Vasily Kalinnikov

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Vasily Kalinnikov

Vasily Sergeyevich Kalinnikov (Russian: Васи́лий Серге́евич Кали́нников; January 13 [O.S. January 1] 1866 Oryol Governorate – January 11, 1901 [O.S. December 29, 1900], Yalta) was a Russian composer. His body of work consists of two symphonies, several additional orchestral works, and numerous songs, all of them imbued with characteristics of folksong. His symphonies, particularly the First, were frequently performed in the early 20th century.

His younger brother Viktor Kalinnikov (1870–1927) was also a composer, mainly of choral music.


Kalinnikov was a policeman's son. He studied at the seminary at Oryol, becoming director of the choir there at fourteen. Later he went to the Moscow Conservatory but could not afford the tuition fees. On a scholarship he went to the Moscow Philharmonic Society School, where he received bassoon and composition lessons from Alexander Ilyinsky. He played bassoon, timpani and violin in theater orchestras and supplemented his income working as a music copyist.

In 1892, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky recommended Kalinnikov for the position of main conductor of the Maly Theater, and later that same year to the Moscow Italian Theater. However, due to his worsening tuberculosis, Kalinnikov had to resign from his theater appointments and move to the warmer southern clime of the Crimea. He lived at Yalta for the rest of his life, and it was there that he wrote the main part of his music, including his two symphonies and the incidental music for Alexey Tolstoy's Tsar Boris. Exhausted, he died of tuberculosis on January 11, 1901, just two days before his 35th birthday.

Thanks to Sergei Rachmaninoff's help, Tchaikovsky's publisher P. Jurgenson bought three Kalinnikov songs for 120 rubles, and later the Symphony No. 2 in A major. The Symphony No. 1 in G minor, which uses some cyclic principles, was performed in Berlin, Vienna and Moscow during his lifetime, but not published until after his death, so Jurgenson increased the fees he would have paid Kalinnikov, and paid them to his widow. He was also survived by a brother, Viktor, who composed choral music and taught at the Moscow Philharmonic Society School.

His reputation was established with his First Symphony, written between 1894 and 1895, which had great success when Vinogradsky conducted it at a Russian Musical Society concert in Kiev on 20 February 1897. Further performances swiftly followed, in Moscow, Vienna, Berlin, and Paris (Spencer 2001).

In Russia his First Symphony remains in the repertory, and his place in musical history is secure (Spencer 2001). On November 7, 1943, Arturo Toscanini conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra in a rare broadcast performance of the First Symphony; although the performance was recorded, it was never commercially released by RCA Victor, but has recently appeared on Relief CR 1886 (Anon. & n.d.(b), 15) and on CD Testament SBT21404 (Anon. 2006). A wind band transcription of the finale of the First Symphony by Glenn Cliffe Bainum has also become a staple of the band repertoire (Anon. 2015).


Vasily Sergeyevich Kalinnikov
  • In 1812 (В 1812 году) (1899–1900); incomplete
  • Fugue in D minor (1889)
  • Nymphs (Нимфы), Symphonic Picture after Ivan Turgenev (1889)
  • Serenade (Серенада) in G minor for string orchestra (1891)
  • Suite (Сюита) in B minor (1891–1892)
  • Bylina (Былина: Эпическая поэма), Epic Poem (Overture) (c. 1892)
  • Overture in D minor (1894)
  • Symphony No. 1 in G minor (1894–1895)
  • Symphony No. 2 in A major (1895–1897)
  • Intermezzo No. 1 (Интермеццо № 1) in F minor (1896)
  • Intermezzo No. 2 (Интермеццо № 2) in G major (1897)
  • The Cedar and the Palm (Кедр и пальма; Le Cèdre et le palmier), Symphonic Picture after Heinrich Heine (1897–1898)
  • Tsar Boris (Царь Борис), Incidental Music to the tragedy by Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy (1898)
  • Moderato in E minor
  • Polonaise on a Theme from Symphony No. 1 (Полонез на темы Симфонии № 1) in B major for piano 4-hands
  • Scherzo in F major (1888–1889)
  • Chanson triste (Грустная песенка) in G minor (1892–1893)
  • Nocturne (Ноктюрн) in F minor (1892–1893)
  • Élégie (Элегия) in B minor (1894)
  • Minuet (Менуэт) in E major (1894)
  • Russian Intermezzo (Русское интермеццо) in F minor (1894)
  • Waltz (Вальс) in A major (1894)
  • Come to Me (Приди ко мне) for soprano, alto, baritone and piano; words by Aleksey Koltsov
  • I Am Yours, My Darling (Я ли тебя, моя радость) for voice and piano; words by Heinrich Heine
  • I Would Like to Make My Songs into Wonderful Flowers (Я желал бы своей песней) for voice and piano; words by Heinrich Heine
  • On the Old Burial Mound (На старом кургане) for voice and piano (1887); words by Ivan Savvich Nikitin
  • On Your Lovely Little Shoulder Dear (На чудное плечико милой; An Liebchens schneeweisse Schulter) for voice and piano (1887); words by Heinrich Heine in translation by Vasily Pavlovich Fyodorov (1883–1942)
  • When Life Is Weighed Down with Suffering (Когда жизнь гнетут страданья и муки) for voice and piano (1887); words by Polivanov
  • 16 Musical Letters (16 Музыкальных писем) for voice and piano (1892–1899)
  • Bright Stars (Звёзды ясные) for voice and piano (1894); words by Konstantin Fofanov
  • The Gentle Stars Shone Down on Us (Нам звёзды кроткие мерцали) for voice and piano (1894); words by Aleksey Pleshcheyev
  • There Was an Old King (Был старый король) for voice and piano (1894); words by Heinrich Heine in translation by Aleksey Pleshcheyev
  • A Present for 1 January 1900 for voice and piano (1899)
  • Bells (Колокола) for voice and piano (1900); words by K. R.
  • Prayer (Молитва: "О Боже мой") for voice and piano (1900); words by Aleksey Pleshcheyev
  • Do Not Ask Why I Smile in Thought (Не спрашивай, зачем...) for voice and piano (1901); words by Alexander Pushkin
  • The Triumph of Lilliput for chorus and piano
  • Cherubic Hymn No. 1 (Херувимская песнь № 1) for chorus (1885)
  • Cherubic Hymn No. 2 (Херувимская песнь № 2) for chorus (1886)
  • The Mountain Tops (Горные вершины) for chorus (1887)
  • Christe Eleison for chorus (1889)
  • Lord, Our Lord for chorus (1889)
  • Ioann Damaskin (Иоанн Дамаскин), Cantata for soloists, chorus and orchestra (1890); words by Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy
  • A Beautiful Girl Sits by the Sea (Баллада: Над морем красавица дева сидит), Ballade for female chorus and orchestra (1894); words by Mikhail Lermontov


Further reading[edit]

  • Niurnberg, Mikhail Vladimirovich. 1964. Vasilii Sergeevich Kalinnikov 1866-1901: kratkii ocherk zhizni i tvorchestva. Moscow: Muzyka.
  • Paskhalov, Vjaceslav. 1951. Vasilii Sergeevich Kalinnikov: zhizn’ i tvorchestvo. Leningrad: Gos. muzykal’noe izd-vo.
  • Pozhidaev, Gennadii. 1993. Vasilii Kalinnikov: simfoniia zhizni v 4kh chastiakh. Moskow: Shkola.

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