Dargomyzsky, Alexander Sergievitch


This name is sometimes spelled Dargomijsky. He was a Russian composer and pianist of noble birth, born in the government of Toula, Russia, and early in life manifested a talent for composition. When he was four years of age, Dargomyzsky's parents removed to St. Petersburg and placed him in the hands of good teachers, for the serious study of music. At seven he wrote little sonatas for the piano, and a short time afterward entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music, where he studied violin, harmony and composition under Schoberlechner, and became a brilliant pianist. When he was eighteen, Dargomyzsky appeared in recitals in St. Petersburg. From 1831 until 1835 he held a government position, but afterward devoted himself exclusively to the study of music upon the advice of Glinka, whom he had met and who had become interested in his career. In 1845 the young Russian visited Germany, Brussels and Paris, as a pianist and in Brussels especially was received with the greatest enthusiasm. Two years later he visited Moscow and there, the same year, produced his opera, Esmeralda, a light work written in the style of Auber and Halevy, which he had composed for the Russian Imperial Opera, but which was rejected y the managers. In Moscow it was well received, and later in St. Petersburg made a success. Between 1850 and 1855 Dargomyzsky published more than one hundred romances; airs; duos; fantasias and waltzes. In 1856 he produced in St. Petersburg his most striking success, the opera, The Roussalka (The Water Sprite), which by many is considered his best work and which still keeps the stage. Its libretto is founded upon Pushkin's dramatic version of a national legend. The Feast of Bacchus, an opera-ballet founded on Pushkin's dramatic poem, a part of which was given in 1845, has never been heard in its entirety. Beside these works, Dargomyzsky wrote ballads; vocal romances; a Finnish fantasy; Baba laza; the Cossack dance; a fairy opera, Rogdane; a duet for an unfinished opera, Mazeppa; Tarantelle Slave, for piano; a fantasia; and the Dance of the Mummers, all of which have received the highest praise from musicians.

Dargomyzsky was elected president of the Russian Musical Society in 1867, and his house became the gathering-place of the young Russian school of musicians who followed Schumann, Berlioz, Wagner and Liszt. In his later years the composer was extremely popular in the highest circles of St. Petersburg Society, and as a pianist and composer of many songs for the salon, was in great demand. His posthumous opera, The Marble Guest, or Don Juan, was scored by Rimsky-Korsakov, according to a request made by Dargomyzsky on his death bed and with a postlude by Cesar Cui was brought out in St. Petersburg in 1872, with striking success. Dargomyzsky's music is dramatic and realistic in the extreme, and shows the influence of Wagner to a decided degree. Says Riemann: "He adopted the principles of Wagner more and more freely until he finally went even further than the master of Bayreuth to carry out his ideas." Some of his songs have been compared to the ballads of Schubert and Schumann, and his Finnish fantasia and his Cossack dance for orchestra enjoy the widest popularity.