Alexander Sergeyevich Dargomyzhsky (1813-1869)
Alexander Dargomyzhsky came from an established aristocratic family. He was educated at home but received no formal musical training. In 1834 Dargomyzhsky met Glinka, who encouraged him to undertake a serious study of music theory. He composed his first opera Esmeralda after a story by Victor Hugo in 1841. Produced in 1847, the opera was a complete failure. In 1844 Dargomyzhsky undertook an extended trip to Western Europe where he met many leading composers of the day including Meyerbeer, Halevy and Donizetti. His second opera Rusalka (after a story by Alexander Pushkin) had a successful premier in 1856. By the end of the fifties Dargomyzhsky became involved with the group of young composers that became known as the Mighty Five. From 1866 he worked on an opera on Pushkin’s Stone Guest. The work is unique, in that Dargomyzhsky attempted to compose the entire piece without altering a single word of the poem. Tragically, the composer died leaving the opera unfinished. According to his will, it was completed by César Cui and orchestrated by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
Dargomyzhsky composed about one hundred romances. Their quality varies substantially. The earlier works don’t differ significantly from the popular romances of the time. They are elegant, yet not overly original examples of Russian bel canto. His later works, however exhibit the skill and sophistication of a mature composer. His lyric romances such as Ты и вы, Влюблён я дева красота, В крови горит огонь желанья are examples of elegance, excellent taste and prosody. Dargomyzhsky was interested in the dramatic possibilities of the romance. The songs Мельник, Червяк, Титулярный советник are miniatures that illustrate the situation and the psychological condition of the characters.
(Portrait by Konstantin Makovsky, 1869)