Vladimir Stasov

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Vladimir Stasov's portrait by Ilya Repin.

Vladimir Vasilievich Stasov (born 14 January [O.S. 2 January] 1824, Saint Petersburg; died 23 October [O.S. 10 October] 1906, Saint Petersburg) was a Russian art and music critic. He wrote a lot about art and music in journals, newspapers and in letters to the press. He lived at a time when classical music and other forms of culture were quite new in Russia. Russian artists were imitating European art, but Stasov encouraged them to create a culture which was typically Russian, showing its own nationalism. People saw him as the champion of the new Russian school in all the Russian arts[1]. He knew most of the great Russian writers, artists and composers of his day, and he wrote many letters including letters to the press in which he stated his views very forcefully.

His life[change | change source]

Stasov’s father was an architect. Stasov graduated from the School of Jurisprudence in 1843. In 1847 he began his career as a music critic. He gave a lot of support to Glinka who was trying to compose music that reflected Russian nationalism. In 1856 a group of five composers often got together to discuss ideas about music. Stasov called this group Moguchaya kuchka (“The Mighty Handful”). The oldest one of the group was Balakirev who was like a leader and teacher to the others. The other four were Mussorgsky, Cui, Borodin and Rimsky Korsakov. They had ideas about music which were very different from those of Anton Rubinstein, the composer who had founded the Petersburg Conservatory. Rubinstein thought that Russian composers such as Glinka were all amateurs and that music should be taught like it was in Germany. Stasov and Balakirev were very angry about his views. They started a Free Music School as a rival to the Conservatory. They wanted music to reflect Russian folk singing, dancing and the tolling of Russian church bells.

Stasov gave a lot of encouragement to Russian composers and suggested ideas for compositions to them. It is thanks to his suggestions that many great Russian operas were composed: Borodin’s Prince Igor, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tale of Tsar Saltan, Sadko and The Maid of Pskov and Tchaikovsky's The Tempest and Manfred. Stasov wrote biographies of the composers Glinka, Dargomïzhsky, Musorgsky and Borodin[2].

Stasov wrote in an interesting way that made the reader become enthusiasic about the subject. He talked a lot about ‘nationalism’ and ‘realism’. ‘Nationalism’ meant that it should reflect the daily lives of the Russian people. He encouraged painters such as Repin, Kramskoi, Vasnetsov and Antokolsky to paint the lives of the Russian people instead of classical or biblical subjects that were popular with European artists[3]. He became a member of the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1859 and stayed there, even when he was offered better jobs, because he felt that the Academy gave him freedom to express his thoughts. He was made honorary fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1900, together with the great novelist Leo Tolstoy.

Footnotes[change | change source]

  1. Orlando Figes: “Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia”, 2002, ISBN 0-713-99517-3, p.177.
  2. Oxford Music Online “Vladimir Stasov” accessed 4.2.2012
  3. Orlando Figes p.177.