Personalities | Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev | Late Romantic | Classical

(Me’-le Al-yek-sa’-ye-vich Ba-la’-ke-ref) 1837–1910
Russian composer

Balakirev’s early piano fantasy on Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar won Glinka’s approval in 1855 and in appreciation Glinka gave Balakirev two Spanish melodies, later reworked in the Spanish Serenade. Balakirev performed Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto before the Tsar, a highlight of a virtuoso career that culminated with his Chopin Anniversary recital in Warsaw in 1894. From the 1850s, Balakirev guided and inspired the nationalist group known as ‘The Five’. He succeeded his conservative rival Rubinstein as conductor of the Russian Musical Society and promoted educational reforms as Director of the Free School of Music and later of the Imperial Court Chapel in St Petersburg. His best-known work is the oriental fantasy for piano Islamey (1869), which combines Listzian virtuosity with exotic modes and chromaticism. That synthesis also colours his many songs and orchestral works, such as the Overture on Three Russian Themes, the tone-poem Tamara (1882), and two symphonies of his final years. It was left to Balakirev’s last pupil, Sergey Lyapunov (1859–1924), to complete his Piano Concerto No. 2, begun 50 years earlier in 1862.

Recommended Recording:
Symphony No. 1 in C, USSR State Symphony Orchestra (cond) Yevgeni Svetlanov (Melodiya)

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