Mikhail Glinka: Waltz Fantasy for Orchestra


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.

Waltz Fantasy exists in three different versions: the initial 1839 solo piano version; the small orchestral version from 1845; and the final large orchestral version which was written only months before the composer’s death. The original title of the piece was Valse, however as the work became larger and more opulent he renamed the second version Valse-Fantasie. The work is also known as Pavlovsk Waltz due to its premiere taking place at the Pavlovsk Railway Station.


The Music

Waltz Fantasy was initially composed in 1839 where the young Glinka expressed his romantic feelings towards Ekaterina Kern, although she didn’t reciprocate the feelings. Russian critic Boris Astafiev described parts of Waltz Fantasy as “bright, optimistic and can be seen as the fullest expression of the creative inspiration and talented artistry.” 

As the title suggests, the piece is set in a waltz style in a rocking 3/4 time signature. The opening main theme is of crucial significance of this work as it is repeated many times. Glinka makes the choice to not so much develop the theme, but instead develop the orchestral accompaniment and timbres surrounding it.

The soft theme is sweet and innocent, which is often supported by the composer’s use of upper woodwinds. The shimmering strings and floating woodwind add to the pulsating waltz movement throughout. The outcome is a beguiling and tender waltz that celebrates orchestral colour, an insight into Glinka’s influential style and the beginnings of what we know to be well-known and popular Russian works. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

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