Despite devoting his life to medicine and chemistry, Borodin spent his spare time composing. His most famous work remains his opera Prince Igor, unfinished at the time of his death it was completed by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov, in 1890.
As the son of a Georgian Prince, Louka Guedianov, Alexander received an excellent education from a very early age. He taught himself the flute, the piano and the cello. He also pursued Medicine and Chemistry. He then met Moussorgski when he treated him at a military hospital and became part of the “The Five” (or, The New Russian School), which was composed of Nicolai Rimski-Korsakov, Mili Balakirev, Modest Mussorgsky and César Cui. Borodin was attempting to move away from popular, “official” German music in favour of promoting Russian music. After having written two symphonies he set himself to the task of composing operas all while pursuing his scientific career. He soon met Liszt who produced his first Symphony. To thank him Borodin dedicated his tone poem In the Steppes of Central Asia. Shortly afterwards Borodin started writing his opera Prince Igor, which was completed after his death. He married Ekaterina Protopopov, a talented pianist, who broadened his understanding of Schumann, Chopin, Liszt and Wagner.
Borodin did not compose a great deal; he only completed two string quartets (in 1879 and 1881), a few melodies and two symphonies (1867 and 1869) in his lifetime. His masterpiece, containing his famous Polovtsian Dances, is undoubtedly Prince Igor.
Six Landmark Dates in the Life of Alexander Borodin
1858 – Becomes a medical doctor
1861 – Meets his future wife Ekaterina Protopopov
1862 – Becomes part of “The Five”
1869 – Begins composing Prince Igor
1880 – Liszt performs his Symphony in E flat major
1890 – Rimski-Korsarov and Glazounov complete Prince Igor
Six Key Works by Alexander Borodin
1862-1867:Symphony no.1 in E flat major, inspired by Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony whilst remaining Russian in character.
1869-1876:Symphony no.2 in B minor
1880: In the Steppes of Asia, a tone poem
1881: String Quartet no.2 in D major
1886: Symphony no.3 in A major (uncompleted)
1890: Posthumous completion of Prince Igor, an opera containing the Polovtsian Dances