Glinka National Museum of Musical Culture
by Olivia Kroth
Phone: спр. (495) 739-62-26 , экс. бюро (495) 739-39-87
Fadeeva street, 4
The museum is named after Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857). He was the first composer to gain recognition in Russia. His compositions became an important influence on future Russian composers. Born in Novospasskoye, Governate of Smolensk, he went to study in Saint Petersburg, in 1817. Later he traveled to the Caucasus before taking up his work as civil servant, in 1824.
His true profession, however, was that of a composer. During his lifetime, he composed orchestral works, compositions for choir and piano, operas and chamber music. There is a strong national element in all of his works, they sound very Russian. His “Patriotic Song” became the Russian National Hymn, from 1990 to 2001.
In 1857, Mikhail Glinka died while traveling abroad. His body was transferred to Russia and buried in the cemetery of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. Mikhail Glinka made Russian musical culture famous worldwide. He gave Russian music a prominent place in world culture and is therefore often called the “father of Russian music”.
Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857)
The museum in Moscow carrying his name is a modern building from Soviet times, located in Fadeeva Street no. 4. The first floor shows a vast collection of musical instruments from various parts of the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation. This is the largest treasure house of musical culture monuments, listed in the national code of highly valued objects of cultural heritage of Russian peoples. About a million items are stored: unique musical instruments, manuscripts, personal property of musicians, books and sheets of music.
The museum was founded in 1943, as the Soviet Government decided to set up a State Central Museum of Musical Culture. In 1954, when the country’s musical circles marked the 150th anniversary of Mikhail Glinka’s birth, it was named after the great Russian composer. Today, the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture is one of the country’s largest museums, an authoritative scientific institution and a major centre of musicology and the history of music.
In the 19th century, musicians and music scholars donated rare muscial instruments, stemming from the vast territory of Russia, all the way from the Caucasus to Yakutia. For example, a major addition was the famous collection of folk instruments of Central Asia and Kazakhstan, gathered by August Eichhorn. Vladimir Odoyevsky bequeathed a grand piano of a special enharmonic design.
The gems of the display are genuine Novgorodian gusli of the 18th and 19th centuries, a collection of silver wind and percussion instruments awarded to military bands as tokens of honour in commemoration of victories of the Russian Army, in the early 19th century. Then there is a balalaika made by the master Semyon Nalimov, which was owned by Vasily Andreyev, the founder of the first orchestra of Russian folk instruments. Other unique exhibits are old lutes, mandolins and guitars, including a guitar owned by the Russian singer Fyodor Chaliapin. More interesting items are a rare specimen of a crystal flute, aeolian harps and music boxes.
On display is also one of the first electrophonic instruments, Termenvox, whose inventor Lev Termen demonstrated its sound to Vladimir Lenin. The atmosphere of a violin maker’s workshop is re-created in a vivid and interesting way. Its tools feature articles owned at one time by the noted violin maker Yevgeni Vitacek.
The second floor is reserved for special exhibitions like “The National Anthem of Russia”, presented to the public on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of its birth, in March 2014. This exhibition is still documented in a beautiful catalogue as the first attempt to bring together documents of various epochs and historic exhibits on one multimedia setting.
Alexander Vasilievich Alexandrov (1883-1946)
Alexander Vasilievich Alexandrov (1883-1946) was the composer who wrote the music for the National Anthem of the Soviet Union, which later became the National Anthem of the Russian Federation, in 2001. He furthermore founded the Alexandrov Ensemble, also known as Red Army Choir.
Today, the A.V. Alexandrov Russian Army twice red-bannered Academic Song and Dance Ensemble serves as the official army choir of Russia’s Armed Forces. It consists of a choir, orchestra and dance ensemble. The singers and instrumentalists are all men. The choir comprises tenor, baritone and bass voices. The orchestra uses a mix of modern and old instruments. Some of them are traditional Russian instruments: bayan, a chromatic button accordion, developed in Russia, in the early 20th century; balalaika, a three-stringed instrument with triangular body; domra, a four-stringed instrument with round body.
