Russian Music Composers








Peter Ilich

By Hong-Gee Kim


Tchaikovsky was born on May 7, 1840, in Votkinsk in the Ural Mountains. From 1850 to 1859 he attended the School of Jurisprudence. After his graduation, he briefly held a job as a government clerk, but soon threw this career over in favor of musical pursuits and went the just founded Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1862.


Tchaikovsky taught theory in Moscow, joining the faculty of the new Moscow Conservatory when it opened in September 1866. During his 11 years there, he composed his Piano Concerto no. 1 (1875), the ballet Swan Lake (1876), four operas, three symphonies, and many smaller works. During his short marriage, he managed to finish three masterpieces--the Fourth Symphony, the Violin Concerto, and the opera Eugene Onegin.


Tchaikovsky’s reputation grew with the Capriccio Italien (1880), the 1812 overture (1880), and two more operas, as well as the Liturgy (1878) and the Vesper Service (1881). His fame, as both conductor and composer, spread as the result of a series of international tours, which brought him to the United States in 1891. He continued to compose--the ballets Sleeping Beauty (1889) and Nutcracker (1892), the Fifth (1888), Sixth (1885) symphonies, and three final operas, including the powerful and theatrical The Queen of Spades (1890). On Nov. 6, 1893, a few days after conducting the premier of his Sixth Symphony, Tchaikovsky died in Saint Petersburg.


Tchaikovsky is one of the most beloved composers in history. His music is probably played everyday all over world. He used his music to spread Russian culture and pride. For example, his lyric gift owes much to Russian folk song, which he quotes (First Piano Concerto, Second and Fourth symphonies) or imitates (First Symphony, Second String Quarter), and to the 19th century Russian salon song, whose traits permeate his vocal melody (songs and romances, Eugene Onegin) and even infuse his instrumental themes (First and Sixth symphonies). He wrote 1812 Overture to celebrate the great Russian victory of 1812 over Napoleon. He must be one of the glories of Russia.



  • The 1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia

  • Internet



The Great Russian Composer

by Robin Miranda


The great Russian composer, Modeste Petrovich Moussorgsky, was born on March 16, 1839, at Karevo. Childhood surroundings were found to be of great influence to his enticing career. His father enjoyed music thoroughly, and his mother was an excellent pianist. He owed much of his art, however, to his nurse, with all of her Russian folklore that he became so acquainted with. These folk songs heard as a child, inspired him at the piano, even before his mother started to teach him.


With his evident gift for music, Moussorgsky's parents were determined to do anything in their power to develop it. They chose a teacher for him, Anton Herke, who developed considerable skill in him as a performer and composer. In 1852 he entered a private institution, the Imperial Guard Cadets School, from which then he passed into the school, the Ensigns of the Guard. It was here that he wrote his first composition, Ensigns' Polka", dedicated to his comrades.

In 1856, he met upon Aleksandr Borodin, who realized greatly, the fertility of Moussorgsky's musical life. He then gained numerous other acquaintances; Balakirev, Cui, Rimsky, and Korsakov, and set himself on learning more the form and structure of a "meaningful endeavor", a commitment to a nationalist Russian music.


Moussorgsky is best known for the operas "Boris Godounov" and "Khovantchina". Through all of his works, he encompasses the realm of Russian historical patriotism. With a career of portraying events of his homeland through the history of Russia, he greatly paints vivid pictures of the country, somewhat stretching the truth at times, but almost always accurate. Almost all of the places he traveled were versed into his works, and he never forgot all the lives he had encountered and touched. He cherished them all and every so often, dedicated a composition to one, i.e. entitled "Death - an Epitaph", in memory of a very close lady friend.


"He wished to glorify the Russian people", as author Montagu points out. His work possesses the ideas of an innovator, it seems, and uses verse to point out the specific points of interest he wishes to bring to life. Moussorgsky's themes are seen as connecting links to his view of history, and the characters that took part. He dwells deep into their minds, portraying their presence as thoroughly as he can.


