One of my loves is Russian music of the later 19th century, That was when Russian music began. Previously there were no Music Conservatories, and no symphony orchestras giving regular concerts. Music was dominated by opera – Italian opera. In his lifetime, Alexander Borodin was seen as a professional Scientist and an amateur Artist. He had a medical degree, and was a research chemist, who made significant contributions to that discipline. He had no academic training in music, but Music was in his soul, and unable to be confined there.
His life was chaotic, as he juggled his science with his music. He composed ‘bit by bit’, with breaks in between, and left his greatest work, the opera “Prince Igor” unfinished. It was brought to completion by his friend, and fellow composer, Rimsky-Korsakov. As a ‘nationalist’, aspiring to write ‘Russian’ music, rather than imitations of Italian, French and German, he could be considered progressively forward looking. The same applied to his opposition to the exclusion of women from medical training. He was one of the founders of the School of Medicine for Women in St. Petersburg.
The chaos in his life applied also to his living quarters inside the Academy of Medicine. He kept an ‘open house and table’, and the rooms in his apartment were under siege at all hours of the day and night, not only from students, but from family, friends and ‘others’, who came for food and free holidays, and slept in every nook and cranny – along with a ‘herd’ of cats, who stole food from the tables, and terrorised all and sundry with clawed leaps from all directions. By some musical ‘miracle’, this man became the first internationally known Russian composer, just ahead of Tchaikovsky. Understandably, he hasn’t left a lot of music, but what there is has given the world sublime lyrical beauty, and captivating rhythmic energy. It was looted to produce the musical “Kismet”, donating ‘And this is my Beloved” as well as ‘A Stranger in Paradise’ to popular culture.
Here is a superb short film of a nocturne, arranged for cello and string orchestra. What a gift to give to the world – ‘romance, beauty and emotion’ in a few, beautiful moments of time …..
And here are the magnificent ‘Polovtsian Dances’ from “Prince Igor”. A Russian prince has been defeated by the Khan of the Polovtsian invaders, who has put on a show for his captured ‘guest’. Enjoy the original “Stranger in Paradise” lyricism, and the unbridled energy of the superb dancing. Borodin at his best …..