BORODIN: Prince Igor
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Alexander Porfir'yevich Borodin (1833-1887)
Prince Igor (Highlights)
The Five, the so-called Mighty Handful, so named bythe Russian critic and librarian Vladimir Stasov, werethe principal nationalist composers in later nineteenthcenturyRussia, following the example of Glinka, theirforerunner. Borodin, like some others of the group,followed another profession than music, winningdistinction as a professor of chemistry. His work as acomposer was limited by his other duties andpreoccupations, and at his death he left a number ofcompositions unfinished, to be completed by his friendRimsky-Korsakov and others.
Born in 1833, Borodin was the illegitimate son of aGeorgian prince, given the name of one of his father'sserfs. He was brought up by his mother in relativelyprivileged cultural surroundings that broughtacquaintance with a number of Western Europeanlanguages and a profound interest in music, a continuingenthusiasm that at times distracted him from hisincreasingly distinguished work as a scientist. Hisactivity as a composer was stimulated by his meetingwith Balakirev, self-appointed leader of the group ofRussian nationalist composers, and association withMussorgsky, Cesar Cui and Rimsky-Korsakov.
Borodin had contributed to the collaborative operaballetMlada in 1872, but his principal efforts werededicated, over the years, to Prince Igor. For this heprovided his own libretto, based on a scenario byVladimir Stasov, but failing to complete the text beforestarting the task of composition, an omission thatcomplicated his task. The work occupied Borodinintermittently from 1869, but was left unfinished at hissudden death in 1887. Rimsky-Korsakov and the youngGlazunov took on the task of editing, completing and,where necessary, orchestrating the opera as Borodin hadleft it, leading to a first performance of their version ofthe work in St Petersburg in 1892. For this purpose theyhad cut a quantity of the original music. Glazunov wassaid to have reconstructed the overture from memory,having heard Borodin's version of it, although the lattermay only have left the very broadest hints as to what heintended. Glazunov also composed much of the third actof the completed version. A number of other versions ofPrince Igor have been devised, in an attempt to restoreas much as possible of Borodin's original work.
Stasov's epic conception, based on the allegedlyearly Lay of the Host of Igor, and episodes frommedieval Kievian chronicles, provides the frameworkfor contrast between the Russian Prince Igor, for whichBorodin had some recourse to traditional Russianmelodies and, like Mussorgsky, perhaps to speechintonations, and the medley of exotic musical elementsthat he associates with the Polovtsians.
The 'musical picture' In the Steppes of Central Asiawas completed in 1880 and published two years later. Itwas intended as a contribution to a series of illustrationsfrom episodes in Russian history to mark the silverjubilee of Tsar Alexander II, and depicts the progress ofa caravan across the steppes, escorted by Russian troops.
Borodin makes use of a Russian melody and acontrasting oriental theme, the two later combined. Thework won wide contemporary popularity.Keith Anderson