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Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin (1833-1887)

Alexander Borodin, in addition to being a composer, was also one of the most  important chemists of his time and the founder of women’s scientific education in Russia.  He was the illegitimate son of Georgian Prince Luka Gedianishvili and his mistress Avdotya Konstantinovna Antonova.  In order to conceal his origins, he was registered and baptized as the son of the household serf, Porfiry Ionovich Borodin. He graduated from the Medical-Surgical Academy in Saint Petersburg.  Chemistry, not music, was his primary occupation, and he wrote forty scientific papers in addition to his compositions.  Borodin traveled abroad in 1858, visiting the chemical laboratories of Germany, France and Italy.  He composed while he traveled, as well as attending numerous performances, including the operas of Wagner, Bellini and Verdi.  When he returned to Russia, he renewed a friendship with Mussorgsky, whom he had met two years earlier, and entered Balakirev’s circle, becoming his pupil.  Because of his obligations at the Medical Academy (he served as the chair of chemistry from 1873) Borodin’s compositional output is limited.  His best-known work, the epic opera Prince Igor, took twenty years to write and remained unfinished at the time of his sudden death in 1887.  It was completed by his friends Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov.

Borodin composed only sixteen romances, yet quite a few of them are firmly established in the Russian concert repertoire.  He rarely quoted folk melodies directly, but songs such as Слушайте подруженьки (Hear me, friends), У людей-то в дому (Some folks at home), and Песня тёмного леса (Song of the Dark Forest) possess an unmistakable Russian flavor. Borodin was particularly successful with introducing the sound of the orient into his music.  A colorful example is his Арабская Мелодия (Arabian Melody).  His songs are often harmonically intricate.  For example, his song Спящая княжна (The Sleeping Princess) uses unusual free-standing major seconds.

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