Kukol′nik, Glinka, and A Farewell to St. Petersburg

Frustrated in his work and disenchanted with his life, especially the moribund state of his marriage, Mixail Glinka abandoned the capital in 1840 to flee to the peace of the countryside. Coincidentally that year he published, in collaboration with Nestor Kukol′nik, a collection of twelve romances appropriately titled A Farewell to St. Petersburg. Though these songs do not represent Glinka at his best, this collection nevertheless can stand as an emblem of what has become known in the criticism as “late Romanticism” in Russia. The words and music, with some exceptions, bear the hallmarks of the period: “false” elegance and bombast. And Kukol′nik has even contrived to include traces of Official Nationality in one of the songs; not mere Russians, but Russia’s Orthodox people manage to have lots of fun as they merrily ride along the clean, wide fields to Carskoe Selo on the first Russian train known as the paroxod.

The friendship between Glinka and Kukol′nik stands for another aspect of the cultural life of Russia’s capital in the 1830s and 1840s, the phenomenon Nicholas Riasanovsky calls Russia’s “Bohemia,” whose central meeting place was Kukol′nik’s Wednesday “salons.” The friendship that led to musical collaboration also contributed greatly to the end of Glinka’s marriage (as some allege). The memoirs both Glinka and Kukol′nik left behind provide a sometimes conflicting account of the friendship and the collaboration. And in what one might call “meta-criticism,” Kukol′nik audaciously reviews A Farewell to St. Petersburg in the newspaper he edited, Xudožestvennaja gazeta. By collating the various accounts and analyzing the romances themselves, one can reconstruct the creative evolution of the collection, A Farewell to St. Petersburg.