Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Russia's first song-writer?

Who was Russia's first art song composer? Certainly not Glinka, who was merely Russia's first great art song composer! It seems to be one Grigory Nikolaevich Teplov (1711-1779), a murky statesman close to Catherine the Great. 

His songs, which appear to have been popular in 18th Century Russia, feature the singer (or singers) as a voice (or voices) within a trio sonata-style texture. They have a winning simplicity, sweetened by the pervasive use of parallel thirds and sixths. I have only two examples to offer you, When you will start, my dear, believing and Although my road to happiness is closed. Neither sounds particularly Russian and both (to my ears) belong very much of the Age of Pergolesi.

If Glinka is the known as the 'father' of Russian song and Teplov should be seen as the 'great-grandfather', then the 'grandfather' of Russian song is Nicolai Alexeyevich Titov (1800-1875). He worked within the French-inspired sentimental 'romance' tradition, as can be heard from songs like The Blue Scarf, Singer or To Morpheus. Simple, often suffused with melancholy, they provided a model many a Russian composer (including Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, even Shostakovich) was to follow. 

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