Alexander Borodin
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1833-11-12
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Alexander Borodin

Alexander Borodin Biography (BBC)

Born the illegitimate son of a Georgian prince and his mistress, and registered as a serf on his father’s country estate, Alexander Borodin nevertheless enjoyed a cultured education in which the natural sciences vied for attention with musical accomplishments – a pattern that was to continue for the rest of his life. A solid medical training came first. In 1850 he began his training as a physician at St Petersburg’s Medical Surgical Academy, graduating with distinction six years later and returning to the Academy as a professor of chemistry from 1864.

By then music had established an equally important role in his life. Having played chamber music with fellow amateurs and written several works for small ensemble, he was introduced to the inspirational Mily Balakirev in October 1862 and became the last composer to join the Balakirev circle (later known as ‘The Five’ or ‘The Mighty Handful’). Borodin already knew Modest Musorgsky and was warmly welcomed by its two other members, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov and César Cui.

Perhaps the most robustly gifted of the circle, Borodin took up Balakirev’s challenge and in 1867 completed his E flat major Symphony, the first major specimen of a short-lived Russian nationalism that also embraced the rhythmic energy of Beethoven, the delicacy of Schumann and, in its chattery scherzo, the fantasy of Berlioz.

Following the symphony’s successful 1869 premiere, Borodin found an ideal subject for a Russian grand opera in the supposed 12th-century epic The Lay of Igor’s Host; preliminary work on Prince Igor was abandoned after several numbers had been sketched in 1870. A Second Symphony incorporated some of the opera’s initial ideas and reflected its heroic stance through huge brass fanfares and sinuous melodies. The story of Prince Igor, resumed in 1874, runs like a thread through the rest of Borodin’s life. Isolated numbers were performed at various concerts organised by the Free School of Music, including the exotic and rhythmically vital evocation of an eastern culture in the ‘Polovtsian Dances’ – completed in 1879 with assistance from his fellow composers, including Rimsky-Korsakov.

By the beginning of the 1880s, having already made several honourable contributions to chemistry, Borodin was finding it increasingly difficult to balance his musical and medical responsibilities – a situation compounded by his wife’s ill health and a household constantly full of preying relatives and countless cats. He did nevertheless manage to produce one of the most carefree and melodically inspired string quartets in the repertory, his Second (1881), to celebrate 20 years of happy marriage to the pianist Yekaterina Protopopova.

Quite unexpectedly, minutes after dancing a waltz at a candlelight ball organised by the Medical-Surgical Academy in February 1887, he collapsed and died of heart failure. His musical legacy, with the performing version of Prince Igor (completed shortly after his death by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov) as its centrepiece, remains small in output but big in vital inspiration.

Profile © David Nice

Alexander Borodin Biography (Wikipedia)

Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin (Russian: Алекса́ндр Порфи́рьевич Бороди́н, (listen); 12 November 1833 – 27 February 1887) was a Russian chemist and Romantic musical composer of Georgian ancestry. He was one of the prominent 19th-century composers known as "The Mighty Handful", a group dedicated to producing a uniquely Russian kind of classical music, rather than imitating earlier Western European models. Borodin is known best for his symphonies, his two string quartets, the symphonic poem In the Steppes of Central Asia and his opera Prince Igor. Music from Prince Igor and his string quartets was later adapted for the US musical Kismet.

A doctor and chemist by profession, Borodin made important early contributions to organic chemistry. Although he is presently known better as a composer, during his lifetime, he regarded medicine and science as his primary occupations, only practising music and composition in his spare time or when he was ill. As a chemist, Borodin is known best for his work concerning organic synthesis, including being among the first chemists to demonstrate nucleophilic substitution, as well as being the co-discoverer of the aldol reaction. Borodin was a promoter of education in Russia and founded the School of Medicine for Women in Saint Petersburg, where he taught until 1885.

