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Alexander Borodin

  Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin (Russian: Александр Порфирьевич Бородин, Aleksandr Porfir'evič Borodin) (31 October/12 November 1833 – 15 February/27 February 1887) was a Russian composer of Georgian parentage who made his living as a notable chemist. He was a member of the group of composers called The Five (or "The Mighty Handful"), who were dedicated to producing a specifically Russian kind of art music[1] [2] [3]. He is best known for his symphonies, his opera Prince Igor, and for later providing the musical inspiration for the musical Kismet.


Life and profession

Borodin was born in Saint Petersburg, the illegitimate son of a Georgian noble (Saeklesio Aznauri, Baron-Vidam), Luka Simonis dze Gedevanishvili, who had him registered instead as the son of one of his serfs, Porfiry Borodin. As a boy he received a good education, including piano lessons, but he was eventually to earn a doctorate in medicine at the Medico–Surgical Academy, the later home to Ivan Pavlov, and to pursue a career in chemistry (just as his comrade César Cui would do in the field of military fortifications). As a result of his work in chemistry and difficulties in his home-life, Borodin was not as prolific in writing music as many of his contemporaries were - hence his own description of himself as a "Sunday composer." He died during a festive ball, where he was participating with much vigor; he suddenly collapsed from heart failure. He was interred in Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Chemical career

In his chemical profession Borodin gained great respect, being particularly noted for his work on aldehydes[4]. Between 1859 and 1862 Borodin held a postdoctorate in Heidelberg. He worked in the laboratory of Emil Erlenmeyer working on benzene derivatives. He also spent time in Pisa, working on organic halogens. One experiment published in 1862 described the first nucleophilic displacement of chlorine by fluorine in benzoyl chloride[5]. A related reaction known to the west as the Hunsdiecker reaction published in 1939 by the Hunsdieckers was promoted by the Soviet Union as the Borodin reaction. In 1862 he returned to the Medico–Surgical Academy. There he worked on the selfcondensation of small aldehydes with publications in 1864 and 1869 and in this field he found himself competing with August Kekulé.

Borodin is also credited with the discovery of the Aldol reaction together with Charles-Adolphe Wurtz. In 1872 he announced to the Russian Chemical Society the discovery of a new by-product in aldehyde reactions with properties like that of an alcohol and he noted similarities with compounds already discussed in publications by Wurtz from the same year.

He published his last full article in 1875 on reactions of amides and his last publication concerned a method for the identification of urea in animal urine.

His son-in-law and successor was fellow chemist A. P. Dianin.

Musical avocation

As regards the significant factors of his avocational life in music, Borodin met Mily Balakirev in 1862, when under his tutelage in composition he began his Symphony No. 1 in E-flat Major, which was first performed in 1869, with Balakirev conducting. In that same year Borodin started on his Symphony No. 2 in B Minor, which was not particularly successful at its premiere in 1877 under Eduard Nápravník), but with some minor re-orchestration received a successful performance in 1879 by the Free Music School under Rimsky-Korsakov's direction.

In 1869, Borodin became distracted from initial work on the second symphony by preoccupation with the opera Prince Igor, which is seen by some to be his most significant work and one of the most important historical Russian operas. It contains the Polovetsian Dances, which are often performed as a stand-alone concert work as probably Borodin's best known composition. Unfortunately Borodin left the opera (and a few other works) incomplete at his death. Prince Igor was completed posthumously by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov.

Other well-known compositions by Borodin include the popular symphonic poem In the Steppes of Central Asia and the second of two string quartets (in D Major), in which the composer's strong lyricism is represented in the popular "Nocturne" movement.

In 1882, Borodin began composing a third symphony, but left it unfinished at his death; two movements of it were later completed and orchestrated by Glazunov. Among Borodin's other works there are several art songs, piano pieces (notably the Petite Suite), and other chamber music (notably a cello sonata based on a theme from Bach's Sonata No.1 in G minor, BWV 1001).

Musical legacy

  Borodin's fame outside the Russian Empire was made possible during his lifetime by Franz Liszt, who arranged a performance of the Symphony No. 1 in Germany in 1880, and by Comtesse de Mercy-Argenteau in Belgium and France. His music is noted for its strong lyricism and rich harmonies. Along with some influences from Western composers, as a member of the The Five his music exudes also an undeniably Russian flavor. His passionate music and unusual harmonies proved to have a lasting influence on the younger French composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel (in homage, the latter composed in 1913 a piano piece entitled "À la manière de Borodine").

The evocative characteristics of Borodin's music made possible the adaptation of his compositions in the 1953 musical Kismet, by Robert Wright and George Forrest, perhaps most notably in the song, Stranger In Paradise. In 1954, Borodin was posthumously awarded a Tony Award for this show. It will be produced in June/July 07 in London for the first time in nearly 50 years by English National Opera at the London Coliseum.

Related information

  • The Borodin String Quartet was named in his honour.


  1. ^ Abraham, Gerald. Borodin: the Composer and his Music. London, 1927.
  2. ^ Dianin, Sergei Aleksandrovich. Borodin. London, New York, Oxford University Press, 1963.
  3. ^ Oldani, Robert, William. "Borodin, Aleksandr Porfir′yevich," Grove Music Online (Accessed 27 January 2006, subscription required)
  4. ^ Michael D. Gordin (2006). "Facing the Music: How Original Was Borodin’s Chemistry?". Journal of Chemical Education 83: 561-566.
  5. ^ E. J. Behrman (2006). "Borodin?". Journal of Chemical Education 83: 1138.
  • George Sarton (1939). "Borodin (1833-87)". Osiris 7: 224-260.
  • A. J. B. Hutchings (1936). "A Study of Borodin: I. The Man". The Musical Times 77 (1124): 881-883.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Alexander_Borodin". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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