Considered one of the most influential Russian poets of the Romantic period, Mikhail Lermontov exercised a profound influence over succeeding generations of nineteenth century Russian writers. Despite his short life, he managed to complete a superb novel, Geroy mashego vremeni (A Hero of Our Times), and to fold a heightened perception of nature into all of his writing. His narrative poem "Demon" was the basis for operas (most notably Anton Rubinstein's), symphonic pieces, and a ballet. "Maskarad" prompted several operas and incidental music by Glazunov and, still more famously, Khachaturian. During his childhood, Lermontov became entranced with nature through travels in the Caucasus. By his early teens, he began to write verse emulating such poets as Schiller and Lord Byron. The latter, especially, was a powerful influence both in his work and personal adventures, a personality that Lermontov succeeded in emulating. Like many other Romantic figures in Russia, Lermontov had a military career; after attending Moscow University, he graduated from military cadet school at age 20. The year following, his first poem was published, almost without notice. In 1837, however, a poem written upon the death of Pushkin, a text regarded as subversive, was the cause of his expulsion from the Guards and subsequent exile to the Caucasus. Given the opportunity to return to St. Petersburg after a year's time, he was exiled once more after his involvement in a duel in 1840. Once again in the Caucasus, he was involved in another duel with a fellow officer and, this time, sustained mortal wounds. Lermontov was seen as a Romantic figure himself, tempestuous in the Russian fashion and short-lived but extravagant in such years as were accorded him. His vivid imagery and the intense inner lives of his characters appealed to composers in search of settings and stage figures whose impact was immediate and unmistakable. It is likely fair to say that no one who set his texts or provided incidental music for them quite matched the richness and complexity of his original invention.
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