Mikhail Mikhaylovich Ippolitov-Ivanov

1859 1935

Mikhail Mikhaylovich Ippolitov-Ivanov

Composer • Conductor


Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov was a very capable Russian composer with a number of programmatic orchestral works, operas and string quartets to his name. However, he has been reduced to a one-hit wonder with time, with only his orchestral suite Kavkazskiye ėskizï (‘Caucasian Sketches’) remaining in the repertoire after the mid-20th century. In addition to composing, he was also an avid conductor and teacher.

Born Mikhail Ivanov in St Petersburg in November 1859, Mikhail would later add his mother’s maiden name, Ippolitov, to distinguish himself from a music critic who shared his name. As a child, Mikhail was exposed to music at home, having already learned a bit of music before becoming a choirboy at St Isaac (1872-5).

In 1875, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov entered the St Petersburg Conservatory, where he pursued his study of the double bass and attended the canon and fugue classes of Iogansen and the special orchestration course given by Rimsky-Korsakov. Following his graduation in 1879, Ippolitov-Ivanov spent one year attending the meetings of the Balakirev circle before continuing his studies with Rimsky-Korsakov from 1880 to 1882.

By this point, Ippolitov-Ivanov’s compositional style had been fully formed, showing the very clear Russian influence of Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and Balakirev. From Rimsky-Korsakov, he obtained the concept of “a folksong-based programmatic nationalism” as observed in hisspring overture Yar-khmel; to this, he added Tchaikovsky’s sense of ease and grace. Balakirev’s influence is clear in many of Ippolitov-Ivanov’s pieces, as both composers were interested in opera and the oriental. This is particularly evident in the operasRuf’ (‘Ruth’) andIzmena (‘Treachery’) and in his most popular work, the orchestral suite Kavkazskiye ėskizï(‘Caucasian Sketches’, 1895).

Interestingly, Ippolitov-Ivanov’s style changed very little throughout the rest of his career, as he didn’t dare to create a new, original style of his own. In this way he is comparable to the Russian composer Glazunov who was also very talented, but unoriginal.

After completing his studies with Rimsky-Korsakov, the Russian master of orchestration in 1882, Ippolitov-Ivanov moved to Tiflis (now Tbilisi, Georgia) to direct both the local academy of music and the local branch of the Russian Music Society. In addition, he conducted at the Opera. Ippolitov-Ivanov remained in the Caucasus for 11 years, a period that would prove very influential on his works as he had fallen in love with the folk music of the region. Works related directly to his experience there include the suite Caucasian Sketches(1985), Armenian Rhapsody (1909) and the symphonic poem Mtsyri (‘The Novice’, 1922) after the poem of the same name by Mikhail Lermontov.

Ippolitov-Ivanov left Georgia in 1893, the same year he married singer Varvara Zarudnaya, at which time he had been appointed professor at the Moscow Conservatory, on the recommendation of Tchaikovsky. In addition to composition, Ippolitov-Ivanov was in charge of teaching harmony and orchestration. While he remained at the conservatory until 1922, he only taught until 1905 before serving as director until 1922. Additionally, Ippolitov-Ivanov taught composition at the Tbilisi School from 1924 to 1925, which he helped reorganize into the Georgian State Conservatory. Ippolitov-Ivanov’s most well-recognized students from his teaching career included Reinhold Glière and Sergey Vasilenko.

It appears that Tchaikovsky and Ippolitov-Ivanov enjoyed a friendship, based on at least thirty surviving letters between them. In the last of the letters, which were exchanged in 1893, Tchaikovsky used the intimate term of “golubchik” to address Ippolitov-Ivanov. Their correspondence ended with Tchaikovsky’s death in 1893. Later, Ippolitov-Ivanov would serve as chairman of the Society of Friends of the House Museum in Klin at Tchaikovsky’s former house.

Ippolitov-Ivanov’s conducting posts from the 1890s on included the Russian Choral Society from 1895 to 1901, the Mamontov Opera from 1898 to 1906, the Zimin Opera and the Bol’shoy (both from 1925 on).

Despite having been the conductor of the Russian Choral Society in for six years between 1895 and 1901, the majority of Ippolitov-Ivanov’s major choral works were composed thereafter.

While with Mamontov and Zimin opera houses, Ippolitov-Ivanov premiered several of Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas includingThe Tsar’s Bride, The Tale of Tsar Saltan andKashchey the Immortal. In addition, he revived Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov at the Bol’shoy. His appreciation for Mussorgsky was also evident later, in 1931, when he completed Mussorgsky’s operaMarriage.

His other activities during the 1920s and 1930s included working for the radio and editing the magazine supplementMuzïka dlya vsekh (‘Music for All’).

After the Russian Revolution, Ippolitov-Ivanov immersed himself even more in the folk music of Georgia and Armenia, partially due to his own interests and partially due to the government’s encouragement. Elements of Uzbek, Kazakh, Turkmen, Turkish and Arabic music are more evident in his music from this point on.

Other notable works include his opera Asya, which was influenced by Yevgeny Onegin and his final opera,Poslednyaya barrikada (‘The Last Barricade’), which was set during the Parid Commune.

In total, Ippolitov-Ivanov composed seven operas, a violin sonata, string quartets and numerous orchestral works—nearly always programmatic and ranging greatly in subject fromOn the Volga (1910) to Episodes in the Life of Schubert (1929). Despite his respectable output and talent, after his death in 1935, Ippolitov-Ivanov has been remembered primarily for hisCaucasian Sketches.

In recent years, more of Ippolitov-Ivanov’s orchestral music has been recorded, including an entire album dedicated to his lesser-known works by the Singapore Symphony under the direction of Choo Hoey. This album, which was released in 2015 on the Naxos label, is devoted to his music inspired by Turkish folk music and includes his Symphony No. 1 (1908),Turkish Fragments (1930) and theTurkish March (1932).