued the even tenor of his way, ap­
parently only slightly affected by governmental restrictions.
On the other hand, perhaps because of his very freedom from
these temporary enthusiasms and strains, his music is con­
sidered by some critics to be more expressive of the uni­
versal Russian mind than the music of those composers who
were carried away by a single phase of Russian nationalism*
Studies of the individual members of the Russian
Five in relation to their political and social environment
have been presented in the five preceding chapters*
it is evident through these studies that the manifestations
of the nationalistic spirit necessarily changed with the
various personalities and backgrounds of the individual
members of the Five, there are nevertheless certain elements
of solidarity within the group that can be observed*
Ten is devoted to a presentation of the ideals and charac­
teristics of the Five as a group, and an estimate of the
results of their group activity*
Clear-cut and specific statements concerning the
collective ideals of the Five, made either by the members of
the group themselves, or by their biographers, are surpris­
ingly hard to find*
In the opinion of the writer the most
succinct statement is made by Gerald Abraham*
He ways;
To found a national school of composition, deriving
its musical basis from the rich stores of national
folk-song and having as a literary source of inspiration
the fantastic fairy-tales of Slavonic folk-lore; to dis­
cover a form of music drama which should be melodious
without being Wagnerian; and last, but by no means least,
to bring their work before an indifferent, if not hos­
tile, public, and compel it to recognise its merit;
such was the truly Herculean task which the members ol
“the "Invincible Band11 set* themselves.^
In. the succeeding paragraphs these three tenets of
the creed of the Five, as stated by Abraham, will be applied
to the music of the group in an effort to determine the extent to which the Five achieved these goals.
The folk basis of the music of the Five.
The most
valid test which one can use in d e t e m i n i n g the extent to
which the original music of the Five is truly founded on the
national folk song is a direct comparison of their composi­
tions with the folk expression of the country.
If, on
examination, their music is found consistently to possess
many similarities to the spontaneous, unstudied expression
of the masses of the Russian people, one should be justified
in concluding that the Five had achieved this end.
The characteristics of Russian folk music described
in Chapter Three will be compared in the succeeding paragraphs with the original compositions of the Five.
The first attribute mentioned was a decidedly Oriental
flavor to much of the folk music.
This characteristic is
exhibited in various compositions on Oriental themes by the
Five, mentioned in preceding chapters*
Balakireff1'© piano
Gerald Abraham, Borodinr the Composer and
(London: William Reeves, p* 1*
2 See page 29*
fantasia, "Islamey,11 and his tone poem, “Tamara” $ RimskyKorsakoff's “Scheherazade Suite,'1 and his opera, "The
Golden Codkerel"; and Borodin's tone poem, "On the Steppes
of Central Asia," are the most outstanding of these examples.
A second characteristic of Russian folk music was
said to have been the traces of the influence of the Ortho­
dox church, in the matter of the use of the old modal scales
found in the church liturgy.
The strange tonalities in many
of the works of the Five are found, when analyzed, to be
due to the employment of these ancient modes.
Two especially
obvious examples of the employment of these old church modes
are to be found in Rimsky-Korsakoff rs symphonic poem, "Russian
Festival of High Easter," and in Moussorgsky's opera,
"Khowanstchina," the plot of which centers around the schism
in the Russian church.
A third characteristic of Russian folk music was
pointed out as being a constant shifting of rhythms in
conformity to the meaning of the words to which the music is
This characteristic, which is found to varying extents
in the music of all the Five, is particularly evident in
Moussorgsky-s music.
Kurt Schindler comments on it thus:
His strict adherence to the inflections of the Russian
spoken word leads him to a liberty and freedom from
regular rhythms hitherto unheard of.^ There is no regu­
larity of musical periods corresponding to each other,
as in the classical masters, and there are continual
changes of bar and tempo such as nobody had dared to
write up to this time.
It means boldness, indeed, on
the part of Moussorgsky in the year 1868 to change the
bar twenty-three times inside of one song (Ho>. 1 of the
children's songs). • • • . Modern musical explorers of
Russia, who, like Madame Lineff have traveled through
the peasant districts, taking down the Russian folk songs
b y means of the phonograph, have stated scientifically
how variable and flexible the character of the Russian
folk-melos is.
