The Colorful Music Of Russian Composer Alexander Borodin
Remember the famous song "Take my hand, I'm a stranger in paradise", from the musical "Kismet" ? The melody is not original, but comes from the music of the Russian composer Alexander Borodin (1833- 1887). Borodin was one of the group of five 19th century composers who went by the name of the "Mighty Handful, including Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky.
He was not a professional composer, but was actually one of Russia's leading scientists, in the field of chemistry. One of his treatises on chemistry is still considered a classic in that field. He was the illegitimate son of a Georgian prince and a Russian mother, and was given the name of one of a serf in his family.
Borodin was an accomplished amateur cellist, and wrote a not very large body of music in his spare time. His life was rather hectic and chaotic, as he combined music with his busy career as scientist and professor at St. Petersburg university. Among his works are two completed symphonies and two movements of a third, the symphonic poem"In the steppes of Central Asia", a number of songs and piano pieces, and the sketches for the opera "Prince Igor", which was completed by Rimsky-Korsakov with the help of others after his death.
Prince Igor is based on medieval Russian history , and deals with Igor, ruler of the city of Putivl , and his struggle with the invading Polovetzians, nomadic Turkic tribesmen who frequently clashed with the Russians of the time. The so-called Polovetzian Dances is a ballet sequence from the opera which has often been performed and recorded separately, and is a very exciting piece.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and another Russian composer Alexander Glazunov took up the difficult task of putting Borodin's often chaotic sketches into a performable opera, and it is occaisionally performed today. There are several recordings and a DVD. In the opera, prince Igor and his son are captured in battle by the Polovetzians, or Kumans, as they called themselves. Their leader, Khan Konchak is so impressed Igor's bravery that he treats him more like an honored guest than a prisoner, and there is a colorful and exotic dance sequnce with chorus. In the end, Igor and his son return to Putivl, eagerly welcomed by the populace, after escaping.
The symphony no 2 in B minor is also a very colorful work, and its melodies, though original, have a decidedly Russian flavor. IN the Steppes of Central Asia" is a brief but evocative orchestral work which attempts to depict Russian soldiers wandering through the endless steppes of what is now Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan etc, with sinuous oriental melodies as a contrast. There are numerous recordings of Borodin's music, and you should seek out the recordings of the first two symphonies with Valery Gergiev conducting and the opera Prince Igor on Phillips. Check arkivmusic.com.