Borodin, Alexander (Porfirievich)

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Borodin, Alexander (Porfirievich)

Borodin, Alexander (Porfirievich), celebrated Russian composer; b. St. Petersburg, Nov. 12, 1833; d. there, Feb. 27, 1887. He was the illegitimate son of a Georgian prince, Gedianov; his mother was the wife of an army doctor. In accordance with customary procedure in such cases, the child was registered as the lawful son of one of Gedianov’s serfs, Porfiry Borodin; hence, the patronymic, Alexander Porfirievich. He was given an excellent education; learned several foreign languages, and was taught to play the flute. He played four-hand arrangements of Haydn’s and Beethoven’s syms. with his musical friend M. Shchiglev. At the age of 14, he tried his hand at composition; wrote a piece for flute and piano and a String Trio on themes from Robert le Diable. In 1850 he became a student of the Academy of Medicine in St. Petersburg, and developed a great interest in chemistry; he graduated in 1856 with honors, and joined the staff as asst. prof.; in 1858 he received his doctorate in chemistry; contributed several important scientific papers to the bulletin of the Russian Academy of Sciences; traveled in Europe on a scientific mission (1859–62). Although mainly preoccupied with his scientific pursuits, Borodin continued to compose. In 1863 he married Catherine Protopopova, who was an accomplished pianist; she remained his faithful companion and musical partner; together they attended concerts and operas in Russia and abroad; his letters to her from Germany (1877), describing his visit to Liszt in Weimar, are of great interest. Of a decisive influence on Borodin’s progress as a composer was his meeting with Balakirev in 1862; later he formed friendships with the critic Stasov, who named Borodin as one of the “mighty 5” (actually, Stasov used the expression “mighty group” or “handful”), with Mussorgsky and other musicians of the Russian national school. He adopted a style of composition in conformity with their new ideas; he particularly excelled in a type of Russian orientalism which had a great attraction for Russian musicians at the time. He never became a consummate craftsman, like Rimsky-Korsakov; although quite proficient in counterpoint, he avoided purely contrapuntal writing; his feeling for rhythm and orch. color was extraordinary, and his evocation of exotic scenes in his orch. works and in his opera Knyaz’ Igor’ (Prince Igor) is superb. Composition was a very slow process for Borodin; several of his works remained incomplete, and were ed. after his death by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov.

Works

DRAMATIC: Bogatïri (The Bogatirs), opera-farce (Moscow, Nov. 18, 1867); Miada, opera-ballet (1872; Act 4 only; other 3 three acts by Rimsky-Korsakov, Cui, and Mussorgsky); Knyaz’ Igor’ (Prince Igor), opera (1869-70; unfinished; completed and partially orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov; St. Petersburg, Nov. 16, 1890). orch.: 3 syms.: No. 1 in E-flat major (1862-67; St. Petersburg, Jan. 16, 1869), No. 2 in B minor (1869-76; St. Petersburg, March 10, 1877), and No. 3 in A minor (1882; 1886-87; 1st and 2nd movements only finished; ed. and orchestrated by Glazunov; St. Petersburg, Nov. 5, 1887); V sredney Azii (In Central Asia), musical picture (St. Petersburg, April 20, 1880). chamber: Concerto for Flute and Piano (1847; not extant); Trio for 2 Violins and Cello (1847; not extant); Trio for 2 Violins and Cello (c. 1850-60; fragment extant); Quartet for Flute, Oboe, Viola, and Cello (1852–56); String Quintet (1853–54); Grand Trio for 2 Violins and Cello (1859-62; 3rd movement unfinished); Trio for 2 Violins and Cello (c. 1860); Cello Sonata (c. 1860); String Sextet (1860-61; 3rd and 4thmovements not extant); Piano Trio (1860–61); Piano Quintet (1862); 2 string quartets (1874-79; 1881); Scherzo for String Quartet (1882; No. 3 in the 2nd set of Les vendredis, in collaboration with Glazunov, Rimsky-Korsakov et al.); Serenata alla spagnola for String Quartet (1886; 3rd movement for the String Quartet on the name B-la-f [Belaiev]; in collaboration with Liadov, Glazunov, and Rimsky-Korsakov). piano:Polka Hélène for Piano, 4-Hands (1843); Fantasia on a Theme of Hummel (1849); Le courant (1849); Adagio poetico (1849); Scherzo (1852; not extant); Allegreto for Piano, 4-Hands (1861; arranged from the 3rd movement of the String Quintet); Scherzo for Piano, 4-Hands (1861); Tarantella for Piano, 4-Hands (1862); Polka, Marche funèbre, Requiem, and Mazurka for Piano, 3-Hands (1874-78; for the collection Paraphrases; in collaboration with Liadov et al.); Petite Suite (1885; orchestrated by Glazunov); Scherzo (1885; orchestrated by Glazunov for inclusion in the Petite Suite). vocal: Choruses and songs.

Bibliography

V. Stasov, A.P. B.: Evo zhizn’, perepiska i muzïkal’nïye stat’i (A.P. B.: Life, Correspondence and Articles on Music; St. Petersburg, 1880); A. Habets, A. B. d’après la biographie et la correspondance publiées par M. Wladimir Stassojf (Paris, 1893; Eng. tr., 1895); E. Braudo, A.P. B.: Evo zhizn’ i tvorchestvo (A. P. B.: Life and Works; Petrograd, 1922); S. Dianin, éd., Pis’ma A. P. B. (A. P. B.’s Letters; Moscow and Leningrad, 1928-50); L. Solovtsova, Kamerno-instrumental’naya muzïka A. P. B. (A. P. B.’s Instrumental Chamber Music; Moscow, 1952); S. Dianin, B.: Zhizneopisaniye, materiati i dokumentï (B.: Biography, Materials and Documents; Moscow, 1955; partial Eng. tr., 1963); A. Sokhor, A. P. B.: Zhizn’, dey atei’nost’, muzïkal’noye tvorchestvo (A.P. B.: Life, Works, Musical Compositions; Moscow, 1965); L. Velluz, Du laboratoire au Prince Igor, Pages sur B. (Paris, 1971); G. Golovinsky, Kamernïye ansambli B. (B.’s Chamber Music; Moscow, 1972); M. Bobéth, B. und seine Oper FUrst Igor: Geschichte-Analyse-Konsequenzen (Munich and Salzburg, 1982); M. Ilin and E. Segal, eds., A.P. B., 1833-1887: Pis’ma (A.P. B., 1833-1887: Letters; Moscow, 1989); S. Neef, Die Russischen Fù’nf: Balakirew, B., Cui, Mussorgski, Rimski-Korsakow: Monographien, Dokumente, Briefe, Programme, Werke (Berlin, 1992); A. Gaub and M. Unseld, Ein Fürst, zwei Prinz-essinnen und vier Spieler: Anmerkungen zum Werk A. B.s (Berlin, 1994).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire