Alexander Borodin (1833–1887) worked as a scientist and composed as a hobby. His most famous work is his symphonic picture, In the Steppes of Central Asia, which takes his unique Oriental style to unprecedented levels of poetic sensitivity.
Life and Music
Borodin was one of the most naturally gifted of all Russian composers, yet his principal vocation was as a brilliant research chemist and lecturer. He was brought up and tutored by his devoted mother and female friends and relations.
In 1861 Borodin met and fell in love with Ekaterina Protopopva, a brilliant 29-year-old piano virtuoso. The immediate result was his Piano Quintet.
Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Balakirev and Cui were known as the Mighty Handful and The Five.
When Borodin set to work on his First Symphony, he had next to no experience in handling large-scale forms and orchestration, and it took him five years to complete.
At the same time as writing his First Symphony, Borodin was also fulfilling his duties as Professor at the Medio-Surgical Academy, and he helped to set up the first medical courses for women in Russia.
With only a couple of major works behind him, word got out of Russia of Borodin’s extraordinary talent, and Franz Liszt took the burgeoning composer under his wing, conducting his music whenever he could.
Borodin was a devoted husband; his wife Ekaterina continually battled with asthma and had very unusual sleeping habits (4am to 2pm) and the couple adopted a seven-year-old girl. All these pressures contributed to Borodin’s premature death, at the age of 53. He had slaved away for years at his epic opera Prince Igor, which included the Polovtsian Dances, but unfortunately did not live to complete it.
Did you know?
Borodin was the illegitimate son of Prince Luka Spanovich Gedianov, an elderly nobleman, and the beautiful and intelligent 24-year-old Avdotya Konstantinova Antonova. To save any public embarrassment, he was registered under the name of one of the Prince’s serfs, Pofiry Borodin.