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Three Reflections Russian Music Critics Essay

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Updated: Jan 22nd, 2022

Musical Background of Russian Music Critics

Vladimir Stasov was a great music critic of the 19th century who became an outstanding representative of his profession of that time. He had rather conservative views on Russian culture and art, which can be proved by his desire to avoid the influence of Europe. Unlike modern professionals, who tend to be highly interested in the works of foreign artists, Strasov emphasized the necessity to refer to national traditions. Fortunately, some of our contemporaries support this tendency and use their native motives as a reference point. Stasov tightly cooperated with musicians, prompting them to create new works that would reveal his preferences.

Alexander Serov is one more representative of the same century and Stasov’s friend. He was forced to study Jurisprudence but still gave preference to music. As a result, Serov got a lot of knowledge before he became an artist himself, which is not typical for contemporary critics. Being both composer and music critic, he received an opportunity to develop revolutionary ideas that affected the world of music greatly. Some of his statements led to conflicts with other critics because he did not always support Russian music with its folk motives, for example, one of his operas had Italian text.

Cesar Cui is a unique representative of Russian critics of the 19th century. He did not have any Russian ancestry, but it did not prevent him from promoting this music in other countries. Such dedication can rarely be seen today but still, his own works did not reflect that inclination, which is more typical for the contemporaries. Cui successfully utilized French resources while being a Russian composer. Still, as a critic, he did his best to promote the music of this country and his colleagues known as The Five (Maes 43).

Dargomyzhsky’s and Musorgsky’s Approaches to Realism in Music

Alexander Dargomyzhsky was a composer who composed several operas, including one private. It was developed on the basis of Pushkin’s work The Stone Guest. Dargomyzhsky set it to music with no reference to the traditional libretto. He emphasized the text verbatim, which was extraordinary and also turned out to be his way of approaching realism. His music responded to all words and emotions, following the rules of the existing spoken play. This method did not include operatic conventions, which made it so outstanding (Maes 95). The composer emphasized the fact that he was willing to reveal the truths in his work. He paid attention to the ancient Greek tragedy that was originally sung and considered it to be a great basis for his opera. In this way, his main idea was to “sound directly to express the word” (Taruskin 70).

As Dargomyzhsky got ill, Modest Musorgsky and other composers came to his place to show their performance. They started working on a new project together, which made a great influence on Musorgsky and affected his views on realism. As Dargomyzhsky died, his work was continued. Musorgsky tried that new approach with characteristic songs, which turned out to be rather successful. Becoming devoted to artistic realism, the professionals searched for opportunities to reveal life in the way it was observed in reality. As a result, the composer abandoned repetitions. He stopped using symmetrical music forms and tried to unite aria and recitative for them to sound more natural.

In this way, Musorgsky underlined the value of lyric declamation. The thing was that it should have been syllabic also (Brown 103). In The Marriage, he made a greater step to realism. The humdrum dialogue was introduced to emphasize naturalistic word-setting and vocal writing became valued (Walsh 215).

Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov

One of the operas that were composed by Musorgsky and attracted the enormous attention of the general public and critics is Boris Godunov. First of all, being a cinematic opera, it received a chance to move beyond the limits of a theater and provide the audience with the opportunity not only to listen to the opera but also to deepen their impression with a picture. Theatrical scenes that tend to be located in a rather limited area make the atmosphere tense. Still, the introduction of other scenes, those that are made outside, allows us to observe this opera from an unusual perspective.

One more interesting idea revealed in this work is the way in which the characters appear on the screen. The singers are usually placed in the center, which emphasizes their importance, while the members of the choir are those who surround them. The crowd shot is on the third level. Being behind the choir seems to be a part of it, so the scene looks more impressive.

The combination of music and vocals is also worth mentioning. The characteristics of the music coincide with the voices of the singers and the situation. In some cases, music was used to enrich the speech while in others it was successfully used for the substitution of words. It created tension and prepared the audience for the following events. Music also revealed emotions expressed by the character and allowed them to experience the atmosphere of the scene. All in all, the opera impressed me greatly with its integrity. Regardless of the fact that the main emphasis was made on the vocals, the music never remained without attention (Herur22 “Part 1”; “Part 2”).


Brown, David. Musorgsky: His Life and Works, New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

Maes, Francis. A History of Russian Music: From Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar, London: University of California Press, 2002. Print.

“Part 1: Boris Godunov, Bolshoy Theatre (1954), Nebolsin.” YouTube, Web.

“Part 2: Boris Godunov, Bolshoy Theatre (1954), Nebolsin.” YouTube, Web.

Taruskin, Richard. On Russian Music, London: University of California Press, 2009. Print.

Walsh, Stephen. Musorgsky and His Circle: A Russian Musical Adventure, London: Faber & Faber, 2013. Print.

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