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Episode 1

Duration:
1 hour
First broadcast:
Monday 14 February 2011

He was described by Tchaikovsky as a "saintly prig" - hugely influential, obstinate, and argumentative, Mily Balakirev saw himself as the 'Father of Russian Music', inheriting the mantle direct from his idol Glinka, whilst also being the pivotal figure at the centre of The Mighty Handful.

He was the first significant Russian musician to engage in collecting folksongs, as he was keen to develop an authentic kind of Russian music. These traditional musical forms would filter into his own works such as Tamara, creating exotic and oriental sounds that would be emulated by other composers. His overtures based on folk song would also become a blueprint for future generations. Although Balakirev would later quarrel with all members of The Mighty Handful, not least of all due to his overbearing personality, if he hadn't encouraged Mussorgsky, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov to pursue composition, they all might have followed very different careers.

In the first episode exploring the life and music of Mily Balakirev, Donald Macleod looks at the composer's early years. He was born in Nizhy-Novgorod, but a well-off patron would soon take Balakirev under his wing, and with Ulybyshev's influence including a library stocked full of musical scores, Balakirev would eventually have the opportunity of meeting his musical hero Glinka, in St Petersburg.

Balakirev would present a number of his early works to Glinka, including his one movement Octet opus 3, and a piano work based on Glinka's opera A Life for the Tsar. The piano would always be a huge influence on Balakirev, and his Piano Concerto no.1 demonstrates many of the earlier influences from composers he probably studied or heard at Ulybyshev's house.

Music Played

5 items
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
  • Image for Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev

    Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev Islamey (1869 rev. 1902 orch. by Lyapunov in 1916)

    Performer: Russian State Symphony Orchestra Performer: Igor Golovschin, conductor

    Naxos 8.550792

  • Image for Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev

    Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev Octet, opus 3 (1855-6)

    Performer: London Conchord Ensemble

    Orchid Classics ORC100009

  • Image for Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev

    Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev Réminiscences de l'opéra 'La vie pour le czar' (1854-6 rev. 1899)

    Performer: Nicholas Walker, piano

    ASC CDDCA940

  • Image for Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev

    Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev Spanish Song from Three Forgotten Songs no 3 (1855)

    Performer: Daniil Shtoda, tenor Performer: Larissa Gergieva, piano

    EMI 5742322

  • Image for Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev

    Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev Piano Concerto no. 1 in F sharp minor (1855-6)

    Performer: Howard Shelly, piano Performer: BBC Philharmonic Performer: Vassily Sinaisky, conductor

    Chandos CHAN241-29

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