Extreme intensity of feeling is often cited as typical
of Russian folk music.
The wild abandon of the Polovetzian
Dances in Borodinf!s “Prince Igor11$ the stark tragedy in the
scene from Moussorgslsy^s “Boris Godunoff,11 depicting the
death of Boris; the pagan merriment expressed in RimskyKorsakoff*s “Russian Festival of High Easter,“ are outstand^
ing examples of the ability of the Five to express in vivid
colours the unbridled emotions of their primitive countrymen.
In addition to these characteristics which one can
analyze and dissect, however, there must be an intangible
similarity of spirit between the works of a composer and the
folk music of his country in order that his music might be
described as truly nationalistic in expression.
The writer
was unable to find a single authority on the subject who
took the stand that this similarity of spirit did not exist.
But, in the opinion of the writer, an incident related by
the Russian bass, Chaliapin, unwittingly describes the
^ Kurt Schindler, Boris Godounoff and the Life o f t
Moussorgsky (Hew York: The Morth American Review Publishing
Co., 1913), p. 10.
similarity more graphically than could the most lengthy
Chaliapin tells of a harassed employee of the
Marie Theatre in St* Petersburg who one day gave full vent
to his irritation at having to make ready for another new
production of the Russian school of composers*
The stage­
hand irately announced that the director had said that
every time he produced one of these operas the whole theatre
"stinks of cabbage soup and gruel*
The moment the overture
strikes up, it literally reeks of vodka*"
Though harsh,
this is evidently a sincere tribute to the indigenous
character of the music#
The operas of the Five*
The aim of the Five, in the
words of Abraham, "to discover a form of music drama which
should be melodious without being Italian, and dramatically
and logically sound without being Wagnerian, ” was achieved
with varying emphases by the individual members of the Five.
Cui^s operas are scarcely distinguishable from the
Italian operas of the time*
Balakireff made no attempt at
Borodin* s one opera, "Prince Igor," and those of
^ Feodor Chaliapin, Man and Mask (New York: Alfred
A. Knopf, 1932), p* 50.
See page 116.
Rimsky-Korsakoff are the best examples of* music dramas that
are "melodious without being Italian.11 The close similarity
of the elements of their music to those of the Russian folk
song made their melodies distinctively Russian in character,
without losing any of the tunefulness which is associated
with Italian opera#
In the operas of Moussorgsky are found the best ex­
amples of music that was "dramatically and logically sound
without being Wagnerian.ff The leitmotif found in Wagnerian
operas is not observable to any extent in those of Moussorg­
He achieved the effect of dramatic sincerity by the
close adherence of the music to the inflections of the text.
The choruses which he assigned to be sung by the Russian
peasants were dramatically sincere, probably because of
both his understanding of folk expression, and his deep,
instinctive sympathy for the masses#
Public recognition of the Five.
In discussing the
reaction of the public to the music of the Five, one should
consider both the reception of their works on the part of
the general concert-going public, and the more lasting effect
on the creative musicians who were to follow the Five#
The derision and contempt with which the early ef­
forts of the Invincible Band were greeted has now passed
Characteristics of their music, which were once con-
sidered blunders duetto lack of technical skill by early
critics, are now regarded as innovations which were un­
appreciated by tradition-bound contemporary musicians*
Without apology or explanation, their works are programmed
on an equal basis with those of the great Western European
Their influence upon succeeding composers presents a
different picture, however.
Gerald Abraham observes:
The influence of the "Invincible Band," as a body,
though very important, took strangely different chan­
nels from what might have been expected. On the general
course of the development of modern European music their
ideas have left the most marked traces. Everyone knows
how Debussy, and hence the entire Impressionist school
of music, was enormously affected by Moussorgsky, him­
self an entire realist, especially in his opening up of
new harmonic paths, and the revelation of new undreamed
of music, of brilliant orchestral colour which brought
about something like a revolution in the post-Wagnerian
world of music, especially in France. Still more im­
portant was the impetus given to nationalist ideals and
the use of folk-song? so much needed in the England of
that time, stifled with German ideas and methods. . . .
