Alexander Borodin

Alexander Borodin (1833–1887) was one of the prominent 19th-century composers, who was a member of “The Mighty Five”, a group dedicated to producing a uniquely Russian kind of classical music. 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. A doctor and chemist by profession and training, Borodin made important early contributions to organic chemistry. Although he is presently known better as a composer, he regarded science as his primary occupation, only practicing composition in his spare time.
Borodin was born in Saint Petersburg as an illegitimate son of the Georgian prince, Luka Gedevanishvili, who had an affair. Due to the circumstances of his birth, the nobleman had him registered as the son of one of his Russian serfs, Porfiry Borodin, hence the composer’s Russian last name. Borodin received good education through private tutors at home. During 1850, he enrolled in the Medical–Surgical Academy in Saint Petersburg, and pursued a career in chemistry. On graduation, he spent a year as surgeon in a military hospital, followed by three years of advanced scientific study in Western Europe. On his return to Russia, he became professor of chemistry at the Medical-Surgical Academy, and spent the remainder of his scientific career in research, and lecturing. Borodin was a promoter of education in Russia and founded the School of Medicine for Women in Saint Petersburg, where he taught until 1885.
In 1862, Borodin met Mily Balakirev, leader of the Mighty Five group and began taking lessons in composition. His Symphony No. 1 in E-flat Major was first performed during 1869, with Balakirev conducting. During that same year, Borodin started on his Symphony No. 2 in B minor, when he also began work on his operatic masterpiece, Prince Igor, which is considered to be his most significant work and one of the most important historical Russian operas. Completed posthumously by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov, this opera contains the Polovtsian Dances, often performed as a stand-alone concert work forming what is probably Borodin’s best-known composition.


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