Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804 - 1957)
Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla
Alexander Pushkin has an iconic status in Russian literature, a blend of Byron and Shakespeare in his appeal. He wrote both prose and poetry, and among his poems is the astonishing fairy tale Ruslan and Ludmila. The story is a rich and complex one of love overcoming all obstacles, and involves an evil flying dwarf whose power resides in his beard, and a giant head (yes, just the head!) which conceals a magic sword (for cutting off the dwarf’s beard). Pushkin had planned to collaborate with composer Mikhael Glinka in adapting this tale to an opera libretto, but he was killed in a duel before he could do so, so the story was adapted by other writers. Written in 1842, this opera began the fairy-tale genre of Russian music that includes Tchaikovsky’s and Stravinsky’s great ballets such as The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, The Firebird and Petrushka. The overture is very quick and exuberant, great fun to play and to listen to, and gives no hint of the complexity of the tale that follows.