Composer Profile: Alexander Borodin, A Renaissance Man

By David Salazar

Alexander Borodin, born on Nov. 12, 1833, was one of the major Russian composers of the 19th century, often grouped with the famed five that included Mily Balakirev, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

While we remember him today as a major composer, he actually saw his work as a chemist as his most important work. He was most famous for his work in organic synthesis. He also founded the School of Medicine for Women in Saint Petersburg.

Music wound up being more of a hobby for him. Despite that, he managed to compose a number of works that still stand the test of time, his String Quartet No. 2 the most prominent example.

He died on Feb. 27, 1887.

Major Works

In terms of opera, only one work really stands out from Borodin; in reality, he only created two operas though one was a project that also included music from the three major Russian composers of the time. So it stands that “Prince Igor” is his only major operatic output. And even this work comes with a major asterisk because he left it unfinished.

Regardless, it has been performed in later years in different orchestrations and remains one of the major curiosities of the Russian operatic output.

Watch and Listen

What else? “Prince Igor.”


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