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Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov and his Caucasian Sketches


Mikhail Mikhailovich Ippolitov-Ivanov (November 19, 1859–January 28, 1935) was a Russian conductor, teacher, and composer of orchestral works and operas, of which the most popular were influenced by Caucasian and Georgian folk music, who was born in 1859 at Gatchina, Russia, near St. Petersburg, where his father was a mechanic employed at the palace. His birth name was Mikhail Mikhailovich Ivanov; later he added Ippolitov, his mother’s maiden name, to distinguish himself from a music critic with a similar surname. While his early musical training occurred at home, he furthered his vocation as a choirboy at St. Isaac’s Cathedral, where he also had musical instruction, before entering the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1875. In 1882 he completed his studies as a composition pupil of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, whose influence was to remain strong.

Ippolitov-Ivanov’s first appointment in 1882 was to the position of director of the music academy and conductor of the symphony orchestra at Tiflis (now Tbilisi), the principal city of Georgia, , in the region of the Caucasus mountains. where he was to spend the next several years. His eleven years in the Caucasus allowed him to develop a a lifelong interest in the folk music of the region, a reflection of the general interest taken in the music of non-Slav minorities and more exotic neighbors that was current at the time, and that was to receive overt official encouragement for other reasons after the Revolution. This period inspired several of his orchestral compositions, such as the Caucasian Sketches suites (1895, 1896), the Armenian Rhapsody (1909), and the symphonic poem after a poem by Mikhail Lermontov, Mtsyri (1922; “The Novice”). One of his notable pupils in Tbilisi was conductor Edouard Grikurov. On May 1, 1886, in Tbilisi, he conducted the premiere of the third and final version of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasia.

In 1893, a recommendation from Tchaikovsky led to Ippolitov-Ivanov’s becoming a professor at the Conservatory in Moscow, of which he was director for 19 years, from 1905 until 1924. His pupils included Reinhold Glière and Sergei Vasilenko. He served as conductor for the Russian Choral Society, the Mamontov and Zimin Opera companies and was known as a contributor to broadcasting and to musical journalism. Politically Ippolitov-Ivanov retained a measure of independence. He was named as a People’s Artist of the USSR in 1922 and awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor. He was president of the Society of Writers and Composers in 1922, but took no part in the quarrels between musicians concerned either to encourage new developments in music or to foster a form of proletarian art. His own style had been formed in the 1880s under Rimsky-Korsakov, and to this he added a similar interest in folk-music, particularly the music of Georgia, where he returned in 1924 following his retirement from the Moscow Conservatory to spend a year reorganizing the Georgian State Conservatory in Tbilisi, formerly the Tbilisi School.

In 1925 Ippolitov-Ivanov returned to Moscow to become the principal conductor at the Bolshoi Theater. He oversaw the premieres of a number of Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas, including The Tsar’s Bride, and he supervised an important revival of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. In addition to his entirely original works, in 1931 he also completed Modest Mussorgsky’s unfinished opera Marriage. He died in Moscow in 1935. Ippolitov-Ivanov’s works, which were influenced primarily by Rimsky-Korsakov, Mily Balakirev, and Russian folk music, include seven operas, orchestral music, chamber music and a large number of songs. His folk music interests extended well to the west, as well; he wrote orchestral suites on Catalan and Finnish themes. He also composed string quartets, a violin sonata, and a symphony, but most of his orchestral works were highly programmatic, the subjects ranging from On the Volga (1910) to Episodes in the Life of Schubert (1929) and The Year 1917. His style is similar to that of his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov. With the exception of his orchestral suite Caucasian Sketches (Kavkazskiye Eskizi, 1894), which includes the much-excerpted “Procession of the Sardar”, his music is very rarely heard today.

The following works by Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov are included in my collection:

Caucasian Sketches, Suite No. 1, op. 10 (1894), including the Procession of the Sardar.
Caucasian Sketches, Suite No. 2, Iveria, op. 42 (1896).
Turkish Fragments, four orchestral sketches for large orchestra, op. 62 (1930).
Turkish March, op. 55 (1932).

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources


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