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A Journey through Aesthetic Realms

Alexander Borodin: Composer with a Musical Heart and a Scientific Mind, Part 2 of 2

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After three years of study and research abroad, Alexander Borodin returned to Saint Petersburg with his wife Ekaterina Protopopova in 1862, taking a position as Assistant Professor of Chemistry, and started to teach at the Medico-Surgical Academy. In the same year, encouraged and guided by the leading member of “The Five,” Mily Balakirev, he began composing his first large-scale orchestral work, the “Symphony No. 1 in E-flat.”

Although in his first symphony the influence of German composers such as Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann remained, Borodin’s unique style had come through and matured. Without hesitation, the composer embraced the inspiration of Russian music. Assisted by the strong lyricism and lush harmonies for which he had a gift, Borodin transformed the Russian elements into his own language. A “Borodinesque” quality is unmistakeable in his first symphonic endeavor, which turned out to be a significant landmark in the quickly evolving Russian Nationalist school.

In 1872, along with several other professors, he established the first medical course for women in Russian and co-founded the School of Medicine for Women in Saint Petersburg. In addition, he was one of the founding members of the Russian Chemical Society and worked for the Society for Public Health Protection. Alexander Borodin not only performed effectively in the scientific field but also engaged dynamically in musical affairs.

In 1880 Alexander Borodin composed his famous symphonic poem “In the Steppes of Central Asia,” dedicated to Franz Liszt. The piece was later arranged for piano by the composer.

In the last decade of his life, Borodin’s music was widely celebrated and often performed in Russia and abroad, subsequently influencing up-and-coming composers such as the Frenchmen Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. And in 1953, adapting Borodin’s compositions, Broadway produced the musical “Kismet.” Many songs from this musical have become popular with modern audiences, such as “And This is My Beloved,” “Sands of Time,” “Stranger in Paradise,” and more. In 1954 Borodin received a posthumous Tony Award for Outstanding Musical for the music contained in “Kismet.”
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