Grand Sextuor in E-flat for string quartet, double bass & piano (Full Score)
Glinka, Michail Ivanovich
Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka – The Grand Sextet (Sestetto originale) in E-flat major
(b. 20 May [1 June] 1804, Nowospasskoje/Smolensk — d. 3  February, Berlin)
Glinka was born on an estate near Smolensk. Son of a wealthy landowner, he was a man of independent means, free to indulge in his passion for music. As a child he was delighted to hear all kinds of music, but only during his school days in Petersburg he got some tuition. At the age of eighteen he finished school and successfully resisted his father’s wish that he should enter Foreign Service. The young Glinka settled down in the capital’s society and was well reputed as singer and pianist. By private study he increased his skill as a composer, although he felt insecure and took further lessons. Tuition abroad appeared to be better than in Russia and in April 1830 he left for an extended trip with the tenor N.K. Ivanov, who had obtained a two-year’s leave from the Royal Chapel. The travelling companions travelled by coach and eventually settled in Milan. There Glinka took lessons from Francesco Basili, the conservatory director, but did not found these lessons productive. He happened to meet met a number of important composers, including Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. His acquaintance with Donizetti and Bellini proved more fruitful. He was already familiar with their style and now wrote several sets of variations on famous melodies by these composers. These were played in the society circles where Glinka moved and he provided a number of pieces and songs to be performed in the drawing room. Being an accomplished pianist he felt more at ease in composing chamber music with piano than in works for strings only. Usually, he included a double bass to balance the sound, as he did in the present sextet.
After a year Glinka and Ivanov travelled further south to Naples, where the singer was to complete his musical education. In the spring of 1832 Glinka returned alone to Milan, where he spent another year. When he fell ill, a doctor De Filippi treated him. The doctor’s daughter was an attractive girl and a brilliant pianist. Glinka was captivated by her beauty and composed The Grand Sextet (Sestetto originale) in E-flat major with her in mind. Sadly, their romance came to an end before his sextet was finished. So, the piece was dedicated to her friend, Sophia Medici. In August 1833 Glinka left Italy to study in Vienna and Berlin. Next March he had to return to Russia as his father had suddenly died.
We usually associate Mikhail Glinka with genuinely Russian music. However the sextet for piano and strings, (string quartet with an added contrabass), his first major work, stands firmly in the German tradition. One possible model was Mendelssohn’s op. 110 for the same instruments (although Mendelssohn used one violin and two violas), to which it measures up. Rather than a piece of chamber music, the sextet sounds at times more like a kind of concerto. As obviously intended, it offers the pianist ample occasion to display her/his virtuosity. The string parts, although not without interest, are mainly written to support the piano. The long, powerful first movement is an allegro in sonata form. The second movement, a barcarolle in the mediant key, leads directly into the lively finale (allegro con spirito).
Giovanni Ricordi published Glinka’s chamber music, and several of his songs and piano pieces as well. This sextet was printed in Russia only in 1881 (by P. Jurgenson). It was reprinted in volume IV, page 81-169 of the Complete Works, published in Leningrad, 1955-1969.
Glinka wrote chamber music and songs as a young man. He only embarked on opera and symphonic music after his return to Russia. Glinka’s two operas and his mature orchestral works (scores published by Musikproduktion Höflich) rightly brought him fame. He was the first one whose works reached the level of contemporary Western composers and was recognised as such by his fellow-countrymen and his foreign colleagues. Glinka was a source of inspiration to Tchaikovsky and the members of “The Mighty Five”, who were not yet born when he wrote this sextet. Glinka met Berlioz accidentally in Rome in the autumn of 1831, but did not get to know any of his music until ten years later when he met him again in Paris. He first met his fellow amateur-composer Dargomyzhsky only after his return from abroad.
Glinka’s chamber music has never enjoyed much attention. Presumably, because it cannot with the best will in the world be called typically Russian. Nevertheless, that need not distract us from enjoying Glinka’s Grand Sextet in its own right.
Willem G. Vijvers © 2011
For performance material please contact the publisher Ricordi, Milano. Reprint of a copy from the Musikabteilung der Leipziger Städtische Bibliotheken, Leipzig.