Mikhail Glinka: Grand Sextet


Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) although seldom heard in concert halls today, was in fact an incredibly influential composer of his time. He is often regarded as one of the leading figures of Russian classical music, with his compositional style having an important influence on composers such as Rachmaninov, Glazunov and Tchaikovsky. Glinka was also one of the leading figures of the group The Five, which allowed him to produce a distinctive Russian style of classical music. Glinka himself exclaimed that:


“The people create music, and we, the artists, just arrange it.”


Glinka’s works often highlight his flair for timbral and melodic writing. In his book Notes on Instrumentation, he recalled that he was keen to understand the full “beauty of the orchestra”, which can certainly be heard woven throughout many of his works. Jam-packed with unusual part writing, Glinka’s works emphasise certain groups of instruments to celebrate their timbre, sound and effect within a work.


The Music

Grand Sextet was composed in 1832 and is composed for the sextet set up of: two violins, viola, cello, double bass and piano. Through Glinka’s intricate melodic writing and captivating harmonic language, Grand Sextet remains a staple in the genre.


Movement I – Allegro

Opening with a bold theme on the piano, the strings enter with an echo of the melody. This bold piano opening also cements the importance of the piano and the dominant role it plays throughout the work. Cast into sonata form, after the first theme, a lyrical second theme ensues. The classical-era feel of Grand Sextet largely derives from the clean lines, unison playing and conventional harmony. After a short development section, the music heads into the recapitulation where the second theme is played through again. After a spike of energy is thrust through the ensemble, the opening movement concludes with excitement and power.


Movement II – Andante

Similarly to the opening movement, the piano also opens up the lyrical second movement. Set as a serenade, the movement is based around the opening piano theme. A quick change of theme sees an interlude for the violin take place during the central section. Based on a gypsy theme, the slight change in character adds another dimension into this movement. As the music begins to get louder and the themes become fully-realised, the music segues straight into the finale movement.


Movement III – Allegro con spirito

A rush of excitement starts this finale off with energy and drive. Set into sonata form, Glinka passes through many keys during this movement. As a range of themes are presented, the different voices of the ensemble are added into the intricate mix. Like with the rest of the sextet, the piano is the dominant voice and leads in every section of the finale. The fiery energy of the ensemble leads to the climactic coda that concludes this work off with style.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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