The repertoire includes army songs, folk songs, church hymns and popular music. The dancers perform typical Russian dances, like the Cossack’s Cavalry Dance, Sailor’s Dance or the Festival March. The Alexandrov Ensemble continues singing in the great male Russian choral tradition, epitomizing Russia’s rich cultural heritage. Today, the Alexandrov Ensemble is the most famous military ensemble in the world, giving concerts on all continents.
The musicians have acquired a characteristic style of their own, which has been described in international press reviews as “a truly militaristic level of comradeship and discipline” or “a steely, harmonically rich, masculine sound.” The soloists have been praised as “uniformly excellent, each demonstrating formidable technique, rooted in the classic Slavic sound.” About the selection of songs on international tours, some reviewers wrote, “Every Slavic selection is thoroughly idiomatic, performed with trademark Russian sentiment and pure, undiluted nostalgia.”
The ensemble’s website, ensemble-alexandrova.en, informs, “Today, the A.V. Alexandrov Russian Army Academic Song and Dance Ensemble is a renowned Russian trademark, just like the Russian sights of the Bolshoi Theatre, the Hermitage, the Tretyakov State Gallery and the Moscow Kremlin Diamond Fund.” The Alexandrov Ensemble is always invited to Government ceremonies and performs in the State Kremlin Palace on Defenders of the Fatherland Day, where the President of the Russian Federation is present.
During his lifetime, Alexander Vasilievich Alexandrov acted as the ensemble’s artistic director, choir master, conductor and teacher. The ensemble first consisted of members coming from the Frunze Red Army Central House, in 1928. The Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, enjoyed listening to their music and asked them to relocate to Moscow. In 1942, Alexander Vasilievich Alexandrov was commissioned by Joseph Stalin to compose the melody for the Soviet National Anthem. The lyrics were added by the poet, Sergei Vladimirovich Mikhalkov (1913-2009). The Soviet National Anthem was officially adopted on the 1st of January 1944 and became immensely popular throughout the Soviet Union.
Sergei Vladimirovich Mikhalkov (1913-2009)
Sergei Vladimirovich Mikhalkov (1913-2009) was an author of children’s books, satirical fables, film scripts and theatre plays, but above all, the Soviet National Anthem and the Anthem of the Russian Federation.
In 1942, at the age of 29, he received the commission to write lyrics for the national anthem. The Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, liked his texts and chose him for this task, together with the composer, Alexander Alexandrov, who composed the melody. The new Soviet National Anthem was presented to Joseph Stalin in 1943 and played for the first time on Soviet radio at midnight, 1st of January 1944. It soon became popular throughout the entire Soviet Union, since it promised imminent victory in the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945). The text was translated into various languages of the Soviet Republics in the USSR.
It rang a bell in the leader’s ears, because it praised Joseph Stalin. He probably enjoyed reading his own thoughts mirrored in the lyrics, for example his famous quote about human will, “I believe in one thing only, the power of human will.” The first stanza sums up Russia’s development, from the beginning in the Kievan Rus’ to the formation of the Soviet Union.
From the Kievan Rus’ to the Soviet Union
An unbreakable union of free republics,
The Great Rus’ joined together, forever to stand.
Long live the creation of the will of the people,
The united, mighty Soviet Union.
When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Sergei Mikhalkov’s career, however, was far from over. At the age of 87, he received a commission by President Vladimir Putin to write the lyrics for a new National Anthem of the Russian Federation. So the writer picked up his pen once more and created a text which the President liked. Again, he used the keywords “glory”, “will of the nation” and “future”, albeit in a slightly modified context, in the first stanza.
Russia, our sacred state,
Russia, our beloved country,
A mighty will, a great glory,
Your possession for all future ages.
The new National Anthem of the Russian Federation was adopted in 2001. It is still sung today. In 2003, on Sergei Mikhalkov’s 90th birthday, President Vladimir Putin visited the writer at home and presented him the Order for Service to the Fatherland, 2nd Class. His funeral service in the Christ Saviour Cathedral of Moscow was attended by his large family and circle of friends, as well as many government officials. The writer was buried with full military honours at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. We might think of him, next time we listen to the National Anthem of the Russian Federation.
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Southern France. Her blog: