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Nationalism in Music

Prior to the 1830’s, Russian opera and classical music was largely uninspired and derivative of Western works. While Italian and German music was well-known and enjoyed in Russia, the country had no distinctive classical musical style to call its own. Mikhail Glinka, commonly considered the father of Russian classical music, changed that. Glinka’s compositions were powerful and distinctive, incorporating elements of Russian folk music. Glinka kick-started the development of the Russian Art Music style, which integrated components characteristic of Russian folk music and church hymns into classical music. He went on to become part of the “Russian Five,” a nationalist music group which utilized the Russian folk style, which was in itself influenced by polysylballic Russian speech patterns, heavily in their compositions.

Nationalism Under Romanov Rule

The Romanov dynasty, beginning with the 1613 election of Tsar Michael Romanov and ending with the 1917 revolution during the reign of Tsar Nicholas II, was deeply nationalist in character, with a primary objective of the state throughout the dynasty being for Russia to become one of the most powerful European nations, a difficult task considering that for much of this time Russia was far less advanced as a state than its European neighbors. Eventually, for a brief time, the Romanovs’ various legislation aimed at improving Russia’s economy and military paid off, when the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte attempted to invade the country and was defeated by the Russian Army, which had seen improvement over years of Romanov legislation preventing social stratification and forcing great sacrifice from the peasant populace. After this accomplishment, Russia was seen at last as one of Europe’s great powers.

The Industrial Revolution Depowers Russia

In the wake of the defeat of Napoleon, Russia was seen by most as the most powerful continental European nation. However, all that changed with the Industrial Revolution. While the Industrial Revolution was beneficial to practically every country it touched, it effectively weakened Russia because it did not reach the nation until long after the economies of other European countries

Rise of the Soviet Union

In 1922, following a civil war in the wake of Tsar Nicholas II’s abdication from the throne and the subsequent murder of himself and his family, the Bolsheviks came to power and established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or Soviet Union. Through the use of violenc

The Soviet Union as a Superpower

While the Soviet Union suffered great losses during World War II, strategic post-war arrangements that allowed the country to occupy and receive reparations from former Nazi satellite states gave the USSR even greater power and finally established it as one of the world’s superpowers, a position it would retain until the early 1990s. However, shortly after World War II, the Soviet Union was regarded by its WWII allies less and less as a powerful friend and more as an extremely powerful threat. As the Soviet Union gained more stature and power, it raised what British Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to as a communist “iron curtain” between Western and Eastern Europe, engaged in a nationalistic arms and space race with the United States, and participated in the long, potentially incredibly destructive Cold War. While life under Communist rule was, of course, difficult and dangerous for most Russians, it was also a time of great national pride for many. Russia had become the largest state in one of the world’s only two superpowers, gained enough power to destroy the world many times over and was treated as such by most of the world, and as the icing on the cake, the first human in space had been a Russian cosmonaut. The government of the Soviet Union was distinctive and dissimilar to those of other European and American nations, which greatly helped to destroy any feelings of inferiority Russians harbored towards the West in favor of national pride and superiority.

Nationalism in an Independent Russia

National pride in Russia has suffered greatly in the 1990s due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent steps and missteps taken by the new Russian government. Many Russians resented new President Boris Yeltsin’s largely pro-Western foreign policy and disliked that their President was attempting to form alliances with, and was requesting aid from, Western nations that had been their enemies for so long. A particularly harsh slap in the face to the newly independent nation, many felt, was the United States’ attempts to recruit former Soviet Union component states other than Russia into the North American Free Trade Organization (NATO) that was formed specifically to counteract the USSR. Yeltsin and elements of his presidency were criticized constantly, from his poor relationship with Russia’s legislators, to his replacement of the familiar Soviet National Anthem with a patriotic tune by Mikhail Glinka that most found rather uninspiring, to his health problems and fondness for vodka.

Russian Nationalism Today

With the December 31st, 1999 resignation of the widely-criticized President Yeltsin and the subsequent installation of his successor, former KGB agent Vladmir Putin, some theorize that Russian Nationalism is resurfacing in the new millenium.


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