Who was Borodin really?

Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin (1833 – 1887) born Gedevanishvili

Alexander Borodin was a composer second, and a highly respected physician and professional chemist first.  His compositions were an avocation.  He regarded medicine and science (organic chemistry) as his primary occupations.  His father was a 62 year old Georgian nobleman, who concealed the illegitimate circumstances of his son’s birth by registering him under the name of Borodin:  a surname belonging to a serf on the estate.  The biological father, Luka Gedevanishvili, emancipated him from serfdom (!) at the age of 7, and thereafter guided Borodin’s education and circumstances.  Borodin was never recognized publicly by his biological mother, who was referred to as Borodin’s “aunt”.  He studied at the Medical-Surgical Academy in St. Petersburg (later attended by the world famous Pavlov), and spent the remainder of his career in scientific research and lecturing, making a number of recognized seminal discoveries (chemistry).  Borodin took lessons in composition during 1862 at the age of 29, and married the following year.  The marriage produced a daughter, Gania.  Throughout his life Borodin suffered poor health, including cholera and several heart conditions.  He died suddenly at the age of 54. Borodin produced considerable chamber work, two symphonies and three operas, the most renowned being Prince Igor (1869-1887), an unfinished piece completed eventually by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov.  The wonderful Polovetsian Dances come from this opera.  Borodin was a member of the Russian nationalistic composers’ group known as “the mighty five”  (Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Cui and Balakirev).  His music was always richly lyrical, full of exotic “orientalisms”, and well-received.  He entered the international celebrity realm when themes from his Quartet No. 2  (1881) were used in the 1953 production of Kismet. 

The Russians

In early August we played in the Woollahra Philharmonic’s Chamber Proms series at the historic Woollahra Council Chambers in Double Bay. It was a delicious program of late Romantics (Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Borodin, Glazunov, Rimsky-Korsakov etc.) naturally we brought out the Prokofiev: Overture on Hebrew Themes, subject to an earlier post on this blog. Anyway, it was such fun writing the program notes, that the next few posts are going to feature some adaptations therefrom! Enjoy…..