Moussorgsky was said to often threw himself into his work. It took several revisions of "Boris Godounov" until the Imperial Operatic Committee allowed it to be performed. He dove deeper and deeper, and worked harder and harder, and when performed, it was a success.

Moussorgsky's last years were spent in poverty and physical decay. His financial resources were hardly anything to keep him from striving. He then supplemented income by taking small engagements as a pianist. In 1878, he lost a dear friend, that so touched him, he was unable to do work for a considerable amount of time.


He made his last public appearance acknowledging the tributes of an audience at a concert in Petrograd. He would never forget all the many faces he had seen, nor the places he had traveled. He was a man of all skills, and worked very hard at becoming what he had become A month later, the toll of alcoholism took his health, and he died at the Military Hospital in St. Petersburg on his birthday, March 16, 1881.


Many of Moussorgsky's works as could be found were preserved for publication, having been revised by Rimsky-Korsakof, who devoted many years to this task so Moussorgsky's voice may still be heard. A voice, distinctly Russian, with a unique communication of personality and emotion all its own.



  • Montagu, Nathan. Moussorgsky.

  • The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia. Columbia University Press, 1991.

  • World Wide Web. Music, Russian homepages.





by Molly Eastman,
February 1999


Russian people have sung, played, and danced to their native folk music for centuries. These folk melodies, a part of everyday life for most Russians, are now internationally recognized, an attribute established by Pytor Il’yich Tchaikovsky’s music that brought Russia to the foreground of nineteenth and twentieth century classical music.


Pytor Il’yich Tchaikovsky was born in the town of Votkinsk, located in the Western Ural region of Russia. He developed an early interest in music, taking private piano lessons and attending many concerts with his father. However, music was only a hobby, and Tchaikovsky was formally educated far away from home in St. Petersburg. Studying law with the intention of a career in government, Tchaikovsky obtained the post of petty clerk in the Ministry of Justice. After a brief period in this employment, Tchaikovsky’s developing passion for music caused him to rebel against his parents and enter the newly founded St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music (Mason). At the conservatory, Tchaikovsky studied music theory and composition with Anton Rubinstein, from whom he received recommendation to be appointed as a theory professor at the new Moscow Conservatory. This prime position allowed time for Pytor’s composing skills to flourish.


As a composer, Tchaikovsky was deeply interested in his own peoples’ music and literature. In 1869, after Tchaikovsky arrived to teach in Moscow, his opera The Voyevoda, based on Ostrovsky’s melodrama, was given a public performance (Brown 609). The opera contained both a story line and music that was intensely Russian, attracting the attention of the composer Balakirev, the great Russian nationalist and leader of The Five, a circle of nationalist composers including Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Borodin, and Cesar Cui (Brown 610).


The Five was formed to try to promote a cultural revolution in Russia that would bring a flourishing to the arts, especially music. For centuries, Russia had been secluded from the modernization and cultural developments that Western Europe embraced, and Russians were beginning to want change. "In Western Europe, secular literature and vocal and instrumental music evolved gradually from church forms (gradually marginalizing popular musical traditions), but this process did not occur in Russia. Instead, the Russian church successfully opposed the development of secular culture and retained its cultural monopoly until well into the seventeenth century," claims Andrew Wachtel, a specialist in Russian literature (Wachtel ix). Prior to composers such as The Five and Mikhail Glinka, classical music in Russian was handled by Italian, French, and German composers (Grout 666). The Five were interested in promoting Russian folksongs and literature in classical music; however, they felt disillusioned by Western music practices. Instead of utilizing Western harmony, the group set their native music using folksong, modal scales, and folk polyphony (Grout 667). Initially, Tchaikovsky wanted dearly to be included in this group of domestically respected composers. His compositions in The Five’s style included The Voyevoda, The Oprichnik, and the famed Romeo and Juliet (Brown 611). He began achieving national renown and some foreign appeal with this style; yet, after a few years working closely with Balakirev, Tchaikovsky found himself limited by his "unwesternized" composition style. Tchaikovsky decided to shed Balakirev’s tutelage and begin utilizing Western harmonic concepts.


