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Borodin, Alexander
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Alexander Porfir'yevich Borodin

(Born; St Petersburg, 12 Nov 1833; Died; there, 27 Feb 1887). Russian composer. As a youth he developed parallel interests in music and chemistry, teaching himself the cello and qualifying in medicine (1856); throughout his life music was subordinated to his research and his activities as a lecturer (from 1862) at the Medico-Surgical Academy in St Petersburg. His predilection for the music of Mendelssohn and Schumann, together with his acquaintance with Musorgsky, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov, Liszt and above all Balakirev gave shape to his compositional efforts. It was mainly through Balakirev's influence that he turned towards Russian nationalism, using Russian folksong in his music; he was one of 'The Five', the group eager to create a distinctive nationalist school.

Borodin's earliest completed works include the First Symphony in EFlat; (1867), showing a freshness and assurance that brought immediate acclaim, and no.2 in B minor (1876) which, though longer in the making, is one of the boldest and most colourful symphonies of the century, in the Russian context a mature, symphonic counterpart to Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila. The piece contributing most to his early fame, however, especially in western Europe, was the short orchestral 'musical picture' On the Steppes of Central Asia (1880; dedicated to Liszt). Among the important chamber pieces, including those works which give the lie most clearly to charges of inspired dilettantism still sometimes brought against him, are the early Piano Quintet in C minor (1862) - already showing the supple lyricism, smooth texture, neat design and heartfelt elegiac quality of his most characteristic music - and the two string quartets, the second famous for its beautiful Nocturne, with their craftsmanship and latent muscularity. His most substantial achievement was undoubtedly the opera Prince Igor (written over the period 1869-87; completed and partly orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov). Despite its protracted creation and weak, disjointed libretto (Borodin's own), it contains abundant musical richness in its individual arias, in its powerfully Russian atmosphere and its fine choral scenes crowned by the barbaric splendour of the Polovtsian Dances.

Dramatic music The Bogatīrs, opera-farce (1867); Prince Igor, opera, inc. (1887); one act of Mlada, opera-ballet (1872)

Orchestral music Sym. no.1, E flat (1867); Sym. no.2, b (1876) Sym. no.3, a, inc. (1887); In the Steppes of Central Asia, musical picture (1880)

Chamber and piano music 2 str qts (1879, 1881); Pf Qnt c(1862); Circa; 10 other chamber works; scherzos etc for pf solo and duet

Vocal music Circa; 16 songs
(c)Groves Dictionaries, MacMillan Publishers Limited, UK

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