Personalities | Alexander Borodin | High Romantic | Opera
Alexander Borodin was the illegitimate son of the Georgian Prince Luka Gedianov. As was customary in nineteenth-century Russia, his irregular birth was concealed by registering him under the name of a serf owned by the prince. Borodin was in no way deprived by this lowly status, and his talent for music was actively encouraged. Even so, he followed the usual path of Russian composers of his time by taking up a profession and studying and working on his music in his spare time. This was why Borodin called himself ‘a Sunday composer’. He distinguished himself in his profession and, after 1862, lectured in chemistry at the St Petersburg School of Medicine for Women. The work was very demanding, and consequently Borodin’s musical output was small. Most of it consisted of orchestral works and chamber music of stunning melodic beauty and though his operas were few, this was a quality they shared. Like his friend Modest Mussorgsky (1839–81), Borodin completed only one opera project – The Bogatyrs (1867) – a pastiche first performed in Moscow. Also like Mussorgsky, Borodin left his masterpiece, Prince Igor, unfinished, partly due to delays and difficulties with the libretto, which he wrote himself.
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