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Alexander Borodin (1833 - 1887)

Borodin

In the Steppes of Central Asia

Several Russian composers of the 19 th century started in professions other than music: Rimsky Korsakov started as a naval officer, while Tchaikovsky began his career as a lawyer. Only Borodin held a non-musical post for all his career. He was born the illegitimate son of a minor Russian prince, and was well cared for and educated by his mother. He was trained as a doctor and chemist, and was appointed a professor of chemistry in the St. Petersburg Medical School at the age of 31. While there he published important research papers on the group of organic chemicals called aldehydes, and helped found a medical school for women. He considered this his life's greatest achievement.

He was slow to write music, since he had to squeeze it into the gaps between his working schedule and looking after his family, which comprised an ill wife, several other relatives, and a large number of cats.

He wrote the symphonic sketch “In the Steppes of Central Asia” in 1880, for an event to mark the 25 th anniversary of the reign of Tsar Alexander II. It is one of his most popular works, giving a convincing picture of the approach and disappearance of a camel train in the empty desert wastes of central Asia . How he achieved this is a bit of a mystery, since despite being well-travelled, he never went within 1,000 miles of the region he depicted so well !

Overture "Prince Igor"

Several Russian composers of the 19th century started in professions other than music : . Rimsky Korsakov started as a naval officer, while Tchaikovsky began his career as a lawyer. Only Borodin held a non-musical post for all his career. He was an industrial chemist who thought of his music very much as a hobby, and regarded the founding of a School of Medicine for Women as his greatest achievement.

He is now, however, most remembered for his music, where his greatest achievement is surely his opera Prince Igor, even though he left it unfinished and in some confusion at his death. Even the sequence of the acts was not entirely clear. It was completed and brought to a performing version by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov - the hand of Rimsky can be detected in the famous Polovtsian Dances, while the overture was rather more simply edited by Glazunov.

The sleepy calm of the opening is disturbed by fanfares, leading to a bold Russian theme. A sinuous oriental sounding clarinet tune is followed by a bold climax, and in turn followed by a luminous horn solo. The remainder of the overture, which is based on these fine melodies, does not need further description; just enjoy Borodin at his finest and most fluent.

Polovtsian Dances

Like many Russian composers of the late 19th century, Alexander Borodin was not a professional musician. He was trained as a doctor and chemist, and was appointed a professor of chemistry in the St. Petersburg Medical School at the age of 31. While there he published important research papers on the group of organic chemicals called aldehydes, and helped found a medical school for women.

He was slow to write music, since he had to squeeze it into the gaps between his working schedule and looking after his family, which comprised an ill wife, several other relatives, and a large number of cats. His second symphony took so long to write (7 years) that his friends gave him an ashtray in the shape of a tortoise.

His opera Prince Igor was left unfinished at his death, when it was completed by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov. But the exciting Polovtsian Dances were all his own work. The Prince, having been captured by the Mongol chief Khan Konchak, is entertained by his musicians and dancing girls in a series of brilliant and exciting dances.

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