Discover the Beauty of Classical Russian Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,

If you’re a fan of classical music, then you’ll definitely want to check out the beautiful sounds of Russian classical music. From the works of Tchaikovsky to Rachmaninoff, there’s a lot to discover and enjoy.


Classical Russian music is well-known for its soulful melodies and enchanting harmonies. It has the ability to both soothe and exhilarate the listener. If you have never listened to classical Russian music, you are in for a treat!

What is classical Russian music?

Classical Russian music is a genre of art music originating in Russia in the late-17th century. The term “Russian music” or “Russian classical music” refers to the core styles developed by Russian composers associated with the court of the Tsars. These include sacred choral works, symphonies, operas, and ballets.

The history of Russian music can be traced back to the early 18th century, when Empress Anna Ivanovna patronized the first professional opera company in Moscow. Around this time, a group of Young Muscovites began to develop a new style of composition that blended Western harmonies with traditional Russian folk melodies. This group included Dmitry Bortniansky, Mikhail Glinka, and Alexander Alyabyev.

In the 19th century, Russia experienced a musical golden age thanks to composers such as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Mikhail Glinka, Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. These composers helped to create a uniquely Russian musical identity that was celebrated both at home and abroad.

During the Soviet era (1917-1991), classical music was discouraged in favor of more “ accessible” genres such as Soviet pop and jazz. However, some composers such as Dmitri Shostakovich managed to create work that was both popular and artistically groundbreaking. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in Russian classical music, both inside Russia and around the world.

The history of classical Russian music

Classical Russian music is a genre that emerged in the late eighteenth century and reached its golden age in the nineteenth century. It was influenced by Western European classical music, as well as folk music and Russian Orthodox church music. Many of the greatest Russian composers, such as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Mikhail Glinka, Modest Mussorgsky, and Alexander Borodin, were part of this musical tradition.

Classical Russian music fell out of fashion in the early twentieth century, but has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years. If you’re looking for something new to listen to, why not give classical Russian music a try?

The main composers of classical Russian music

Russia has a long and rich history of classical music composition, stretching back to the days of the tsars. Among the most famous classical Russian composers are Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Sergei Prokofiev, and Dmitri Shostakovich. These three giants of Russian music each had their own unique style, and their music is still enjoyed by classical music lovers all over the world.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky

One of the most popular Russian composers of all time, Pyotr Tchaikovsky was born on May 7, 1840 in Votkinsk, Russia. His father, Ilya Petrovich Chaikovsky, was a mining engineer who became director of the Life Guards at Moscow. His mother, Alexandra Andreyevna Chaikovsky (née d’Assier), was French-born but had been left orphaned at an early age and brought up by her Ukrainian aunt. As a result, Tchaikovsky grew up speaking French as his first language – a fact which would have a profound and lasting effect on his musical style. Tchaikovsky’s talent for music was evident from an early age, and he started piano lessons at the age of five. At the age of ten he was sent to the newly founded Imperial School of Jurisprudence in St Petersburg where he studied until 1859. From 1860 until 1863 he studied privately with Rudolph Kündinger in Moscow; then, between 1863 and 1865, he took composition lessons with Nikolai Zaremba at the St Petersburg Conservatory.

Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Prokofiev is one of the most renowned classical Russian composers. He composed some of the best-known works in the world such as Peter and the Wolf, Romeo and Juliet, and Lieutenant Kije.

Prokofiev was born in 1891 in the Ukrainian town of Sontsovka (now Krasne). He started piano lessons at age four and by age nine he had composed his first opera. Prokofiev completed his first symphony when he was just 13 years old. He later studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory under Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

Prokofiev’s early works were met with criticism from many music professors and critics. They said that his music was too “noisy” and “disorderly.” But Prokofiev continued to compose and his unique style quickly gained popularity with audiences. He received many international awards and honors during his career.

Prokofiev died in 1953 at the age of 61. Today, his music is performed all over the world and is loved by people of all ages.

Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich is one of the most celebrated classical Russian composers of the 20th century. He was born in Saint Petersburg in 1906 and began studying piano and composition at an early age. His first musical compositions were published when he was just 13 years old.

During the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Shostakovich’s family briefly fled Russia for Kazakhstan. They returned to Saint Petersburg shortly thereafter. In the 1920s, Shostakovich attended the Leningrad Conservatory, where he studied under renowned composer Nikolai Myaskovsky.

Shostakovich’s early career was marked by great success. His first symphony, composed when he was just 19 years old, was met with critical acclaim. He went on to compose several more symphonies, as well as concertos, string quartets, and other works.

However, Shostakovich’s career took a turn during the 1930s, when Soviet leader Joseph Stalin began to crack down on artistic expression that did not meet with his approval. Several of Shostakovich’s works were denounced by Soviet officials, and the composer himself was criticized in the official Soviet press.

Despite these difficulties, Shostakovich continued to compose music that reflected both his personal struggles and the social upheaval of his times. His work came to embody what is known as “Socialist Realism,” a style of art that glorified Soviet life and ideology.

During World War II, Shostakovich composed several patriotic works dedicated to the Soviet people’s struggle against Nazi invasion. These included his Seventh Symphony, which came to be known as the “Leningrad Symphony” after the city where it was composed (and which had been besieged by Nazi troops).

In later years, Shostakovich’s music took on a more personal tone, reflecting his own feelings of loneliness and despair. He continued to compose until his death in 1975 at the age of 68.

The most famous pieces of classical Russian music

Russia has a long and rich history of classical music, with the first known Russian composer being Boyan (active in the late 10th and early 11th centuries). Since then, countless other Russian composers have made their mark on the world of classical music. Some of the most famous pieces of classical Russian music include “The Nutcracker” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “Swan Lake” by Tchaikovsky, and “The Sleeping Beauty” by Tchaikovsky.

Swan Lake

Swan Lake is a ballet composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1875–76. Despite its initial failure, it is now one of the most popular of all ballets. The scenario, initially in four acts, was fashioned from Russian folk tales and tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse. The choreographer of the original production was Julius Reisinger. The ballet was premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet on 20 February 1877 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Although it is presented in many different versions, most ballets have a similar basic structure.

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is a ballet by Sergei Prokofiev based on William Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name. It is one of Prokofiev’s most popular works, and one of the most frequently performed ballets. Romeo and Juliet belongs to the ballet’s golden age, which occurred during the romantic era.

The music was composed between 1935 and 1936, and was first performed in Brno, Czechoslovakia, on 30 December 1938. The ballet received its premiered in Moscow on 13 January 1940. The first U.S. performance took place on 26 February 1940 in New York City.

War and Peace

One of the most famous pieces of classical Russian music is War and Peace, composed by Sergei Prokofiev. This epic masterpiece was inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s novel of the same name, and it is widely considered to be one of Prokofiev’s finest works. The piece is divided into four parts, each depicting a different stage of the novel: Part I covers the development of the characters and their relationships; Part II focuses on the military campaign and Napoleon’s invasion of Russia; Part III depicts the destruction wrought by war; and Part IV is a peaceful epilogue set in Russia after Napoleon’s defeat.


We hope you enjoyed learning about classical Russian music! This genre has a rich history and tradition, and there is much to explore. If you’re interested in learning more, we highly recommend seeking out some of the great Russian composers and performers from the past and present. Thank you for reading!

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