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Not Russian Enough?

Not Russian Enough?: Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism in Nineteenth-Century Russian Opera

Rutger Helmers
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 294
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  • Book Info
    Not Russian Enough?
    Book Description:

    It is often believed that the "Russianness" of Russian music is what makes it special. This conviction has its origins in the nineteenth century, when Russian composers and critics were encouraged to cultivate a recognizable national style and distinguish their music from the dominant Italian, French, and German traditions. A focus on nationalism, however, fails to capture the complex realities of nineteenth-century musical life, in which the desire to develop a national style always had to compete with other interests, principles, and tastes. This book explores the many tensions, contradictions, and misunderstandings that arose when the aspiration for a national tradition was applied to the cosmopolitan world of opera. It discusses such issues as the influence of Italian and French opera, the use of foreign subjects, the application of local color, and the adherence to the classics, and considers their implications for the perception of "Russianness." Helmers analyzes the cultural context, music, and reception of four operas: Glinka's A Life for the Tsar (1836), Serov's Judith (1863), Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orléans (1881), and Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tsar's Bride (1899). Besides yielding new insights for each of these works, this study offers a fresh perspective on the function of nationalist thought in the nineteenth-century Russian opera world. Rutger Helmers is Assistant Professor in Historical Musicology at the University of Amsterdam and lectures in Literary and Cultural Studies at Radboud University Nijmegen.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-873-2
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Editorial Notes
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction: The Part and the Whole
    (pp. 1-19)

    Russian music has long been considered something special. The words of the critic and musicologist Michel-Dimitri Calvocoressi quoted above reflect this belief, widespread among audiences, musicians, critics and scholars alike—a belief that has been eagerly stimulated and exploited in the marketing of this music outside Russia and continues to contribute to its appeal to Western audiences to this day.

    It is a belief partly founded on historical reality. The nineteenth century was the century of nationalism, and Russian musicians were among the many who, encouraged by national thought, were searching for ways to distinguish themselves from the internationally dominant...

  7. Chapter One A Life for the Tsar and Bel Canto Opera
    (pp. 20-49)

    It may seem a curious choice to begin a book entitledNot Russian Enough?with one of the cornerstones of the Russian national repertoire. After all, it wasA Life for the Tsarthat established Glinka’s reputation as a national Russian composer, and in Western scholarship, the opera has been studied almost exclusively from the perspective of nationalism. There is little doubt that the subject was nationalist, and, as other scholars have shown, perfectly represents Nicholas I’s state ideology of Official Nationalism.¹ Glinka’s friends, moreover, were quick to presentA Life for the Tsaras a watershed in the history...

  8. Chapter Two Subject Matter, Local Color, and National Style in Judith
    (pp. 50-81)

    Aleksandr Serov’s fi rst opera,Judith, sits uneasily in the standard narrative of Russian music. From the moment of its premiere in 1863, Serov’s friends and foes alike agreed that this work was the most significant composition for the stage since Glinka’s two operas and Dargomïzhsky’sRusalka(1856). In time it would be canonized simply as “the fourth important Russian opera.”¹ Serov had made his mark in musical circles as a progressive critic and relentless polemicist, and as music historian Nikolay Findeyzen observed, he was—after Anton Rubinstein, the director of the Russian Musical Society and the Saint Petersburg Conservatory...

  9. Chapter Three French Theatricality and Inadvertent Russianisms in The Maid of Orléans
    (pp. 82-112)

    It was after browsing through a collection of Vasily Zhukovsky’s works containing the translation of Friedrich Schiller’sDie Jungfrau von Orleansthat Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky decided to write a work on Joan of Arc, a subject he thought had “a marvelous potential for music.”¹ Joan of Arc had attracted composers at least since the eighteenth century, and the first half of the nineteenth had seen operas by Michele Carafa, Nicola Vaccai, Giovanni Paccini, William Balfe, and most famously, Giuseppe Verdi. More recent operas on the subject were those of Gilbert Duprez, the celebrated tenor, and Auguste Mermet, staged in Paris...

  10. Chapter Four The Tsar’s Bride and the Dilemma of History
    (pp. 113-152)

    For most of the twentieth century, the reception of Rimsky-Korsakov’s ninth opera,The Tsar’s Bride(1899), has been dramatically different in Russia, on the one hand, and Western Europe and the United States, on the other. In Russia, the opera continues to be one of the more popular works in the operatic canon and has commonly been regarded as one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s great achievements. In the West the work as a whole has been met with indifference, incomprehension, or condemnation, although individual numbers have been admired by some critics: Ernest Newman praised Marfa’s final aria in act 4 as “one...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 153-160)

    In an obituary for Balakirev written in 1910, the modernist critic Vyacheslav Karatïgin pointed out “denationalization” as one of the important new trends in Russian music.¹ He singled out Aleksandr Skryabin (1872–1915), the most promising and path-breaking Russian composer of the day, as a contemporary who had left “the nationalistic passions of the New Russian School” far behind him. Karatïgin’s representation of Russian music history—an epoch dominated by the Kuchka followed by a post-Kuchka phase led by Skryabin—was overly schematic, but the critic rightly perceived that interest in national distinctions among composers was waning.² The number of...

  12. Abbreviations
    (pp. 161-162)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 163-198)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-222)
  15. Index
    (pp. 223-233)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 234-234)