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The 1850s-60s saw the rise of a number of outstanding musicians, including the Rubinstein brothers. In 1859 they founded the Russian Musical Society with the main goal of establishing musical education in the country. Thanks to their efforts, the St. Petersburg Conservatory came into existence in 1862, and the Moscow Conservatory, in 1866. Anton Rubinstein was one of the best pianists of the nineteenth century. He also went down in history as a composer and the author of the opera The Demon
 
Mussorgsky. Portrait by Repin In the 1850s a group of prominent Russian composers turned to the composition of music that sought to reflect the Russian national character. The leading members of this group were Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Borodin. The group enriched the world music repertoire with many outstanding works. Among them are the historical operas Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina by Mussorgsky, Prince Igor by Borodin and The Maid of Pskov by Rimsky-Korsakov; Rimsky-Korsakovís fairy tale operas including The Snow Maiden, Sadko, and The Golden Cockerel; his splendid orchestral piece Scheherazade; and Mussorgskyís Pictures from an Exhibition.

The members of the Balakirev-led movement strove to make music more democratic and understandable to ordinary people by drawing extensively on themes from Russian folk music.  

In the second half of the 19th century, the best-known Russian composer, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, began his creative activity, producing symphonic, opera and ballet music. The most important of his works include the ballets Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, the operas Eugene Onegin, The Queen of Spades and Iolanta, Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 and 6, the orchestral overtures Romeo and Juliet and Francesca da Rimini, concertos for the piano and orchestra and violin and orchestra, the lyrical piano suite The Seasons, and songs. During his lifetime, Tchaikovsky already was acknowledged as one of the world's premier composers. 

 

At the beginning of the 20th century Rakhmaninov, Scriabin and Stravinsky acquired popularity as composers. Rakhmaninovís works include three symphonies, four piano concertos, and other orchestral works such as the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. His opera Aleko, All-Night Vigil and songs are very popular with modern audiences.  

Skriabin injected elements of mysticism and literary symbolism in his works for piano and orchestra. His most frequently performed works are his orchestral Poem of Ecstasy, Third Symphony, Divine Poem, A Poem of Fire/Prometheus, and piano sonatas. 

Igor Stravinsky, a student of Rimsky-Korsakov, left Russia in 1914. He made forays into a number of new musical styles, from Dodecaphony to Neo-classicism. But Russian folk themes were a constant source of inspiration and remain the most original part of his legacy. It includes the ballets The Firebird, Petroushka, and The Rite of Spring, as well as the opera Mavra.

 
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