As a full-time chemist, Alexander Borodin had a small output but a surprisingly high hit-to-miss ratio. And he was so limited in terms of musical literacy that Tchiakovsky wrote to his patron, Nedezhda von Meck, that Borodin "can hardly compose a single measure of music without outside help." Borodin was part of the Mili Balekarev circle (also known as the "Mighty Five") so while I'm sure that Balekarev, Cui, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky helped Borodin to get the ideas on paper, it's also apparent that despite the "outside help", Borodin's music displays a wonderful, colorful, and original personality; though he remains a minor composer. His only opera, Prince Igor
, was completed posthumously by Rimsky-Korsakov and his student Glazounov, and Glazounov was able to reconstruct parts of Prince Igor
based upon remembering melodies that Borodin sang to him while he was still alive.
Apart from Prince Igor
, there are the three symphonies (the Symphony #2
is very good), as well as the beautiful String Quartet #2
(don't bother with the long and rambling String Quartet #1
), as well that old favorite, In the Steppes of Central Asia
, that we all know and love. You can probably do justice to Borodin in three moves.
Here are some suggestions: