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Borodin, Alexander (Porfirievich)

russian scientific composition composer

Borodin, Alexander (Porfirievich), celebrated Russian composer; b. St. Petersburg, Nov. 12, 1833; d. there, Feb. 27, 1887. He was the illegitimate son of a Georgian prince, Gedianov; his mother was the wife of an army doctor. In accordance with customary procedure in such cases, the child was registered as the lawful son of one of Gedianov’s serfs, Porfiry Borodin; hence, the patronymic, Alexander Porfirievich. He was given an excellent education; learned several foreign languages, and was taught to play the flute. He played four-hand arrangements of Haydn’s and Beethoven’s syms. with his musical friend M. Shchiglev. At the age of 14, he tried his hand at composition; wrote a piece for flute and piano and a String Trio on themes from Robert le Diable . In 1850 he became a student of the Academy of Medicine in St. Petersburg, and developed a great interest in chemistry; he graduated in 1856 with honors, and joined the staff as asst. prof.; in 1858 he received his doctorate in chemistry; contributed several important scientific papers to the bulletin of the Russian Academy of Sciences; traveled in Europe on a scientific mission (1859–62). Although mainly preoccupied with his scientific pursuits, Borodin continued to compose. In 1863 he married Catherine Protopopova, who was an accomplished pianist; she remained his faithful companion and musical partner; together they attended concerts and operas in Russia and abroad; his letters to her from Germany (1877), describing his visit to Liszt in Weimar, are of great interest. Of a decisive influence on Borodin’s progress as a composer was his meeting with Balakirev in 1862; later he formed friendships with the critic Stasov, who named Borodin as one of the “mighty 5” (actually, Stasov used the expression “mighty group” or “handful”), with Mussorgsky and other musicians of the Russian national school. He adopted a style of composition in conformity with their new ideas; he particularly excelled in a type of Russian orientalism which had a great attraction for Russian musicians at the time. He never became a consummate craftsman, like Rimsky-Korsakov; although quite proficient in counterpoint, he avoided purely contrapuntal writing; his feeling for rhythm and orch. color was extraordinary, and his evocation of exotic scenes in his orch. works and in his opera Knyaz’ Igor’ (Prince Igor) is superb. Composition was a very slow process for Borodin; several of his works remained incomplete, and were ed. after his death by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov.

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