Russia had virtually no instrumental music before Tsar Peter the Great ascended the throne in 1682. The Russian orthodox church strictly forbad instruments in churches and discouraged their use everywhere else. In churches, monophonic chant was the rule, then polyphonic chant from about 1600.

Tsar Peter the Great built a magnificent City, St Petersburg, on swampland. He employed foreign musicians to develop bands and instrumental musicians for his court. The taste for music developed rapidly, and Haydn's music, as well as that of other classical composers, was regularly performed in St Petersburg. The first distinctly Russian composer to emerge was Glinka.(1804-1857).

Russian music really flowered in the 2nd half of the 19th century. The group of five, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Cui, composed in a distinctively Russian style, involving elements of Russian folk music. Tchaikovsky tended more to the romantic Germanic style, but he also was influenced to a lesser extent by the Russian nationalistic movement.

After the Russian revolution in 1917, and the establishment of the authoritarian communist regime under Lenin, the most eminent composers escaped to the West, including Rachmaninov and Prokofiev.    However, the most famous Russian of the 20th century, Igor Stravinsky, was already abroad in Paris, so he stayed there, and later emigrated to the USA. By contrast, Shostakovich stayed in the Soviet Union, and managed to survive the censoring of the Stalinist Composer's Union, by complying with their directives, and withholding works of which he knew they would not approve.