Glinka: Kamarinskaya

Tchaikovsky once wrote: "All of the Russian symphonic school is contained in Glinka's Kamarinskaya, just as all of an oak tree is in an acorn." Though this is obviously a wonderful compliment about the work that many consider to be Glinka's crowning orchestral achievement, it is also a commen­tary on Glinka's career, for he is revered by many as the "father of Russian music." Some have gone so far as to say that before Glinka there was no Russian music. Prior to him, Russian composers were basically content to copy the Central Euro­pean styles, because it was those composers and performers who visited the major Russian cities. However, Glinka was the first to use Russian folk materials in his original compositions, and thus he virtually founded the 19th century school of Russian Romanticism.

Kamarinskaya was completed in 1848 and is subtitled "Fantasy for Orchestra on Themes of Wedding Songs and Dances." For the two years leading up to 1847, Glinka had lived in Spain where his fascination with the music of that region resulted in several colorful works such as Jota Aragonesa and Summer Night in Madrid. He returned to Smolensk, happy to be back with his family and friends, but his pleasure was short-lived, for within a year he was in great demand to play piano at balls and parties. Unwilling to respond to these new-found social pressures, he retreated with a few companions to Warsaw. While in Poland, inspiration struck. He wrote: "By chance I discov­ered a relationship with the wed­ding song, 'From behind the moun-tains, the high mountains', which I had heard in the country, and the dance tune 'Kamarinskaya', which everyone knows. And suddenly my fantasy ran high; instead of a piano piece I wrote an orchestral piece called Wedding tune and dance tune An associate who observed tree composer while he worked gives us an insight into Glinka's powers ofconcentration: " ... he was writing it out, like an ordinary mortal jotting down hasty notes, and at the same time he talked and joked with me, Soon afterwards two or three friends arrived, but he carried on through loud laughter and conver­sation, in no way hindered by this: and during this he was noting down ­one of his most remarkable compo­sitions." The music opens with a brief introduction based upon a section: the Wedding Tune, after which We hear the melody three times with contrasting accompaniments, The Dance Tune (Kamarinskaya), which is only four bars long, is then heard in a rapid-fire sequence of thirteen variations. After a repetition of the Wedding Tune, the music closes with twenty-one more repetitions of the Dance Tune.

Glinka's facility at combining these two radically different melo­dies is nothing short af amazing as is his sense of instrumental color and the ingenuity he summoned to build such an entertaining composi­tion from these relatively trivial sources.

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