Symphonic sketch "In the Steppes of Central Asia" by Alexander Borodin

Borodin's music ... arouses a feeling of strength, vigor, light;
it has a mighty breath, scope, breadth, spaciousness;
it has a harmonious healthy feeling of life, the joy of perception that you are living.

Boris Asafyev

Alexander Borodin is one of the prominent representatives of Russian culture of the second half of the 19th century - a brilliant composer, outstanding scientist-chemist, public figure, teacher, conductor, music critic, literary talented person. However, Borodin entered the history of world culture primarily as a composer. He created not so many works, but they are distinguished by depth and richness of content, variety of genres, and classical harmony of form. Most of them are associated with the Russian epos, with narration about heroic deeds. Borodin creative work also features pages of heartfelt, soulful lyrics; a joke and gentle humour are not alien to him. The composer's musical style is characterized by wide scope of narration, melody, harmony brilliance and active dynamic aspiration. Borodin created the Russian epic symphony and maintained the Russian epic opera pattern.

To mark the birthday of the composer, we have digitized the flagship work of A. Borodin – the symphonic sketch "In the Steppes of Central Asia", digitised from musical media stored in the museum Collection Sound Library.

In 1879, Russian Empire was preparing to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Alexander II enthronement. Various ceremonial events were planned to mark this significant date, including a grandiose performance describing the most significant moments of the Emperor reign. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky and other Russian composers were invited to create musical score for this performance. They all accepted this offer. Mussorgsky wrote the march "Siege of Kars”, Rimsky-Korsakov created the chorus “Glory” and Borodin turned to the events that occurred in the1860-1870s in the Central Asia. As a result - Russian Empire annexed the territories of the Bukhara Emirate, the Kokand and Khiva khanates.

In the symphonic sketch "In the Steppes of Central Asia" by A. Borodin the events look somewhat idealized. The score of the musical picture comes with the author's program. This program, in accordance with the proposed order - to reflect the most important events of Alexander II reign was associated with the annexation of Central Asia to Russia. Interest in these events was very high in the Russian society. In the first edition, the synopsis was published in the following form: “In the monotonous Central Asia sandy steppe an alien tune of a peaceful Russian song is sounding for the first time. The approaching stomp of horses and camels is heard; the mournful sounds of the eastern melody are heard. A caravan, guarded by the Russian army, passes through the boundless desert. Trustingly and fearlessly, the caravan makes its long journey under the protection of Russian military force. The caravan goes further and further. The peaceful tunes of the Russians and the natives merge into one common harmony, the echoes of which are heard for a long time in the steppe and finally fade away". An important feature of this symphonic picture is the inextricable connection of melodies, harmony and even form with orchestral timbres.

The scheduled performance for which this composition was created was never realized. Hence, the music written for it began to live its own life, being performed in concerts. The first performance of the symphonic sketch "In the Steppes of Central Asia" took place on April 20, 1880 under the baton of Rimsky-Korsakov in the concert of singer Daria Leonova. For the second time this musical sketch was performed on October 30, 1880 during the concert of the Russian Musical Society. It was played under the direction of Eduard Nápravník, and then was widely performed in Russia and abroad, always with constant success.

Ref.: Music Seasons: https://musicseasons.org/borodin-v-srednej-azii/
Belcanto.ru, article by L. Mikheeva