Alexander Borodin

Biography

Born: 1833   Died: 1887   Country: Russia   Period: Romantic
Though far from prolific as a composer -- by day he was a scientist noted for his research on aldehydes -- Alexander Borodin nevertheless earned a secure place in the history of Russian music. As a creative spirit, Borodin was the most accomplished of the Russian nationalists composers. He had a particular gift for the distinctive stripe of exoticism so evident in his most frequently performed work, the Polovtsian Dances from the opera Prince Read more Igor.

The illegitimate son of a Georgian prince and a doctor's wife, Borodin enjoyed a comfortable upbringing. As a child he learned to play several instruments and tried his hand at composing, but other aptitudes directed his formal education. He studied chemistry at St. Petersburg's Medico-Surgical Academy, obtaining his doctorate in 1858 and pursuing further studies in Europe until 1862. Upon his return to Russia, he became a professor at his alma mater; but even as an academic career apparently loomed before him, he maintained a devotion to music.

Under the influence of Mily Balakirev, whom he met in 1862, Borodin became interested in applying elements of Russian folk music to works for the concert hall and stage. He joined a circle of like-minded composers -- Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, and Cui -- famously dubbed "The Five" or "The Mighty Handful." The influence of Balakirev in particular is at once in evident in the Symphony No. 1 in E flat major (1867). Borodin began the much craggier Symphony No. 2 in B minor in 1869, the same year he commenced labor on his most important work, the opulent four-act opera Prince Igor. While it took Borodin more than five years to complete the symphony, work on Prince Igor dragged on for decades. Borodin, who had in the meantime completed a number of other works, left the opera unfinished at the time of his death. It was completed posthumously by Rimsky-Korsakov, a skillful craftsman and a particularly apt match for Borodin's colorful musical character, and Alexander Glazunov. Glazunov also completed the Symphony No. 3 in A minor, which the composer had been working on until the time of his death.

Aside from teaching chemistry and conducting research, Borodin helped found a series of medical courses for women in 1872. Such activities, as well as the poor health that plagued him in the 1880s, drained the energy that he might have devoted to composition. Still, as a part-time composer, Borodin jeft a significant oeuvre: more than a dozen worthy songs, miscellaneous piano pieces, two string quartets (the second of which contains a ravishing Nocturne often performed in an arrangement for string orchestra), and the popular tone poem In the Steppes of Central Asia (1880). He died while attending a ball in St. Petersburg on February 27, 1887. Read less
Borodin: Symphony No 2, Etc / Rozhdestvensky, Stockholm Po
Release Date: 09/19/1995   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 9386   Number of Discs: 1
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Tchaikovsky: The Seasons;  Borodin / Luba Edlina
Release Date: 02/28/1995   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 9309   Number of Discs: 1
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Historical - Borodin: String Quartets / Borodin Quartet
Release Date: 01/22/2002   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 9965   Number of Discs: 1
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Borodin: Symphonies No 1 & 2 / Michel Plasson, Dresdner
Release Date: 01/22/2008   Label: Berlin Classics  
Catalog: 1396   Number of Discs: 1
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Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition, Etc; Borodin / Durjan, Kegel
Release Date: 10/01/2005   Label: Berlin Classics  
Catalog: 3235   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances

 

About This Work
Alexander Borodin was a chemist by profession, but is more readily remembered as among the finest of nineteenth century Russian composers. Borodin's dual life prevented him from completing a number of important musical works, among them the opera Read more Prince Igor. The composer labored on the score (and text) intermittently for nearly 20 years, intending to create a great historical tableau based on an ancient ballad about a hero in Russia's struggles against the tribes of Central Asia. The Polovtsy tribe took Igor prisoner for a time, and this episode provides much of the dramatic impetus for the opera. Prince Igor -- later completed by Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, and others -- remains one of the most important works in the history of Russian opera, though it is only rarely staged outside of its native land. Various reconstructions of Borodin's original intentions have been made, and the vast dimensions of the work pose problems. The work combines influences from French grand opera (rarely staged much anymore either) with, especially in its depiction of the "exotic" Polovtsy, the typically Russian harmonic daring also associated with Mussorgsky.

The most famous music from the opera is a set of dances, the Polovtsian Dances, that accompany a banquet put on by the Khan of the Polovtsy. These are overwhelmingly brilliant and irresistibly barbaric in the best Romantic crowd-pleasing manner, particularly when performed with the original choral parts. The Dances gained an unexpected popular currency when one of the more memorable tunes was transformed into the song "Stranger in Paradise" as part of the Broadway musical Kismet (1953).

-- Joseph Stevenson, All Music Guide Read less

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