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Many musical historians regard Prince Igor as Borodin’s magnum opus. But, strictly speaking, it should really be considered as his ‘magnum opus infectus’ – his great unfinished work.
Despite spending some eighteen years working on it, by the time Borodin died, aged fifty-four, Prince Igor was still incomplete. The main string to Borodin’s bow was chemistry: he was a professor at the St Petersburg Academy of Medicine. That meant that the huge four-act epic that started life as The Lay of the Host of Igor was always going to have a job competing for his attentions.
So, in 1887, when Borodin died – in full national dress, it should be added (he suffered a heart attack at a ball) – Rimsky-Korsakov, with Glazunov, began the hugely unenviable task of sifting through his belongings; the score of Prince Igor loomed large. As Rimsky-Korsakov later wrote in his memoirs, ‘Glazunov ... was to fill in all the gaps in Act III and write down from memory the Overture played so often by the composer, while I was to orchestrate, finish composing, and systematise all the rest that had been left ...’ all things considered, they did a wonderful job.
Nikolai Putilin, Galina Gorchakova, Evgeny Akimov, Sergey Aleksashkin, Vladimir Vaneev, Olga Borodina. Kirov Opera & Ballet, Valery Gergiev. Philips DVD: 0741739