Borodin, the Lesser Known Russian Composer

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Alexander Porfirievich Borodin was born on, November 12th, in 1833, and died February 27th, 1887, being born to a commoner Russian woman and illegitimate son of a Georgian noble. You might not recognize his name right away, but you might have heard of the group of better-know Romantic-era Russian composers known as the “Mighty Five” or “Mighty Handful.” This group consisted of the founder and leader, Balakirev, as well as other composers Cui, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov and their main objective was to promote a Russian style of music. The reason why Borodin might not be as popular as his fellow Russian composers was because his main profession as a chemist and researcher kept him preoccupied. He entered the Medical Surgical Academy of St. Petersburg, becoming an army surgeon after graduating, studying at Heidelberg, then becoming a professor of chemistry at his alma mater. Through the 1860s until 1881, he composed a few major works, the most popular being his incomplete opera Prince Igor, especially the Polovtsian Dances in Act II. Other works were 2 complete (and 1 incomplete) symphonies, 2 string quartets plus other chamber pieces, and a tone poem, In the Steppes of Central Asia. If it wasn’t for the promoting efforts of Franz Liszt, exposing Borodin’s works in Western Europe at the time, we might have been much less aware of this great, expressive composer. Happy Birthday, Borodin!

Joseph Mook
Columbus Teacher Liaison


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