Meet the Mighty Five

Who were the Mighty Five?

The Mighty Five, also known as The Mighty Handful or The Kuchka, are the five composers and music critics credited with creating the Russian sound in classical music:

The artists were self-trained musicians, working day jobs ranging from chemist to naval officer. The group collaborated from 1856 to 1870.


Michael Glinka.jpg
Mikhail Glinka

By unknown, upload by Adrian Michael - Die berühmten Musiker Kunstverlag Lucien Mazenod, Genf 1946, Public Domain, Link

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Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857)

Composers such as Mikhail Glinka paved the way for the Mighty Five to explore Russian themes in classical music.

Glinka is best known for his two operas, A Life for the Tsar (1836) and Ruslan and Liudmila (1842). A Life for the Tsar tells the story of Ivan Susanin, a Russian patriotic hero. The musical style of the work mirrors the opera style popular in Italy at the time, rather than highlighting Russian themes, but the work earned Glinka a positive reception both with the tsar and with the public.

Glinka began to introduce Russian musical themes in his second opera, Ruslan and Liudmila, based on a story by Alexander Pushkin. Included within what is still a largely Italian style, listeners heard new constructs such as the whole-tone scale and Russian folk themes.

Click here to hear Glinka's use of the whole-tone scale in the Overture to Ruslan and Liudmila.

Click here to hear the Oriental Dances, an example of the Russian musical style that Glinka introduced in Ruslan and Liudmila.

What defines the Russian sound?

Two broad themes define the Russian sound of the Mighty Five:

Music of the Villages

The composers employed several techniques to capture the village and peasant songs of the Russian people.

Several musical techniques characterized this approach.

Harmonic Devices

The Mighty Five also employed harmonic devices in the development of the Russian sound. None of these devices originates in Russian folk or religious music, but the composers of the Mighty Five employed them as a tool to distinguish their music from that of the West.


The Mighty Five composers also employed Orientalism, the use of Eastern melodies and cultural references to distinguish their compositions from those of Western composers. Examples of this style include the tone poem Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov, the opera Prince Igor by Borodin, and the piano work Islamey by Balakirev.

Click here to listen to a performance of Scheherazade.

Click here to listen to a performance of the Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor.

Click here to listen to a performance of Islamey by Balakirev.

References and Additional Reading

"The Mighty Handful." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 24 December 2016. Web. 1 Jul. 2017., Link

"Mikhail Glinka." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 12 June 2017. Web. 1 Jul. 2017., Link

"Orientalism." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 25 June 2017. Web. 1 Jul. 2017., Link