In Bussia itself, however, where one would naturally
have expected its influence to have been most evident
it failed to bear any valuable fruit and gradually
fizzled out, with such men as Liadoff, Glazounoff and
Liapounoff, into a mere dull respectability which might
pardonably be mistaken for the products of the school
of the Rubinsteins and Tschaikoffsky. 6
Rosa Newmarch writes:
He who pays the piper will, directly or indirectly,
Gerald Abraham, op. cit., p. 199.
call the tune.
If he be a Maecenas of wide culture and
liberal tastes he will perhaps call a variety of tunes;
if, on the other hand, he be a home-keeping millionaire
with a narrowly patriotic outlook he will call only for
tunes that awaken a familiar echo in his heart. So an
edict— maybe an unspoken one— goes forth that a composer
who expects his patronage must always write in the
lfnative idiom *r; which is equivalent to laying down the
law that a painterfs pictures will be disqualified for
exhibition if he uses more colours on his palette than
those which appear in his country1^ flag. Something
of this kind occurred in the ultra-national school of
music in Russia, and was realised by some of its most
fervent supporters as time went on.
It is not difficult
to trace signs of fatigue and perfunctoriness in the
later works of its representatives. At times the burden
of nationality seems to hang heavy on their shoulders;
the perpetual burning of incense to one ideal dulled
the alertness of their artistic sensibilities. Less grew
out of that splendid outburst of patriotic feeling than
those who hailed its first manifestations had reason to
Its bases were probably too narrowly ex­
clusive to support an edifice of truly imposing di­
mens ions.7
Constant Lambertfs criticism of the Five is even more
He writes:
The Russian national tradition, therefore, may now
be considered as dead as mutton and, as it is the only
national music whose beginnings and whose end we can so
clearly trace? it is worthwhile pausing a moment to see
what it has given us that is good— and also what harm
it has done. On the credit side are one opera of out­
standing genius, another half-dozen of remarkable merit,
a couple of symphonies of unequal merit, and a host of
short orchestral and piano pieces of undeniable albeit
monotonous charm.
Permeating all this is a wealth of
vitality, colour, and primitive nostalgia which breaks
through the stuffy conservatoire tradition of the central '
European composers as refreshingly as the painting of
Gauguin and Van Gogh breaks through the traditions of
the French Salon. But, as I have said elsewhere, Russian
music produced no (Sezanne. In its lack of any genuinely
Rosa Newmarch, The Russian Opera (New York: E. P.
Dutton and Co., 1915), p. 209.
architectural element it carried with it the seeds of
its own ultimate collapse. . . .
On the debit side,
then, is this one grave accusation. Bussian music had
the vitality to break up the eighteenth-century tradition,
but not the vitality to build up another. Like nomad
Tartars, the Russians razed the Western buildings to
the ground but put up in their place only gaily painted
In the face of this evident lack of spiritual success­
ors to the Five among the present composers in Russia, one
is led to ponder over more the political and social back-*
ground of the nation as possibly being a potent factor in
determining trends.
The causes which thrilled Russians in
the latter half of the nineteenth century,— the recognition
of the nobility of the Slav, the freeing of the serfs,—
these have become dead issues in the twentieth century.
Proletarianism has taken the place of Slavophilism as a cult,
and the artistic expression of this new social concept
could not follow the paths which the Five traversed in their
search for the perfect expression of their ideals.
A study of the music of the contemporary Soviet com­
posers, Frokofieff and Shostakovich, written from the
political and social point of view, would be an interesting
sequel to this study, and the contrast would probably make
more evident the reasons for the F i v e ’s writing as they did.
^Constant Lambert, Music H o • A S t u d y of Music in
Decline (London: Faber and Faber, Ltd., 1937T7 p. 169.
The comparison of the characteristics of
the Russian folk music and original compositions of the Five
shows many similarities "between the two, both as to idiosyncracies of expression and the spirit of the whole.
attempt of the Five to produce a national opera that should
he neither Italian nor German in style, hut both melodic
and dramatic, succeeded in varying degrees, and with different
emphases in the case of individual members of the group.
The worth of the nationalistic movement of the Five,
and the genius of the members of the group have been recog­
nized throughout the world.
But, though there are many
composers who have been influenced by the ideals and in­
novations of the Five, there is no great contemporary
composer who, being guided by the same principles which
guided them in their compositions, could be called their
spiritual successor.
