Russia, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe

  • Charles Osborne


Solosongin Russia emerged in the early 19th century from the country’s store of folk music. The earliest of the composers whose songs are known and sung today is Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804–1857), renowned as the creator of the first great Russian operas A Life for the Tsar and Russian and Ludmila. He was an initiator, though hardly in any sense an experimenter, whose interests were primarily Western, and not Russian. As a child, Glinka received a few piano lessons from the Irish composer and pianist, John Field; as a young man he studied singing with Belloli, an Italian teacher in St Petersburg; and in his twenties he travelled to Italy where he studied for three years in Milan and also met Bellini and Donizetti. Small wonder, then, that Glinka’s songs, of which he wrote more than seventy, are Italianate in style, graceful bel canto melodies of charm rather than of forceful character. The earliest songs were written in the mid 1820s, when both Schubert and Bellini were at the height of their powers, but they are much closer to the simple tunes of the Italian than to the more highly organized Lieder of the Viennese composer. The last songs, composed in the mid 1850s, though contemporaneous with those of the young Brahms, appear not to have developed at all significantly from the earlier ones. Nevertheless, Glinka’s works deserve their place in any survey of European song, however uncharacteristic of the Russian spirit they may be, many of them, despite the old-fashioned style of their musical language, are exceptionally beautiful.


Eastern EUROPE Folk Song Popular Song Song Output German Setting 
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© Charles Osborne 1974

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  • Charles Osborne

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