Alexander Borodin is one of the remarkable representatives of the Russian culture of the second half of the 19th century -a brilliant composer, outstanding scientist-chemist and an active public figure, teacher, conductor, and music critic. He demonstrated the extraordinary literary talent as well. However, Borodin entered the history of world culture, first, as a composer. He created not so many works, but they all are distinguished by the depth and richness of content, the variety of genres, and the classical harmony of forms. Most of them are connected with the Russian epos, with the stories of people heroic feats. Borodin is the author of cordial, sincere lyrics; a joke and soft humor are not alien to him. A wide range of narration, tunefulness (Borodin possessed the ability to compose in a folk song style), colorfulness of harmonies and active dynamic aspiration characterize the composer’s musical style. Continuing the traditions of M. Glinka, in particular his opera “Ruslan and Lyudmila”, Borodin created the Russian epic symphony, and approved the type of Russian epic opera.
Borodin was born from the unofficial marriage of Prince L. Gedianov and commoner A. Antonova. He received his surname and patronymic from the yard servant of Gedianov - Porphyry Ivanovich Borodin, since he was recorded as his son.
Due to the intelligence and energy of his mother, the boy received excellent home education and already in his childhood demonstrated versatile talents. He was especially fascinated by music. He mastered the flute, piano, cello, used to listen symphonic pieces with great interest; he studied classical musical literature without any assistance. Simultaneously Borodin showed great passion for chemistry.
In 1850, Borodin successfully passed exams and was enlisted in the Medico-surgical (since 1881 Military medical) Academy in St. Petersburg. He devoted himself enthusiastically to medicine, natural science, and especially chemistry. Alexander was fond of literature; he especially loved the works of A. Pushkin, M. Lermontov, N. Gogol and V. Belinsky, read philosophical articles in various magazines. His vacant time was devoted to music. Borodin often attended music gatherings, where romances of A. Gurilev, A. Varlamov, K. Vilboa, Russian folk songs, arias from the Italian operas that were in fashion, were performed.
Borodin self-studied and mastered composing technique, wrote vocal compositions inspired by urban popular romance style, composed several trios for two violins and cello, a string Quintet, etc. In 1856, Borodin passed his final exams brilliantly and was assigned to undergo the compulsory medical practice as a junior doctor in the second Military Army Forces hospital. In 1858, he successfully defended his thesis for the degree of Doctor of Medicine, and a year later, he was delegated abroad for further the advanced education.
Borodin settled in Heidelberg. By that time, many young forward-thinking scientists from Russia had gathered. D. Mendeleev, I. Sechenov, E. Junge, A. Maikov, S. Eshevsky were among them. With the time they all became friends and made up the so-called "Heidelberg coterie”.
Borodin immerse himself in science. He used every opportunity to travel across Europe. In 1861, in Heidelberg Borodin met his future wife, the talented pianist and connoisseur of Russian folk songs E. Protopopova, who widely promoted the music by F. Chopin and R. Schumann. In the autumn of 1862, Borodin returned to Russia. He was elected professor in the Medico-surgical Academy. He lectured and taught students there until the end of his life.
Shortly after returning home, Borodin met M. Balakirev, who appreciated Borodin's composing talent and persuaded the young scientist that his true mission was music. Borodin joined the creative community of the Russian composers, known in the history of music as “The Mighty Handful”.
In the second half of the 60s, Borodin created a number of multifarious romances that differed in the theme and musical embodiment character - “The Sleeping Princess”, “Song of the Dark Forest”, “The Sea Princess”, “The False Note”, “My Songs Are Poisonous”, “The Sea”. Most of them were written to his own text.
In the late 60s, Borodin proceeded to composing the Second Symphony and the opera “Prince Igor”. Stasov suggested that Borodin should use the remarkable Ancient Russian literary masterpiece "The Tale of Igor's Campaign" as the opera plot. The patriotic idea of "The Tale" and its folk spirit were especially close to Borodin’s mind. The plot of the opera perfectly suited the composer’s talent, his inclination to broad generalizations, ability to create epic characters and his interest in the Eastern culture. The opera was written following the faithful historical landscape, it was very important for Borodin to create authentic, truthful characters. He studied many sources related to the “The Tale” and the corresponding epoch. These were the chronicles and historical novels, researches of the "The Tale”, Russian epic songs, and oriental tunes. Borodin himself wrote the opera libretto.
However, the composition of the opera omposition progressed slowly. The main reason was the composer’s preoccupation in scientific, pedagogical and social activities. He was one of the initiators and founders of the Russian Chemical Society, worked in the Society of Russian Doctors, in the Society for Public Health protection, took part in the publication of the magazine “Knowledge”, was the member of the directors’ board of the Russian Musical Society, participated in the work of the St. Petersburg society of music admirers, headed the students’ choir and orchestra of the Medico-surgical Academy.
In the late 70s - early 80s, Borodin created two string quartets, becoming, along with P. Tchaikovsky, the founder of the Russian classical chamber-instrumental music.
Since the beginning of the 80s Borodin’s fame as a composer was growing. His works were performed more and more often and received recognition not only in Russia but abroad as well - in Germany, Austria, France, Norway, America. In Belgium, for example, the success of his compositions was triumphal (1885, 1886). He became one of the most popular Russian composers in Europe in the late 19th - early 20th centuries.
Creative work of Borodin had a huge impact on many generations of Russian and foreign composers (including Glazunov, Lyadov, S. Prokofiev, Yu. Shaporin, K. Debussy, M. Ravel and others). It constitutes the pride of the Russian classical music.
Source - Belcanto.ru (A. Kuznetsova)