Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804 - 1857) Pathography

By Breitenfeld, Darko; Thaller, Vladko et al. | Alcoholism, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804 - 1857) Pathography


Breitenfeld, Darko, Thaller, Vladko, Kerekovic, Marijan, Grubisic, Vladimir, Breitenfeld, Tomislav, Jagetic, Nada, Alcoholism


Summary - M.I. Glinka, Russian composer, had a sensible-neurotic personality, and was a symptomatic alcoholic. It is presumed that he had a neurosyphilis. In his fifties, he quickly (in a few days) died in Berlin of delirium, pneumonia and ascites.

Key words: M.I. Glinka, pathography, alcoholism, delirium, ascites, pneumonia

Sazetak - M.I. Glinka, ruski skladatelj, bio je osjetljive i neuroticne osobnosti, te simptomaticni alkoholicar. Pretpostavlja se da je bolovao od neurosifilisa. Umro je od delirija, s upalom pluca i ascitesom, u svojim pedesetim godinama u roku od nekoliko dana.

Kljucne rijeci: M.I. Glinka, patografija, alkoholizam, delirijum, ascites, pneumonija

We do not have much information about Glinka's diseases because at the beginning of 19th century barely started its progress to become a modern profession, although great minds of medicine already published their works. In addition, physicians at that time had no or very little written documentation about the progress of diseases and diagnoses were roughly made. Therefore, we were not able to get the whole picture of Glinka's medical condition and accurately define the cause of his death. Several resources served for this research: chronological course of his life and creativity, calendar overview of his work that was made by Orlova1 and, particularly, academic Asafyev's2 monograph about Glinka which was awarded by the state. All of these papers are musicological so they barely mention artist's diseases or mental state. However, if one reads between lines, one can find that Glinka beside his great talent was just a human being with his flaws.

Russian composer M.I. Glinka was born on his father's estate in Novospaskoe, near Smolensk.3'4 Immediately, he was literally kidnapped from his mother and given to his grandmother who was obviously the head of the family. She was watching over him overly solicitous, so poor boy did not have a chance to play freely and have a contact with other kids until she died. His grandmother protected him from every light breath of the wind, isolated him and warmed him up into the house.5'6 His susceptibility for colds and other (although not described in detail) illnesses writers later assign to the heating mentioned in previous sentence. Nevertheless, it is more likely that he, due to his isolation, did not get over any child disease and therefore his immunological system was not developed. When he was six years old his grandmother died and his mother started to look after him. There is no information about morbidity from that period. At the age of 13 he went to boarding school in St Petersburg, pretty »infected« with music and with the desire for long journeys.7 Likewise about his early childhood, there are no reliable data about his sicknesses from this boy-student time period.8 Only his preposterous temper is described, together with his appetite for company and entertainment, but also for loneliness as well. He cried when he heard any new composition, especially Gluck's, Beethoven's or Mozart's. Lots of his contemporaries were astonished with his subtle soul, even though it was time of Romantism Byron, Pushkin, Lyermontov. As he was still not allowed to go to Europe, he travelled only through recently subjugated Caucasus. However, it seems that he did not see the brutality and gratuitousness of imperial conquests, and on the other hand Pushkin and Lyermontov did. Glinka also went to Ukraine.9

Because of his mother's persistence Glinka managed to get his passport and went on a trip to Europe. He had certain plan to study native melodies in different countries. These long and far journeys reflected badly on his health. Additionally, during his voyages he was ill very often either due to the climate change or because of tiring tours, usually by horse. In such a manner, in 1830 while he was in hospital in Italy, he welcomed Mendelssohn and listened to one of his rondo.10-12

At the beginning of 1833 Glinka became ill and suffered terribly which did not allow him to work any more. …

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