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Alexander Porfir'evich Borodin (1833-1887)
It is not often that a person's hobby results in the creation
of a great masterpiece in classical music.
Despite his versatility and exceptional achievements in
different scientific fields, Borodin was a modest man and acknowledged himself
as a dilettante in music; but it was his "hobby" that has made his
name for posterity.
His friend Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov wrote: "Borodin was
an exceedingly cordial and cultured man, pleasant and witty to talk with.
Visiting his house I often found him working in the laboratory which adjoined
his apartment. He sat over his retorts filled with a colourless gas and
distilled it from one vessel into another."
Borodin was primarily a scholar, a scientist with Europe-wide
recognition, specializing in chemistry and medicine. He led seminars and
participated in numerous conferences
throughout the continent. He wrote scientific reports in English, French,
German and Italian.
Borodin was the first to make medical education available for
Russian women by establishing Medical Courses in 1862.
In 1864 Borodin joined the Balakirev group of composers and
it soon became known
as the "Mighty Five". Borodin, together with other composers,
founded the Free Music
Academy, advocating music education for everyone. It was a school for
common people who were unable to pay the fees of the Academy of Music in St.
Petersburg, which had been founded by Anton Rubinstein. That Academy,
which was run by Rubinstein and established for rich townsfolk and the nobles,
was also subsidized by the Imperial government.
In 1869, Balakirev conducted Borodin's First Symphony, and
that same year, encouraged by its success, Borodin began work on his own Second
Borodin's symphonies are among the earliest Russian
compositions in this genre. They are not only of epic scale but also of
epic character, which determines all elements of musical language and
distinguishes Borodin's symphonies from symphonies of other Russian
composers. Beethoven's idea of monothematism as embodied in Borodin's
symphonies helps to show the agreed development of large-scale forms.
It was no struggle for most Russian composers to become
musically "Russian." They always bore their national character,
though very often Glinka and the "Mighty Five" preferred composing in
different national traditions - Spanish, Polish and Eastern. Applying
themselves to these different cultures, composers first of all learned foreign
folklore and then used this knowledge to treat their own music material
We often find here that the "Mighty Five" were
Russian nationalists who struggled to create Russian music distinguished from
any other. In fact that was not their goal. The Russian national
music school was already established by Glinka and by the time of the
"Mighty Five" it had already influenced many other European music
The so-called antagonism of Rubinstein to the aesthetics of
the "Mighty Five" is also extremely exaggerated. Usually we read
in Western researches that Rubinstein was a follower of the Western European
tradition while the "Mighty Five" were extreme Russian
nationalists. Well, you can read it in books (paper will bear everything),
but you cannot hear it in their music.
The most popular of Borodin's symphonies is the Second
("Heroic"), though it was a failure at its premiere. Liszt
arranged another performance in Germany, in 1880, which brought Borodin the
The Second symphony was composed simultaneously with his
opera "Prince Igor". Both works share similar images, ideas and
ways of expression.
Symphony #2 was especially loved by the French
impressionists. Ravel liked to entertain his friends playing the four-hand
arrangement for piano with a partner.
Among Borodin's compositions are the opera "Prince Igor"
(completed by Rimsky-
Korsakov and Glazunov), three symphonies (the Third was completed by Glazunov),
orchestral pieces (the most popular is "In the Steppes of Central
Asia"), two string quartets,
piano miniatures and romances.
Borodin also was one of the founders of Russian chamber
music. The Borodin String
Quartet group has borne his name since 1945.
It is interesting that Borodin and Mussorgsky both were
illegitimate children and both
transcended their rough beginnings to become great composers and members of the
"Mighty Five". However, their deaths were very different.
Borodin died within seconds of having a heart attack while attending a fancy
ball at the Medical Academy; and Mussorgsky died slowly and painfully, of
alcoholism and poverty, in a public shelter.
Evgeni Svetlanov (1928-2002) was born in Moscow.
He studied piano with Maria
Gurvich, composition with Mikhail Gnessin and Yuri Shaporin and conducting with
After graduating from the Gnessin Institute and Moscow Conservatory he joined
of the Bolshoi as a principal conductor (1963-1965). In 1965 he became a
leader of the
USSR Symphony orchestra and was in this position till 2000.
In 1979 Svetlanov received the appointment as principal guest
conductor at the London
Symphony Orchestra and the last concert in his life was given in London in
2002. Svetlanov received numerous honors and awards: 1968 - People's
Artist of the USSR; 1977 - the Order of Lenin; 1983 - Soviet State Prize for
Creative Achievements; 1998 - Order for Meritorious Services to the Nation.
He also was awarded the Paris Grand Prix for his recording of the complete
symphonies by Tchaikovsky. Svetlanov's work at the position of principal
conductor of the USSR Symphony Orchestra from 1965 till 2000 resulted in the
performance and recording of almost the entire Russian symphonic repertoire.
(1833 - 1887)
Symphony No. 1
in E flat major
1. Adagio Allegro - 13:20
2. Scherzo. Prestissimo - 6:37
3. Andante - 8:14
4. Finale. Allegro molto vivo - 6:37
Symphony No. 2
in B minor "Heroic"
5. Allegro - 9:06
6. Scherzo. Prestissimo - 5:27
7. Andante Finale. Allegro - 16:51
Total time - 66:44
The USSR Symphony Orchestra
Evgeni Svetlanov, conductor
Recorded in 1983 (1-4), 1966 (5-7)
Recording engineers - Kozhukhova (1-4), Gaklin (5-7).
painting "The Bogatyrs" by Victor Vasnetsov
Design by Evgeni Kostitsyn