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The Five may have been looked upon as lesser musicians by members of the musical establishment in Russia. For instance, Mily Balakirev did refuse appointments because he had little formal training. I spent the most important years of my life in academic establishments and have seen colleagues finding fault with other colleagues. So, the Russian Five may been ridiculed.

However, I would like to point out that Mikhail Glinka (1 June 1804 – 15 February 1857) respected Mily Balakirev (2 January 1837 – 29 May 1910), the leader of The Five, and that Tchaikovsky applauded Balakirev.

The Five took their lead from him Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka, who could be called the father of classical music in Russia. Moreover, Mily Balakirev befriended Glinka and they composed music together. When Glinka and Balakirev’s patron, Alexander Ulybyshev (Oulibicheff) (1794-1858) died, Balakirev lost support that was vital to him.

In other words, The Five did not oppose classical music. Their wish was to give Russian classical music its Slavic character. As we have seen, Rimsky-Korsakov sent Tchaikovsky ten fugues he had composed, which Tchaikovsky (7 May 1840 – 6 November 1893) examined and found “impeccable.” (See RELATED ARTICLE.)

As for Tchaikovsky himself, let us read:

“Tchaikovsky’s training set him on a path to reconcile what he had learned with the native musical practices to which he had been exposed from childhood. From this reconciliation he forged a personal but unmistakably Russian style—a task that did not prove easy.”
(See Tchaikovsky, Wiki2.org.)


Nikolay Kuznetsov‘s portrait of the composer Tchaikovsky, 1893

A National Effort

I should also note that in 1867, after hearing a concert given by Slavic composers, critic Vladimir Stasov wrote an article entitled Mr. Balakirev’s Slavic Concert. Composers included Mikhail GlinkaAlexander DargomyzhskyMily Balakirev, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The concert was performed for visiting Slav delegations at the “All-Russian Etnographical Exhibition” in Moscow.

God grant that our Slav guests may never forget today’s concert; God grant that they may forever preserve the memory of how much poetry, feeling, talent, and intelligence are possessed by the small but already mighty handful of Russian musicians.

— Vladimir Stasov, Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti, 1867

A Consecration

Vladimir Stasov’s article was consecration for The Five and Slavic composer Alexander Dargomyzhsky. Their work now belonged to an all-Russian effort to express Russia’s distinct and distinguishable Slavic roots.

Similarly, the great Glinka, associated with Romanticism, recognized The Five. He and Balakirev composed The Lark.

It could be said that The Five were a baudelaireian frisson nouveau: a new shudder. But were it not for The Five and Tchaikovsky, would classical music have inherited its internationally-acclaimed Russian répertoire?

Glinka drawn in the 1840s, portrait by Yanenko (Wiki2.org.)


Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (29 November 2018)


Love to everyone 💕

Glinka – Nocturne In E-flat major – Valeri Kamyshov, piano


Mikhail Pletnev plays Glinka-Balakirev The Lark – live 1982

© Micheline Walker
17 December 2018