Russian composer. He studied music as an amateur at St Petersburg and led the life of a dilettante. After meeting Mikhail Glinka in 1833 he set to work on his first opera. After the next stage attempt he devoted himself mainly to songs between 1856 and 1860, including many of a satirical nature anticipating those of Modest Mussorgsky. In 1864 he visited Western Europe, but was able to gain a hearing only in Belgium, where he performed his orchestral fantasies. On his return he associated himself with Mily Balakirev's nationalist group, without actually joining it. He set Aleksandr Pushkin's poem ‘The Stone Guest’, based on the story of Don Juan, as an opera word for word. It was left unfinished at his death, but was completed, on his directions, by César Cui and orchestrated by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1872.
Dargomizhsky was born in Tula. He showed musical talent at an early age and was taught to play the piano and violin; by the age of 11 he had made some attempt at composition. He entered the civil service in St Petersburg but retired in 1835 after four years and, moving in fashionable circles, became well known as an amateur pianist and a composer of dilettante drawing-room songs. It was his chance meeting with Glinka, who lent him his notes taken during his studies with Siegfried Dehn in Berlin, which gave his talents a more serious bias, and the two composers may be said together to have symbolized the pretensions of Russian musical genius at this period; but whereas Glinka's music was idealistic and lyrical, Dargomizhsky's was realistic and dramatic.
Though inferior to Glinka, Dargomizhsky is a figure of some importance in the history of Russian opera: his first opera was Esmeralda (1840), based on Victor Hugo's Notre-Dame de Paris; however, it was not accepted for the Imperial Opera until 1847. This was followed by a cantata on ‘The Triumph of Bacchus’, a dramatic poem by Pushkin, which he converted into a ballet-opera in 1867. Then came the opera Rusalka or The Watersprite (produced 1856), for the libretto of which Dargomizhsky again turned to Pushkin. This opera, superior to Esmeralda, gradually won a permanent place in the Russian repertory. Dargomizhsky's association with Balakirev and his circle gave him a leading part in the formation of a national and progressive school of Russian music. Dargomizhsky's own views on opera resembled those of Gluck and Wagner in the adaptation of the music to the dramatic import of the text.
WorksStage operas Esmeralda (after Hugo; 1840, produced 1847), Rusalka (after Pushkin; 1856), Rogdana (unfinished), The Stone Guest (Pushkin, completed by Cui and Rimsky-Korsakov; produced posthumously 1872); ballet Bacchus' Feast.
Orchestral orchestral fantasies Kazatchok, Baba-Yaga and Mummers' Dance.
Vocal a duet for an opera Mazeppa; about 90 songs, vocal duets, trios, quartets, choruses.
OtherTarantelle Slave for piano duet.
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