Alexander Nikolayevich Serov (Russian: Алекса́ндр Никола́евич Серо́в, Saint Petersburg, 23 January [O.S. 11 January] 1820 – Saint Petersburg, 1 February [O.S. 20 January] 1871) was a Russian composer and music critic. He is notable as one of the most important music critics in Russia during the 1850s and 1860s and as the most significant Russian composer of opera in the period between Dargomyzhsky's Rusalka and the early operas by Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, and Tchaikovsky.
Alexander Serov was the father of Russian artist Valentin Serov.
Alexander Serov was born in Saint Petersburg in 1820, the son of Nikolai Serov a lawyer and held an important position at court. Serov's maternal grandfather, Carl Ludwig Hablitz, was a botanist of German nationality who was born in Königsberg and who moved from Germany to Russia in the 18th century, as was common at the time, since Russia invited many European experts, including scientists, musicians, physicians, etc. in order to catch up with European developments. In Russia, he became a member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences. His father Nikolai wanted Serov to become a lawyer as well and sent him to law school. Eventually Serov lost interest in law and developed an interest in music. Additionally, he became a friend of another law school student, Vladimir Stasov, who eventually became a famous art critic. Serov and Stasov spent more time studying music than studying law.
Serov completed his studies in 1840 and started working as a lawyer. Eventually, his interest in music prevailed, and in 1850 he quit his job and began to compose music and to write articles. He also gave music lectures which were quite popular. In particular, he introduced a variety of music terms into the Russian language. Additionally, he was the first to use the term simfonizm which eventually gained international significance. In 1863, Alexander Serov married his student Valentina Serova who also went on to become a composer. In 1865 a son was Valentin (19 January 1865 – 5 December 1911) was born to them. He became a distinguished painter, and one of the premier Russian portrait artists of his era. Among his notable paintings were Girl with Peaches (1887), and The Girl Covered by the Sun (1888), both in the Tretyakov Gallery. In these paintings Valentin Serov concentrated on spontaneity of perception of the model and nature, in the development of light and color, the complex harmony of reflections, the sense of atmospheric saturation, and the fresh picturesque perception of the world, there appeared the features of early Russian impressionism (though Serov was not yet aware of works of French impressionists at the time of making those paintings).
In 1871, Alexander Serov unexpectedly died of a heart attack. His widow finished his last opera and published his articles.
As a composer, Serov is notable for composing operas. His first opera, Judith, was first performed in 1863. Although Serov's operas Judith and Rogneda were quite successful at the time, none of his operas are frequently performed today. A CD recording of Judith (with some cuts) was made in 1991 by the orchestra and choir of the Bolshoi Theatre under conductor Andrey Chistiakov.
Whereas Serov was an acclaimed critic and composer, his relation with fellow intellectuals were sometimes far from ideal. For example, he and Stasov became enemies over the relative values of Glinka's two operas. Serov's admiration for Richard Wagner likewise did not endear him to The Mighty Handful, the principal group of Russian composers, mainly due to efforts of the younger competing critic César Cui, who, like Stasov, had been on better terms with Serov earlier.
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