Borodin was one of "The Mighty Five" Russians who wrote nationalist music: Borodin,
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, César Cui, Mily Balakirev, and Modest
Mussorgsky. The illegitimate son of a prince and a civil servant,
he became an important research chemist and physical scientist. He
wrote music of great originality and beauty -- bold orchestral tone
poems on exotic lands and subjects, as well as Russian nationalist
works influenced by folk melodies and featuring astonishing
harmonic and rhythmic innovation such as chords in fourths,
harmonies with non-harmonic "added tones," and quasi-jazz
Borodin was born on October 13th, 1833 in St. Petersburg to the Prince Luka Gedianov. He was later placed under the serf named Porifry Borodin. This was a typical practice of the times. Borodin grew up excelling in sciences and enter the Medico-Surgical Academy in 1864. Throughout this time he remained interested in music and continued to compose. He met Mussorgsky and Balakirev in 1862 and began to compose Russian nationalist songs at this time. He played in self-made string quintets. He fell in love with a woman name Ekaterina Protopopova and married in 1863. His life was pleasant and he enjoyed music to the fullest extent.
He finally completed his First Symphony in 1869 after working on it for over five years. It was a huge success and with confidence he began his second that same year. He also began to work on an opera, that would go on to be one of his most famous pieces, named Prince Igor. The nationalistic appeal to Russia allowed the head officials of the government to condone and even encourage the composition of it. Progress on Prince Igor was slow and he discontinued writing it twice. In the meantime he began to work on his Second String Quartet. This was a piece dedicated to his wife, and its illustrious slow movement became extremely popular. His respect for Felix Mendelssohn is clearly seen in the cello passages of this piece.
Borodin's fame was bolstered by his friend Franz Liszt who arranged several of his pieces to
be played in various cities. In 1880, Borodin began his evocative
piece, In the Steppes of Central Asia. This tone-poem raised his
popularity significantly during those years, but upon the attack of
cholera, his compositions began to weaken. He died on February
His Famous Compositions
His completed works are Symphony No. 1 in E flat, Symphony No. 2
in B minor, the String Quartet No. 1 in A Major, the symphonic tone
poem, In the Steppes of Central Asia, and the String Quartet No. 2
in D minor. His incomplete piece, Prince Igor was later finished by
Alexander Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov.
On the whole though, his completed pieces such as the string
quartets and his famous tone poem have guaranteed Borodin's
popularity among composers for the ages.
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