Tchaikovsky’s base in Western techniques, taught to him in the St. Petersburg Conservatory, was inherent in the popularity of Tchaikovsky’s operas, symphonies, and ballets. His most famous opera Eugene Onegin (1878), based on Pushkin’s great novel, was nationalistic in story and tune, but almost completely Western in counterpoint and form (Brown 617). Likewise, Tchaikovsky’s symphonies all exhibit traits of German composer Ludwig von Beethoven’s treatment of thematic development and form (Shostakovich 90). Still grounded in Western counterpoint, acclaimed ballets, such as Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Sleeping Beauty, were the most Russian based in music and movement of all of Tchaikovsky’s compositional genres. As a young man Tchaikovsky developed an affinity for writing dance music, and took great pride in his ballets. Twentieth century composer Dimitri Shostakovich accounts, "Tchaikovsky not only danced himself, but also wrote dance music for his friends and relatives, joining with the others at youthful gatherings to enjoy his waltzes and polkas," making ballets his favorite form of composition (Shostakovich 133). These Western techniques rooted in all of Tchaikovsky’s compositional genres allowed for European and American audiences; yet, the Russian motives and melody allowed Tchaikovsky to be true to Russia.


Tchaikovsky was intensely patriotic, cherishing his homeland, its beautiful mountains and plains, his nation’s authors, and most of all his people. "As regarding the Russian element in my music in general, the affinity to the folk song method in melody and harmony, can be traced to the fact that I grew up in the country, from my earliest childhood I was aware of the ineffable beauty of Russian folk music, that I passionately love the Russian element in all its manifestation, that in short, I am a Russian in the fullest sense of the word," Tchaikovsky once said (Shostakovich 22).


Perhaps Tchaikovsky’s most readily patriotic work is his 1812 Overture (1880). For performance at the Russian Exhibition of 1882, Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write a piece commemorating the seventieth anniversary of the Russians’ defeat of the Napoleonic troops in 1812 (Waugh 66). Tchaikovsky hated these types of commissions and reluctantly began composing the work. In the end, his true patriotism and Russian ideals persevered and this Overture remains his masterpiece given to the Russian people (Waugh 64). The piece is thoroughly programmatic (Waugh 66-69). The first section (0.01-1.41, midi-sequencer time) constitutes the Russian hymn tune, "God Preserve Thy People." The hymn insinuates the Russian people praying and preparing for battle. Next, a military flourish, written for drums, winds, and horns, signifies a march to battle (4.03-4.57). The French enter Russia when the first strains of the French National anthem,"La Marseillaise," are heard (5.35-6.13). The entire development section is the battle, complete with cannon shots and scurrying strings. Finally, the Russians triumph and the allegiant "Emporer’s Hymn" swallows "La Marseillaise," (14.33-15.24). All of these programmatic effects demonstrate Tchaikovsky’s skills as a great orchestrator and his supreme devotion to his homeland (Waugh 69).


After such compositions like Romeo and Juliet, Symphonies 4-6, Overture to 1812, The Nutcracker, and so on, the world’s ear was tuned to Tchaikovsky. This international appeal and the acceptance of Western harmony by the Russian people, allowed future Russian composers to follow suit in the late 1800s and early 1900s. For example, Russian Igor Stravinsky brought the onslaught of twentieth century style with his magnificent Rite of Spring. Other Russian composers dominated this era, including Shostakovich, Glazunov, Gliere, Khachaturyan, and Prokofiev (Shostakovich 159). The world had turned to Russian style and melody in classical music.