The attempt of the Russian Five to write music that
would he expressive or Russian nationalism was the artistic
outgrowth of the social philosophy or Slavophilism.
Slavophils saw in the Slavic peoples a superior race, so
the Five saw in Slavic music a superior type or artistic
expression which should, not oe adulterated by mixing with
Western European musical idioms.
The Period or the Great Reforms (185t>-lobb), an epoch
in which the emancipation or the serfs became the all-en­
grossing aim or the intelligentsia, centred attention on
the peasant life of the nation.
The peasant was idealized
as a perfect type of unspoiled humanity, and his life and
sufferings became a legitimate subject for artistic expres­
Music closely resembling the peasant folk music was
considered to be the most expressive and sincere.
The Five,
deeply in sympathy with the peasants, and having studied
the folk music of the nation because of their Slavophil
sympathies, produced music that expressed the soul of the
Russian peasant masses.
The reactionary period that set in after the Period
of the Great Reforms caused some of the compositions of the
Russian Five to be regarded with disfavor by the autocratic
As a result, the music of the Five came to he
regarded generally as an expression of the masses as opposed
to autocracy.
Thus it was often censored by the government
and idealized by the revolutionaries#
Although possessing many common characteristics and
ideals, the works of each member of the Five give evidence
that the personality and experiences of each produced individua 1 characteristics of expression which make the work of
each composer distinguishable from that of his colleagues#
Balakireff, the founder and intellectual leader of
the group, was the most ardent disciple of Slavophilism.
He was the first of his group to collect folk-songs of the
people, using them in his original compositions, and en­
couraging his friends to do the same#
Because of his early
leadership of the Five he may be credited with the guidance
of the group into the paths of nationalism.
The greatest contribution of Cui to the cause of the
Five lay in his journalistic activities on their behalf.
a time when all other critics were united in their condem­
nation of the music of the group, Cui used his position as
musical critic of the St. Petersburg Gazette to defend the
musical creed of the Five and draw attention to the merits
of their work.
His music, surprisingly, exhibits almost no
evidences of the nationalistic ideals which animated the
group, more closely resembling Western European models than
the compositions of his colleagues.
Rimsky-Korsakoff, the most highly educated musician
of the group, was considered the most radical politically
at the time of his death.
His operas were constantly cen­
sored by the government, as expressing sentiments that were
distasteful to the autocracy.
Of a liberal turn of mind,
Rimsky-Korsakoff insisted on writing on the subjects which
pleased him, regardless of their political implications.
His last opera, "The Golden Cockerel," was a direct satire
of the autocracy.
Nevertheless, he had no desire to be
the political leader that the proletarians wished to make
of him, and shunned the attentions that were showered upon
him by that group.
Judged from a purely musical standpoint,
his compositions are less radical than the majority of his
Moussorgsky was most deeply affected by the Period
of the Great Reforms.
The emancipation of the serfs affects
ed him to a greater degree than any of his associates, as he
was part owner of an estate that was ruined by the emanci­
pation decree.
In his work with the peasants he developed
a great interest in, and sympathy for, that class, and his
compositions are largely devoted to an expression of their
joys and sorrows.
Borodin seemed to be less affected by temporal
changes in Russia than Moussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakoff •
His music displayed comparatively little imprint of the
various social upheavals that were taking place during his
At the same time his music possessed definite national
characteristics of a type that presented the Russian temper­
ament as being more sane and less neurotic than did the
music of his colleagues.
This more impartial attitude may
be due to a less personal connection with the social changes
that were going on at the time, and to the fact that the
crusading element of his nature found expression in his
vocation of medicine, rather than in his avocation of music.
In Borodin's music is found an accurate but impersonal
description of the Russian national character.
As a group, the Five were successful in convincing
the world of the validity of Russian nationalistic musical
expression, and were responsible for similar, though less
ardent, nationalistic movements in other countries.
compared with the folk expression of Russia, their music
is seen to be, on the whole, a sincere representation of
the souls of the Russian masses.
Although traces of their
influence can be found in many modern compositions, the
nationalistic school, such as they conceived it, seems to
have died out.
This fact may be construed to give support
to the theory that art derives its vital characteristics
from the political and social background of its creative
artists, and, once that background changes, as it has in
Russia, artistic production must necessarily change with it.
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