Balakirev Mily

Russian composer, pianist, conductor. Originator and head of the "Mighty Handful" alliance


Mily Alekseevich Balakirev was born in Nizhny Novgorod in the noble family that was descending from the middle of the 14th century. The boy received the unusual name from his mother, Elizaveta Ivanovna, in whose family it was traditional. Balakirev began studying music under her guidance, later continued his studies in Moscow with the famous teacher Alexander Dubyuk. At the age of 16, the young man graduated from the Nizhny Novgorod Nobility Institute and entered the mathematical faculty of Kazan University as an irregular student. He had to earn his living by giving music lessons. After two years of studying in Kazan, he returned to Nizhny Novgorod, where he conducted orchestras, performed at various fairs, in the theater and in the Nobility Assembly. His first creative experiments date back to this time: piano compositions and romances. Alexander Ulybyshev -- the first Russian musicologist, native of Nizhny Novgorod as well, highly appreciated his talent; the symphony evenings with the young composer participation were often held in his house. Ulybyshev was well received in musical community of the capital and in 1855; he brought a 19-year-old Mily to St. Petersburg. In the capital, Balakirev quickly gained fame as a performer and continued composing. Talented, omnivorous in knowledge, inexhaustible in work, he was eager for new musical highlights. Therefore, when he was introduced to César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and later to Alexander Borodin, Balakirev amalgamated the composers and headed this small musical group, which went down in history under the name "The Mighty Handful" (“The Mighty Five", “The Five”), given by critic Vladimir Stasov, or the "Balakirev alliance". Friends-musicians and Vladimir Stasov regularly met at the Balakirev place. They talked, read a lot together, but most of the time was devoted to analysing the challenges for Russian music development. It is interesting that none of the novice composers received professional musical education: César Cui was a military engineer, Modest Mussorgsky was a retired officer, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was a sailor and Alexander Borodin was a chemist. Balakirev considered formation of Russian music and national music school to be his maim life mission. He took an active part in the "The Mighty Handful" activities and other Russian composers’ creative work as well, prompting them new themes and plots. When the alliance was created, conservatories did not exist in Russia. The Conservatory that was established later St. Petersburg by Anton Rubinstein in, took a European-oriented development direction, Balakirev and his colleagues became the advocates of National ethos in art.

By 1960, Balakirev wrote 20 romances, including such masterpieces as "See me", "The Song of Selim" "Song of the Goldfish". Symphonic compositions by Balakirev were performed in concerts: overture on topics of three Russian songs, overture to the tragedy "King Lear" by Shakespeare. He wrote many piano pieces as well.

Balakirev founded the Chargeless musical school in 1862, and a few years later refused the invitation to become a professor at the Moscow Conservatory. Balakirev, according to his contemporaries, was an ardent opponent of conservatories, believing only in the talent cultivated at home through continuous self-education.

In 1866, “Collection of Russian Folk Songs” compiled by Balakirev was published; he spent several years working on it. He was invited to conduct at the Imperial Russian Musical Alliance. The music of the Mighty Handful composers sounded in the Alliance, the First Symphony by Alexander Borodin premiered there. However, two years later, Balakirev had to leave the post of the conductor: in, they were unhappy in the Court’s circles with the composer's harsh statements about musical conservatism. At this time, "The Mighty Handful" also was disintegrated: Balakirev's students became experienced and independent composers. He stopped composing music and on 6 July 1872 began working as an employee at the office of the Warsaw Railway. The composer became a pietistic Orthodox believer. He even prepared to take the monastic vows, but refrained from it due to the efforts of priest Ivan Verkhovsky. Nevertheless, Balakirev returned to musical and social activities only ten years later. Balakirev headed the Music School again in 1881 once more. The passion and ebullient energy of a man that some time ago shared the progressive ideas of the 60s, hence, not always consistently, had been replaced by hypocritical pietism and political apathy, unilateralism of judgments by that time.

New, mainly piano pieces and new editions of already written pieces were created (Overture on the theme of the Spanish March, symphonic poem "Rus"). In the mid-90s, Balakirev wrote 10 romances. His symphonic music became more and more famous. It was performed not only in the capital, but in the provincial Russian towns as well, was successfully performed abroad - in Brussels, Paris, Copenhagen, Munich, Heidelberg, Berlin. International recognition of Balakirev as the leader of Russian music, as it were, compensated for the tragic estrangement from the musical mainstream in his Motherland. 
Mily Balakirev died in 1910 at the age of 73. He was buried at the Tikhvin cemetery of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. He had no wife, nor children.

Balakirev art legacy is not extensive, but very significant. He is the author of two symphonies; three overtures, including overtures on the theme of three Russian songs; symphonic poems "Rus", "In Czechia", "Tamara"; the author of orchestral, piano and vocal compositions, of which romances and songs are especially popular. "Collection of Russian Folk Songs" that he prepared for publication is highly valuated by specialists. Nevertheless, Balakirev is known primarily for his social activities, adherence to national ideals in music and his significant role in establishing and guiding “The Mighty Five”.