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Alexander Borodin


One of the most truly original and inspired of the so-called 'Mighty Handful' group of Russian composers of the mid-19th century, many of whom were actually amateurs working in other trades, Alexander Borodin was a chemist by profession. Born into royalty (albeit illegitimately) the name Borodin came from one of his father's serfs. His education included several languages (German, French, English and Italian). His musical education had started by the age of nine from a local bandmaster, learning the flute; later learning piano and cello. By 1850 he was studying the sciences, particularly chemistry and graduated in 1856. Much of the next few years was devoted to scientific work, but by 1861, and due to the encouragement of a tubercolosis patient, Ekaterina Protopovna, who was a fine pianist and who he later married, Borodin gradually returned to serious musical creativity, composing a Piano Quintet in C Minor in 1862 while working in Italy. That same year he returned to St. Petersburg and in 1864 was appointed as full professor of Chemistry at the Medico-Surgical Academy, where he had originally studied in 1850. He reamained at the Academy for the rest of his life working on various chemistry projects while his composing continued in private.

After his return to St. Petersburg in 1862 Borodin had met Balakirev and been inspired to join the 'Mighty Handful' of composers. He composed three symphonies (the third left unfinished), some chamber music and the opera 'Prince Igor', again left unfinished its Overture written out from memory by Glazunov one hearing Borodin play it on the piano.

Borodin's piano music is not substantial, his 'Petite Suite' being his most famous work in this genre; but he contributed a Polka, Marche Funebre and a mini-Requiem (!) to the 'Chopsticks' Paraphrases published in 1878.