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Mily Alekseyevich Balakirev (1837-1910)

Mily Balakirev was born in Nizhny Novgorod, the son of a minor government official. At the time, Russia had no established conservatories and Balakirev’s training was exclusively private.  He studied piano with Alexander Dubuque, a renowned Saint Petersburg pedagogue.  In 1855 Balakirev established a close friendship with his idol, composer Mikhail Glinka.  Soon after, Balakirev made the acquaintance of several important figures, including Alexander Dargomyzhsky, César Cui, the Stasov brothers, Serov, and Aleksey Lvov. Balakirev possessed a magnetic personality and soon formed a circle of younger composers that became known as the Mighty Five.  He continued to perform publicly, including an 1858 appearance as a soloist in the Emperor’s Concerto at a performance that was attended by Tsar Alexander II.  In 1862 along with Gavriil Lomakin, Balakirev founded the Free Music School in Saint Petersburg, an institution intended to popularize the ideas of the Russian national school.  In the sixties Balakirev made numerous trips to the Volga River region and the Caucasus.  He published a volume of folk songs collected by him during his travels.  From 1867 to 1869 Balakirev along with Hector Berlioz directed the concerts of the Imperial Russian Music Society.  In the seventies Balakirev suffered from worsened health and temporarily stepped aside from public service.  In 1883 Balakirev became the director of the Music School at the Imperial Chapel in Saint Petersburg.  Balakirev left the Chapel School in 1894, dedicating his remaining years to composing and editing his earlier works.    

 

Comparatively, Balakirev’s body of work is not very large, but well respected. His training was primarily as a pianist and this fact is reflected in his compositional oeuvre. There are two piano concerti, numerous works for solo piano, two symphonies and other orchestral works.  Besides his arrangements of nearly forty folk songs, there are forty three original romances.  Many of them are very successful and still performed widely by Russian singers.  Among his most popular songs are Обойми, поцелуй, Я любила его, Еврейская мелодия, Золотая рыбка, Приди ко мне, Слышу ли голос твой and others.  His romances generally have demanding piano parts and unlike many of the works of the earlier composers are genuinely informed by the folk tradition.