Russian Composers: Glinka vs Tchaikovsky

Many of the greatest composers have originated within Russia. Mikhail Glinka and Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky were two of the most influential classical composers during the Romantic period. Despite both being composers from the Romantic period, the two have many differences between them. Mikhail Glinka is known as the “Father of Russian Music” while Tchaikovsky is known to be the most popular classical composer of all time. Tchaikovsky was best known for his ballet music and symphonies while Glinka is known for his influence on the later development of Russian music and what it became known as.

Both extraordinary composers had similar sounding genres to their music within the Romantic period and gained inspiration from many Romantic composers. Glinka and Tchaikovsky focused on genres of opera, orchestral, keyboard, vocal, and chamber. Glinka was a Russian nationalist and was influenced by Berlioz, Chopin, Bellini, and various folk music he heard. Glinka had beome inspired when he saw his uncle’s orchestra and began taking music lessons from amongst the most famous musicians at the time.

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Glinka had traveled to a copious amount of places in Europe to further extend his knowledge on different genres of music as well. He wrote many pieces that established the essence of folk songs of the Russian peasants and his music ended up serving as an example for most every Russian composer that came after him.

Tchaikovsky ended up being influenced by Glinka himself, Balakirev, and the ideals held by the Five Russian nationalist composers at the time. Tchaikovsky would take the operas of Mikhail Glinka as a prototype and integrate his own elements from folk music and what he knew. He rejected traditional Western practices and instead, used exotic harmonic devices such as the whole tone and octatonic scales. It is said that Glinka’s opera “A life for the Tsar” changed Tchaikovsky and impressed him immensely as a child. Tchaikovsky incorporated folk elements like Glinka did within his music to ensure they were powerful sounding enough.

Tchaikovsky and Glinka were both blessed enough to be brought up in relatively wealthy families but that didn’t change the fact that they struggled a lot within them and finding their sense of self. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born on May 7, 1840, in Kamsko-Votkinsk, Vyatka, Russia. He ended up being the second eldest of his parents’ six surviving offspring. Tchaikovsky began to take piano lessons at age five and was sent to the prestigious school of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg at age 10. He did not originally choose to pursue music as his career and studied to become a lawyer. After being a lawyer for a short amount of time, he quit his job and finally pursued music.

At the age of 21, Tchaikovsky decided to enroll and take music classes at the Russian Musical Society. Months later he enrolled at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia and became one of the school’s first composition students. While he was at the conservatory, Tchaikovsky gave private lessons and taught other students. In 1863, he became the professor of harmony at the Moscow Conservatory.

Tchaikovsky struggled with his identity and suffered from depression. He attempted to commit suicide in 1877 but ended up just fleeing abroad. Glinka was a troubled, weak child as well who struggled with his sense of self. However, Glinka’s problems were attributed to his grandmother who manipulated him until she died. Glinka’s overprotective grandmother would raise him and always keep him inside her room, which, was at the temperature of 25 degrees Celsius on the daily. Glinka’s family had a strong, moral tradition of loyalty to the Tsar. He was sent to St. Petersburg like Tchaikovsky had been and attended a school for children of the nobility. Glinka learned many languages there and studied everything from zoology to music.

After the year of 1824, he became an assistant secretary of the Department of Public Highways and continued practicing music while working there. Mikhail Glinka once said that, “A nation creates music – the composer only arranges it.” This reflects how wise and truly innovative Glinka was with his compositions and musical style. Both Tchaikovsky and Glinka used their music as a way to escape their complicated lives and problems– which many can relate to. Using music as an escape is a way to develop through musical talent and show through melody how you’re feeling. I think that for both Glinka and Tchaikovsky, music was a positive outlet for them to become the creative and innovative legacies that they are.

Tchaicovsky wrote eleven operas, six symphonies, four concertos, three ballets, three string quartets, and other various works in his thirty years of being a composer. He used his expressive supporting harmonies and was most known for The Nutcracker (1892) and his virtuosic concerto Violin Concerto in D Major. In regards to Tchaikovsky and his chamber music, it included three string quartets and was very popular in it’s original form. Rhythm wise, Tchaikovsky experienced with unusual meters and most of the time used a firm, regular meter in his dance music.

For Glinka’s most famous work, A Life for the Tsar, he used a descending whole-tone-scale. A whole tone scale is a scale where each note is separated from another note by the interval of a whole step. Glinka also composed a symphonic poem on Russian themes; his most famous symphonic poem was called Karaminskava (1848) and was based on Russian folk music.

Glinka died on February 15th, 1857 in Berlin while Tchaikovsky died on November 6th, 1893 in St. Petersburg. Glinka ended up dying from pneumonia cancer of the stomach and other health problems. It is no surprise that Glinka had many health issues growing up due to how his grandmother treated him as a young child. Glinka had no kids during his lifetime and was only married once.

Tchaikovsky’s death has a lot of conspiracies behind it due to people assuming that he was murdered or committed suicide. A lot of people assumed that Tchaikovsky was going through a sexual identity crisis and was actually homosexual despite being married. There is no way to tell for sure but people assumed that might have been why he killed himself or was killed. Officially though, it is said that Tchaikovsky died from cholera. Tchaikovsky didn’t have any children as well and was married once to a woman whose marriage with him only lasted a month. Both Glinka and Tchaikovsky were buried at Tikhvin cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery alongside other famous composers like Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky, and Balakirev.

The legacies of these two revolutionary composers still live on all over the world. Tchaikovsky and Glinka combined Russian and Western practices together to form their own musical outlook. Glinka’s compositions have received an outstanding amount of recognition and have even gained him a statue near the Mariinsky theatre in St. Petersburg. There is also an annual award named the Glinka prize that was founded in 1884 by Mitrofan Petrovich Belyayev. Glinka’s musical works are still popular and played in various concerts and recordings even outside of Russia.

Tchaikovsky’s professionalism set him apart and made him stand out from other Russian composers. He combined his skill with his own set of high standards to have his music reach people all over the world. He made an impact in operas, symphonies, and program music. Due to his approach of Western harmonies, his music reached countries outside of Russia and gained popularity amongst many foreign audiences and other composers.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that Mikhail Glinka and Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky are anything less than great composers. It is truly impressive how their musical talents are both known around the world and not just in Russia solely. Although they both wrote similar opera and orchestra compositions during the same era in time, their lives both went in different directions and brought them to who they were known for in the end.

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Russian Composers: Glinka vs Tchaikovsky. (2023, Feb 20). Retrieved from

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