Tchaikovsky was a thoroughly Russian man. He recognized the vast usefulness of Russian folk tune and incorporated it into his style. His unique talent for writing dance music, displaying his powerful emotions, and his command of counterpoint made him one of the greatest composers to have ever lived- a man who was essential in the Westernization of Russian culture and the Russian movement to the mainstream of today’s classical music world.



  • Brown, D. (1980). In New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Pytor Il’yich Tchaikvosky (pp. 606-627). London: Macmillan Publishers,

  • Limited.

  • Goodyear, R. (no date). 1812 Overture (Online). Available: http://midiworld.com/mw_tchai.htm (1999 February 5).

  • Grout, D., & Palisca, C. (1996). A History of Western Music. New York: W.W.

  • Norton & Company, Inc.

  • Lamb, G. (1998-9). Gallery Tour: Student and Composer (Online). Available:

  • http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/5648/G_composer.htm (1999 February 5).

  • Mason, D. (no date). Personal Life (Online). Available: http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/5648/Plife.htm (1999 February 5).

  • Shostakovich, D. (1947). Russian Symphony. New York: F. Hubner & Co., Inc.

  • Wachtel, A. (1998). Intersections and Transpositions: Russian Music, Literature, and Society. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

  • Waugh, A. (1995). Classical Music: A New Way of Listening. New York: A Simon & Schuster Macmillan Company.




Igor Stravinsky

By Pubali Chakravorty




The late 18th century was a monumental era for world history. America was signing the Constitution, the Bastille prison was stormed in Paris, and a young Napoleon began his rise to power. Yet, not all the landmarks were political, as this era also marked the beginning of the Romantic period in music history(1).

The Romantic era in music was a vital ingredient in the shaping of Eastern Europe's cultural identity. Lasting until 1890, Europe saw the musical creations of such greats as Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, Franz Schubert, and Franz Liszt (2). These artists were the first to shape the movement, but were not the individuals who instilled the art into the identity of slowly modernizing Europe.

In 1882, the tail end of the Romantic era, Igor Stravinsky was born in a villa named Lomonosov, close in proximity to St. Petersburg. His father, Fyodor Stravinsky, was a famed principal bass singer at the Mariinski Theatre, which is at the heart of St. Petersburg's culture. Thus it seemed that Igor was going to be raised in a family where music and culture were the highpoints of the family's lifestyle.


Although he began piano lessons at the age of nine, making rapid progress, Stravinsky said that neither of his parents ever recognized musical talent in him. Perhaps this was all the harder to bear because both of his parents were highly talented and respected musicians (3). So, in order to gain his musical confidence he would occasionally visit his uncle in St. Petersburg who he remembered as a man of progressive political and artistic sympathies (4). Strangely Stravinsky's father, the talented bassist, forbade his son from pursuing music insisting instead that as an adult he pursue law.

Although a mediocre student, Stravinsky studied law  at the University of St. Petersburg fulfilling his father’s wishes. However, while attending the university he met the son of the Russian composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov and his friend's famous father helped guide Stravinsky's renewed compositional efforts.(5)


Stravinsky's origins as a composer were obscure at best during his lifetime.(6)  It can be said that his first big break occurred in 1908 when the Russian impresario Sergey Diagilev, impressed by Stravinsky's orchestral works Scherzo fantastique (1908) and Fireworks (1910), asked the composer to write for his Ballets Russes; thus beginning an association of many years to come(7).

His works were powerful and something that the population of Russia and surrounding countries were highly unaccustomed to. During a time of unrest in 1905  with widespread protests against the autocratic tsarist regime, Stravinsky became labeled somewhat of a revolutionary. This was after he took the side of his mentor Rimsky, who had publicly spoken against the autocratic laws of the region. Unfortunately, performances of Rimsky's works were banned in St.Petersburg and his last opera,  The Golden Cockerel, was seen by the censors as a satire on the incompetence of the regime and was never performed during his lifetime (8) .


