Alexander Borodin

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Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) was a Russian composer whose day job was that of a chemist, working with aldehyes. His father was a Georgian prince, and Borodin was raised in a relatively wealthy household.

Borodin was one of “The Five” (with Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Cui) forging a new Russian voice in music. In many of his works are quite obvious traces of the Russian folk idiom and his dramatic works use Russian themes. His music is lyrical, elegiac and frequently passionate, always tuneful, and usually sounds quintessentially “Russian”.

His musical output is not large, but most of it is regularly performed and recorded. It includes to big bold extrovert symphonies, the “musical picture” “In the Steppes of Central Asia”, two tuneful String Quartets, and the mighty “Prince Igor” opera. There are other works including an unfinished third symphony, chamber and piano music, songs and dramatic pieces.

Some of his music has assumed a life of its own: the “nocturne” from the first string quartet has left home and become a vehicle for every solo or ensemble in the classical world. (It reached Broadway, then Hollywood as “And this is my Beloved”. The “Polotsvian Dances” from “Prince Igor” is the ultimate operatic show stopper.

The 1953 musical, “Kismet” is based on Borodin tunes.


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