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Featured Works


Alexander Borodin Tracks

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Alexander Borodin
Polovtsian Dances
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Polovtsian Dances
Alexander Borodin
Prince Igor - Polovtsian Dances
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Prince Igor - Polovtsian Dances
Alexander Borodin
String Quartet No 2 in D major (3rd mvt)
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String Quartet No 2 in D major (3rd mvt)
Alexander Borodin
String Sextet in D minor
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String Sextet in D minor
Alexander Borodin
Notturno (Andante) - 3rd movement from Quartet for strings no.2 in D major
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Notturno (Andante) - 3rd movement from Quartet for strings no.2 in D major
Alexander Borodin
String Quartet No 2 in D major (Nocturne)
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String Quartet No 2 in D major (Nocturne)
Alexander Borodin
Nocturne (String Quartet no.2)
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Nocturne (String Quartet no.2)
Alexander Borodin
Petite Suite orch Glazunov (Nocturne)
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Petite Suite orch Glazunov (Nocturne)
Alexander Borodin
Scherzo in D major for string quartet [from "Les vendredis"]
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Scherzo in D major for string quartet [from "Les vendredis"]
Alexander Borodin
Symphony No 2 in B minor (4th mvt)
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Symphony No 2 in B minor (4th mvt)
Alexander Borodin
Polovtsian March (Prince Igor)
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Polovtsian March (Prince Igor)
Alexander Borodin
Polovtsian dances from 'Prince Igor'
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Polovtsian dances from 'Prince Igor'
Alexander Borodin
Prince Igor (Polovtsian Dance No.17)
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Prince Igor (Polovtsian Dance No.17)
Alexander Borodin
For the shores of the distant homeland
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For the shores of the distant homeland
Alexander Borodin
String Quartet No 2 in D major (3rd mvt)
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String Quartet No 2 in D major (3rd mvt)
Alexander Borodin
Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances (original version)
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Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances (original version)
Alexander Borodin
In the Steppes of Central Asia
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In the Steppes of Central Asia
Alexander Borodin
Overture 'Prince Igor'
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Overture 'Prince Igor'
Alexander Borodin
In the steppes of central Asia (V sredney Azii) - symphonic poem
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In the steppes of central Asia (V sredney Azii) - symphonic poem
Alexander Borodin
String Quartet no.1 in A major 'on a theme of Beethoven' II. Andante con moto
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String Quartet no.1 in A major 'on a theme of Beethoven' II. Andante con moto
Alexander Borodin
Symphony No 3 in A minor
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Symphony No 3 in A minor
Alexander Borodin
In the Steppes of Central Asia
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In the Steppes of Central Asia
Alexander Borodin
String Sextet in D minor
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String Sextet in D minor
Alexander Borodin
Piano Quintet in C minor
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Piano Quintet in C minor
Alexander Borodin
Polovtsian Dances (Prince Igor)
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Polovtsian Dances (Prince Igor)
Alexander Borodin
In the steppes of central Asia
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In the steppes of central Asia
Alexander Borodin
Serenata alla spagnola
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Serenata alla spagnola
Alexander Borodin
Polovtsian Dances (Prince Igor)
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Polovtsian Dances (Prince Igor)

Polovtsian Dances (Prince Igor)

Choir
Chorus of the Kirov Opera
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Alexander Borodin
Symphony No.2 in B minor (2nd mvt)
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Symphony No.2 in B minor (2nd mvt)
Alexander Borodin
Overture (Prince Igor)
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Overture (Prince Igor)
Alexander Borodin
String Quartet No 2 in D major (2nd mvt)
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String Quartet No 2 in D major (2nd mvt)
Alexander Borodin
String Quartet No. 2 in D
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String Quartet No. 2 in D
Alexander Borodin
Polovtsian Dances (Prince Igor)
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Polovtsian Dances (Prince Igor)
Alexander Borodin
String Quartet No 2 in D major (Notturno)
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String Quartet No 2 in D major (Notturno)

String Quartet No 2 in D major (Notturno)

Ensemble
Pedwarawd Llinynnol Goldner
Alexander Borodin
Polovtsian Dances (Prince Igor)
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Polovtsian Dances (Prince Igor)
Alexander Borodin
Prince Igor (Polovtsian March)
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Prince Igor (Polovtsian March)

Prince Igor (Polovtsian March)

Orchestra
Orchestra of Mariinsky Theatre
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Alexander Borodin
In the steppes of central Asia
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In the steppes of central Asia
Alexander Borodin
Prince Igor (Overture)
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Prince Igor (Overture)
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