Born: November 12, 1833 in St. Petersburg
Died: February 27, 1887 in St. Petersburg
Polovtsian Dances (from Prince Igor)
Symphonies No.1-3, String Quartet No.1 & 2
Alexander Borodin was not only a talented musician and composer, he was also a brilliant scientist! Born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1833, Borodin’s father was Prince Luka Gedvanishvili. In keeping with the common practice at the time, Borodin was registered as the lawful son of one of Prince Luka’s serfs, Porfiry Borodin.
Tender and gentle natured, young Borodin was educated at home by his mother and quickly excelled in many subjects, particularly science. He also enjoyed learning new languages, and learned to speak English, French, and German fluently. At age eight, Borodin showed an interest in music and instruments after attending an army band performance. To his mother’s surprise, Borodin was able to replicate the music he heard at the army band performance on the piano! After this experience, young Borodin began studying piano, and taught himself how to play the cello. At age nine, he wrote his first composition called HÃ©lÃ©ne, a piece dedicated to the love of his young life.
When he was a teenager, Borodin spent most of his time studying chemistry, firework-making, and galvanism. In 1850, 17-year-old Borodin entered the Medico-Surgical Academy where he studied botany, zoology, crystallography, anatomy and chemistry. He graduated in 1856 with the highest honors in his class. After graduation, Borodin worked as a physician, chemistry professor, and science-book-translator. He married pianist Ekaterina Protopopova, received a Doctorate degree, and even spent a summer analyzing mineral waters and their medicinal properties. In his spare time, Borodin composed music.
In 1862, Borodin made friends with composers Mily Balakirev, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, CÃ©sar Cui and Modest Mussorgsky. Under the guidance of Balakirev, Borodin began composing music while working as a full-time chemist and physician. That same year, Borodin joined his new composer friends to create a group we know today as “The Russian Five”. “The Five” dedicated themselves to composing music that was definably Russian and distinctly different than other music forms that were being composed and taught in European Conservatories. Borodin’s music was highly influenced by Russian life, salon music, folk songs and dances, and was rich in lush, unusual harmonies.
Borodin is best known for his three symphonies, two string quintets, and his opera Prince Igor. Borodin began composing Prince Igor in 1869 and worked on it for 18 years. Before his death in 1887, Rimsky-Korsakov helped Borodin orchestrate Polovtsian Dances, a selection from Prince Igor, so that it could be performed as a “stand alone” concert piece. Polovtsian Dances is frequently performed all over the world! Prince Igor remained unfinished at the time of his death. Parts of the opera were revised and completed by composers Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov. Because Borodin was a part-time composer, a large majority of his compositions went unfinished or became lost. Borodin died suddenly from heart failure in 1887 and is buried in St. Petersburg.