Allegro Moderato in g minor by Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857)

originally first movement of “Sonata in d minor” for viola

Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka was born in Russia in 1804 and is often called the “Father of Russian Music,” the “Father of Russian Opera” and the “First National Russian Composer.”  Considering Glinka is often called “the father of almost all things dealing with Russian music,” he did not actually consciously use Russian folk music in his compositions until he was nearly thirty.1  The Western European school largely influenced the vast majority of his early works.

The majority of what we know about Glinka is from his own Memoirs.2  No part of Glinka’s Memoirs appeared in print until 15 years after his death.3  Glinka started writing his autobiography in June of 1854, three years before his death, and only after being heavily persuaded by his sister, Lyudmile.  Glinka felt that he was an important enough figure in Russian music that people would write about him.  He confided in his friend Nestor Kukolnik:

I am writing these reminiscences without any attempt at stylistic beauty, but am recording simply what happened and how it happened in chronological order, excluding everything that did not have a direct or indirect relationship to my artistic life.1

Glinka did not write a sonata for bassoon; he only wrote two chamber works that use the bassoon: Serenata on Themes from Anna Bolene for 7 instruments and Trio Pathétique for clarinet, bassoon, and piano.  The Serenata has not become popular, but the Trio is standard repertoire for bassoon players and beautiful work.  In addition to the two compositions written for the bassoon by Glinka, the first movement of the viola sonata, Sonata in d minor, can be played on the bassoon.

Sonata in d minor was written early in Glinka’s career, before he traveled to Europe and 11 years before his famous opera Life of a Tsar.  Glinka later wrote that the Sonata was the best of his pre-Italian works.4  He felt that the composition was “more tightly constructed than the others” and contained “some quite clever counterpoint.”2  Starting the first movement in 1824, Glinka stopped working for a period of time before writing the second movement in 1828.  After the second movement was completed he took another break from the sonata.  The result was that only two of the three movements where finished at the time of his death.  In his Memoirs Glinka wrote of a possible third movement:

…did not get to the rondo (I recently used its Russian-style motif in a children’s polka)2

Glinka was a pianist as well as violist.  The Sonata has a truly remarkable, concerto like, piano part that is virtuosic and demanding.  The viola line is beautifully heartfelt and robust.  In his Memoirs he wrote about playing both the piano and viola parts at different times when working on the Sonata in d minor.  He played the piano part while Böhm (a well known violinist in Petersberg) played the viola and in a different rendition, Glinka played the viola while Liglya (a Viennese girl educating Princess Khovanskaya’s children) played the piano.2

Sonata in d minor for the viola was not published until 1932.5  The bassoon adaptation was created in the 1970s and the first editor/adaptor is unknown.  Only the first movement of the viola sonata was adapted for bassoon, the second movement was never adapted and the third movement was never completed by Glinka.  All of the current bassoon editions are based on the same first edition and have the same differences from the original viola edition.  When the viola sonata was arranged for the bassoon many changes were made.  The largest change was a shift in key from d minor to g minor.  This change was most likely to facilitate the difference in ranges of the instruments, but has resulted in a brighter overall character.  The piano introduction between the versions, Figures 1 and 2, exhibit that the entire pitch level is higher in the bassoon version even though the bassoon actually sounds lower than the viola.

Figure 1: Piano introduction for viola original in d minor4

Figure 2: Piano introduction for bassoon version in g minor6

Besides making the key change, the bassoon editor made some changes to the overall melody.  The addition of a bar of triplets in the bassoon agitato melody section at bar 140 is a good example of a deviation from the original sonata.  The viola sonata, Figure 3, has two bars to triplets followed by one bar of triplets and a held note accentuating the piano triplets.  The bassoon version, Figure 4, has two bars of triplets followed by two more bars of triplets so there is a unison rhythm between the piano and the bassoon that was not in the original.

Figure 3:  Viola agitato section, bars 136-1424


Figure 4: Bassoon agitato section, bars 135-1426

Another change in melody for the bassoon version is in bar 143 where the viola original has double stops, Figure 5.  The bassoon cannot perform this technique so the bassoon adapter made a false recapitulation of the main theme in the bassoon part, Figure 6.  However, this adjustment does not work because the piano is continuing to play the developmental triplets so the duple theme over the top creates a clash of 3 against 2 that is heard nowhere else in the piece.  Furthermore, reintroducing the theme 11 bars before the actual recapitulation weakens the return.

Figure 5: Viola double stops, bars 143-1484


Figure 6: Bassoon false recapitulation, bars 143-1486

When performing this work, I use my own edition of the Allegro Moderato, where the original viola part is adhered to as closely as possible.  The first editor of the viola sonata, V. Borisovsky, was meticulous in separating his additions from Glinka’s.4  Therefore, as many of the original markings as possible are preserved in my performances, including one bar of agitato triplets in bars 139-140 and one note from the original double stop played instead of a clashing theme in bar 143-144.


1.    Brown D. Mikhail Glinka : a biographical and critical study. London; New York: Oxford University Press; 1974.

2.    Glinka MI. Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka : memoirs; translated from the Russian by Richard B. Mudge; 1963.

3.    Glinka MI. Memoirs. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press; 1980.

4.    Glinka MI. Viola sonata, D minor [music]. London: Musica Rara; 1961.

5.    Campbell JS. Glinka, Mikhail Ivanovich. In: Sadie S, Levy M, eds. The new Grove dictionary of music and musicians. Vol 10. Second ed. London; New York: Macmillan; Grove; 2001:1-13.

6.    Glinka MI. Sonatensatz für Fagott und Klavier. Rainer Schottsädt ed: M.P. Belaieff; 1990.

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