A perfect example of Stravinsky’s contribution to the artistic identity of Russia and the people slow but eventual acclamation to his art is the response to his famous work The Rite of Spring. At the first performance (1913), however, the unconventional choreography and the harsh dissonances and driving, asymmetrical, shifting rhythms of the music prompted a hostile uproar so noisy that the dancers could not even hear the orchestra. However, later concert performances were well received by audience members.(9)

In 1914 World War I started, causing all sorts of social turmoil in Eastern Europe and Russia. Stravinsky took his family and moved to Switzerland, hoping the neutrality of the country would be of benefit to his progress as an artist. Unfortunately,, the difficult social and economic conditions surrounding the war made it practically impossible to secure performances for large-scale works(10).


In response to his newfound problems, he composed The Soldiers Tale ( 1918), which calls for limited resources: six instruments and percussion (representing the four section, of the orchestra), three actors, and a dancer. The disillusion of the war years can be seen in this work, as can the impact of-jazz, which is also evident in his Rag time ( 1918), Written for l1 instruments, and also in his Piano Rag-Music ( 1919) (11) .

By the 1920's, Stravinsky was living in Paris and composing many symphonies and ballets with one central theme: Russian culture. This was something which probably brought great deals of pride to his mother country, especially since by this time he was well known all over the world.


He was living in Paris and working as a pianist, composer, and conductor for almost 19 years when he decided to leave Europe. Stravinsky's name was already well known in America, and as a result decided to move to the USA to continue his art. Unfortunately his arrival into America was not only a change of climate and passport, but of a economical climate as well. Unable to procure enough commissions to make a living,. he accepted a position at Harvard as a Lecturer and briefly lived in Boston. Within six months, however he moved back to Los Angeles and stayed there for almost the rest of his life. (12) At the age of 87 he had moved to New York City and it was there on April 1971 that he died at the age of 88.

Igor Stravinsky’s life was full of insurmountable achievements. He had gone against his father’s wishes to pursue what had mattered to him most: music. In doing so, he had altered the perception of music by Russians.


Being a huge influence in the formation of Russia’s national identity in the face of tsarist and later Communist rule was probably not something Stravinsky had planned on doing. Instead, he had made decisions based solely on what he felt was best for him and his art. This simple action resulted in the creation of several fantastic works which reflected his pride in his nationality, simultaneously making a huge permanent mark on the artistic history of- Russia.

Now amongst the names of the many famous composers of all time, lies the name of Igor Stravinsky, a man whose achievements went beyond just music. It went to become a part of European culture which is duly recognized all over the world.



1)   Wates, Roye. Music Appreciation II  Coursebook. Roye Wates, Boston, 1999. back

(2)   Wates, Roye. Music Appreciation II  Coursebook. Roye Wates, Boston, 1999. back

(3)   Oliver, Michael. Igor Stravinsky. Phaidon Press Limited, 1995. back

4)   Griffiths, Paul: The Master Musician – Stravinsky. Shirmer Books, 1992. back

(5)   “Stravinsky Igor Fyodorovich” Microsoft Encarta  97 Encyclopedia. 1993 – 96  Microsoft Corporation. back

(6)   Griffiths, Paul: The Master Musician – Stravinsky. Shirmer Books, 1992. back

(7)   “Stravinsky Igor Fyodorovich” Microsoft Encarta  97 Encyclopedia. 1993 – 96  Microsoft Corporation. back

8)   Oliver, Michael. Igor Stravinsky. Phaidon Press Limited, 1995. back

(9)   “Stravinsky Igor Fyodorovich” Microsoft Encarta  97 Encyclopedia. 1993 – 96  Microsoft Corporation back

(10)  “Stravinsky Igor Fyodorovich” Microsoft Encarta  97 Encyclopedia. 1993 – 96  Microsoft Corporation back

11)   Griffiths, Paul: The Master Musician – Stravinsky. Shirmer Books, 1992. back

(12)   Oliver, Michael. Igor Stravinsky. Phaidon Press Limited, 1995. back






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