Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Nationalist Era > Overture, "A Life for the Czar" - Glinka
Overture, "A Life for the Czar"
Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka
Glinka, the founder of Russian national music in 1832, conceived the project of a national opera, for which the subject "Ivan Soussanine," afterwards known as "Life for the Czar" (or "A Life for the Tsar"), was chosen. The opera was produced with extraordinary success at St. Petersburg in 1836 and was hailed with enthusiasm by the Russians. The scene of the story is laid in the Russian provinces, which had been invaded by the Poles in the seventeenth century with such success that they were before the walls of Moscow. In this crisis Michael Feodorovitch was chosen Czar. The invaders made every effort to capture him and ordered a Russian peasant, Ivan Soussanine, to reveal the czars hiding place. He feigned consent, and led the Polish army through swamps and forests until it was utterly demoralized. When its commander realized that his plans were frustrated, Ivan paid the penalty with his life.
There is no garish color or barbarian effects in this overture, which laid the foundation of Glinkas scheme so strongly and enduringly. A characteristic Russian melody, given out by the oboe, forms the basis of its introduction. Then follows the main movement in regular sonata form. The principal theme is given out by the first violins. A transition, based upon it, leads to the second, which is assigned to the clarinet. Development follows, referring to the first theme. Then comes the recapitulation, and a long and elaborate Coda dealing with the previous material, brings this epoch-making overture to its close.