String Quartet No.2 in F Major
Mikhail Glinka (1804-57) is commonly regarded as the founder of Russian nationalism in music. His influence on composers such as Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Mussorgsky was considerable. As a child, he had some lessons from the famous Irish virtuoso pianist John Field who was living in Petersburg, but his association with music remained purely amateur, until visits to Europe which began in 1830. In both Italy and Germany, he was able to formally study and improve his compositional technique. His music offered a synthesis of Western operatic form with Russian melody, while his instrumental music was a combination of the traditional and the exotic.
He was the first within Russia to create romances, operas and chamber music on based on Russian themes using Russian folk melodies. Glinka’s first musical experience was connected with the orchestra of serf musicians which belonged to his uncle. From 1818 to 1822, he studied in St. Petersburg at a privileged school for children of noblemen. It was during this time, that he had piano lessons with Field and was exposed to the music of Mozart, Cherubini, and Rossini. Glinka subsequently took many trips abroad, the longest from 1830 to 1834 to Italy, Germany, and Austria. During his travels, he made a point of listening to the most famous operas, symphonies and chamber of the day and stored his new impressions for later use. The two major musical influences in his life were Russian folk music and the operas of Donizetti, whom he got know while he was in Italy. He also had the chance to meet both Berlioz and Mendelssohn during his travels.
It was in Italy that the idea came to compose a Russian opera first came to him. He started work on what became A Life for the Tsar in 1836. In 1842, he completed his second opera, Ruslan and Ludmila, based on a fairy tale poem by Alexander Pushkin.
String Quartet No.2 in F Major dates from 1829-30, before his first trip abroad to Italy and some 12 years before writing Ruslan and Ludmila. This is important in that one can plainly hear some of the main themes from that famous opera in both the first and last movements of this quartet. The quartet itself is in four movements and written in a light style that seems to combine Italian opera with Mozart. However, the ultimate affect is not derivative but original. Particularly noteworthy for their freshness are the Menuetto and its excellent trio as well as the finale. Wilhelm Altmann, author of The Handbook for String Quartet Players, highly recommends this quartet to amateurs, whom he says will certainly get much pleasure from playing it. We agree.