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Musically speaking, the time of the String Quartet No. 2 was the beginning of the end for Borodin.
It was written when he was in his late forties and at exactly the period when finding time for music was becoming nigh on impossible. As a successful chemist (in Russia, they refer to one particular reaction – that of silver salts with carboxylic acids and halogens – as the ‘Borodin Reaction’) he felt compelled to devote more and more of his time to his important scientific work, at the expense of his music.
Nevertheless, when he was forty-eight, and just one year after the composition of In the Steppes of Central Asia, he found himself with a free summer to compose. In between visiting the odd festival – and his friend Liszt, to whom he dedicated In the Steppes of Central Asia – he composed his String Quartet No. 2. As with most things Borodin wrote, it is not short of tunes, something that proved a blessing when the writers of the musical Kismet came to use his music. The jaunty second movement provided them with ‘Baubles, Bangles and Beads’, while the third stumped up the show-stopping ‘This is My Beloved’. Unsurprisingly, the Borodin Quartet performs a mean version.
Borodin String Quartet. Onyx: ONYX4002.
Illustration: Mark Millington